Nothing quite compares to the fun and excitement that comes with raising chicks! All too soon though, your little peeps are making a mess in the brooder. Often, they try to escape each time you open the cover. So, when can chickens go outside to the coop? How long do they need to stay warm? This article will help you determine how to save your sanity while keeping your chicks healthy as they grow up.
When Can Baby Chicks go Outside?
Opinions vary as to the age when baby chicks can go outside. There’s more to the big picture than age though, including the type of house or pen you plan to move the chicks to, to the number of chicks you’re planning to move outdoors.
In general, baby chicks can go outside full time once they’ve gotten all their feathers. Depending on breed, it might take as long as seven weeks for feathers to come in. Unless it’s very warm outside, you’ll want to ensure that your chicks are fully feathered. Don’t put them outside while down still covers their bodies, unless you can provide them with a supplemental heat source.
Many people put chicks outdoors at 5 weeks old. Some wait an additional week just to be sure that the peeps are ready to survive cool temperatures, and some start the transition at 4 weeks. But age isn’t the only factor to consider.
If it’s springtime or summer and outdoor temperatures are warm, you may be able to start transitioning your chicks to the outdoors at age three weeks, so long as they have feathers instead of down. Consider keeping them in a safe, sunny enclosure during warm days, and bringing them back into the brooder at night.
If it’s cold, rainy, or windy where you live, it’s probably a good idea to house your chicks in their brooder a bit longer. Both wind and moisture can chill chicks, and little chicks are sometimes crushed when a large group bunches together tightly in an effort to conserve heat. If temperatures are below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or if there is snow on the ground, don’t put your chicks out – particularly if they still have down. Since down does not conserve heat, it won’t keep your chicks safe from cold, and they’ll be at risk of death.
If temperatures aren’t stable but you’re getting a few hours of warmth each day, feel free to treat your chicks to some outdoors exercise for a little while each day. Watch their behavior. Are they hunting and pecking? Do they seem content? Are they stretching and napping in the sunshine? If so, they’re happy! If they are puffing their feathers or clinging together, they’re getting chilly. If they are peeping loudly while clinging together, they are very cold, and they need to be warmed up.
Choosing a Safe Place for Chicks
When transitioning chicks to the outdoors, it’s very important to decide how you’ll keep them safe. If you choose a grassy spot for them to roam, ensure that the grass is short. Just like adult chickens, chicks love to nibble at fresh grass, picking individual pieces and folding them with their beaks. The bad news is that long pieces of grass can lead to crop impaction.
Be sure that the space you choose has protection from predators such as neighborhood cats, dogs, foxes, and larger birds. Be sure that wire mesh is small enough to prevent chicks from leaving their enclosure and roaming. Ensure that the top is covered, since chicks can fly up and out, and since predators can enter the enclosure from the top.
Besides a generally safe spot, you’ll want to give your chicks a completely enclosed space. This provides shade during the hottest part of the day, plus it allows the chicks to retreat from perceived danger if they start to feel spooked by an unfamiliar sight or sound. A small pet crate lined with newspaper should do the trick if your coop isn’t quite ready to go yet!
Ensure that chicks have dry footing. Damp conditions can cause sickness, so spread plenty of straw around if the ground is damp. Take a few minutes to clean up damp bedding so that your chicks stay clean, dry, and healthy.
Feeding and Watering Chicks when Transitioning to Outdoors
Just like in the brooder, you’ll want to make sure that your little peeps have free access to food and water all around the clock. Re-check their supply frequently to make sure that food and water hasn’t been spilled or fouled by feces. You can make things a little cleaner and cut back on waste by elevating feed and water by a few inches. Try placing a brick underneath feeders and waterers, or set them on top of a board or two. You can also look into hanging feeders and hanging waterers. These may cost a little bit more than the standard stand-up variety, but they will last your chickens into adulthood and help prevent problems like dirty water and feed spillage.
Tips for Keeping Chicks Outside Full Time
When you set up your outdoor enclosure or move chicks to the coop, you may want to add a supplemental heat source such as a Brinsea EcoGlow chick warmer. This innovative heater acts like a mother hen, emitting gentle warmth while allowing chicks to sit underneath or on top. It offers the added advantage of safety, as it is far less prone to fire than a heat lamp. I use this one myself, and a check of reviews finds that most reviewers like the way that chicks can decide when to warm themselves up. Some users prefer heat lamps since the Brinsea EcoGlow is sized to accommodate smaller broods, and as it does get messy when the chicks start to perch on it.
Whatever you do, be sure to provide some form of supplemental heat at first, since it prevents the chicks from becoming chilled, and it lets them enjoy the outdoors. Be sure to place your heat source in a fully sheltered area to ensure that heat doesn’t escape too fast.
By focusing on safety, warmth, and dry footing, you can easily keep your chicks healthy once they’ve moved into the great outdoors. Have fun watching them and be sure to spend a little time bonding as you care for them each day!