Baby animals are cute. Baby chickens🐣 are fluffy, chirpy, divinely delicate little bundles and can easily convert the toughest cookies into chicken-smitten-kittens.
If you can somehow hold a baby chicken without entering broody mode and engaging your baby voice, then you're doing well (and you're also a bit of a monster).
Nobody hits research mode more diligently than a new parent, and it's no different when you're a poultry parent.
Well, you can stop scratching around for information. I'm going to clue you up on all things chick based: from their lifecycle and milestone ages to their characteristics and needs.
You will then, of course, be adamant that you want baby chickens of your own. So next we'll look at where you can find them, what to look out for, what you'll need to care for them (on top of devotion and coffee), and how to choose the right baby chickens for you.
Already convinced? Want to skip to how to care for the little critters? Check out the <ultimate guide to baby chicken care> which covers everything from food and housing to heating and healthcare.
Baby Chicken FAQs
Always a sensible place to start!
Do Yolks Become Baby Chickens?
No, but you're not far off. There's a little white dot on the yolk called the germinal disk (or egg cell) and that's what becomes a chick if the egg is fertilized by an obliging rooster. The yolk sack is the nutrient-rich sack that acts as the embryo's food source.
What's the Difference Between a Cockerel and a Cock?
A male chick is called a cockerel. When a cockerel reaches sexual maturity he becomes a cock, also known as a roo or rooster.
What's a Pullet?
A pullet is a female chick. Not everyone agrees on the point at which a pullet becomes a hen. Most people believe a pullet becomes a hen at the point she lays her first egg. Big day!
What's a Pullet's Egg?
A pullet's egg🥚 is an egg laid by a chicken under 1-year old. They're usually smaller but can be more colorful. As I mentioned, not everybody agrees on when a pullet becomes a hen, and some pullets don't acquire their hen title until they're 1-year-old and they're laying full-sized eggs.
What's an Egg Tooth?
Chickens are born with a little lump on the end of their beaks which soon falls off. It's got one job and one job only: breaking out of jail, well, their egg.
When Does a Chick Become a Chicken?
A chick becomes a chicken at around 16-22 weeks when it reaches sexual maturity. So, a pullet becomes a hen when she lays her first egg and a cockerel becomes a rooster, or cock, when he shows signs of being ready to mate.
Whilst some people don't refer to pullets and cockerels as adult chickens until they're a year old, they'll be sexed at the point of 16-22 weeks, so will no longer be termed chicks anyway.
Are All Baby Chickens Yellow?
Unlike the little easter decorations you plaster easter bonnets with, chicks aren't always yellow. Depending on their breed and variety they could be brown, grey, mottled, or white.
Are Baby Chickens🐣 Clever?
Chicks are Idiots. They're just not that smart! Their curiosity about the world often results in them wedging their head somewhere it doesn't fit, falling off things, and bumping into things.
Mama hens develop a recognizable 'mum voice' and if they think their chicks are in danger they'll make a very distinguishable cluck that no doubt translates to something like "I'm going to count to 3…" followed by “don’t make me come over there”.
What's Pasty Butt?
The first time you've heard of it? Sadly, it's exactly what it sounds like. Just like little humans, little chickens get messy bottoms. Their bodies are just learning to digest food properly. You'll need to keep an eye on things down there and wash off any mess to avoid it sealing their anus up or attracting flies.
What's a Straight-Run Baby Chicken?
A straight-run chicken is an unsexed chicken, so it's a 50/50 gamble what gender you get. A sexed chicken is old enough to be confidently sexed and costs a bit more, but you know what you're getting into.
Are Baby Chickens Good Pets?
Baby chickens are super-cute pets, but they'll be chickens in a matter of weeks! Never overlook the reality of the dog at the end of the puppy stage!
What Breed of Baby Chicken Should I Choose?
That's the wrong question. Sorry to harp on about it, but your chick will only be a chick for a matter of months. You need to pick your poultry based on their breed's adult characteristics and not on their chick-adorability score. Finding the right chicken breed for you can be a minefield, and I'd recommend a course like the Chickenpedia chicken breed course to help you make an educated decision. Once you've made the call and collected your chicks, you'll still have unlimited access to all the courses you'll ever need to prepare and care for your chicken of choice.
Can You Sex an Egg?
It would be helpful, but no. There are old wives' tales about pointy eggs hatching into cockerels and rounded eggs hatching into pullets, but there's no proof this is reliable. It's just a bit of fun: like assessing a pregnant lady's bump or guessing the gender of the baby based on which direction her wedding ring swings when hung from a piece of string over her belly. Yeah, that's a thing!
How Can I Guarantee a Baby Hen?
If you have to have a hen, then you have two options: You could either buy a pullet that's already old enough to be confidently sexed, or you could opt for a breed that can be sexed soon after hatching.
Certain chicken breeds are easier to sex than others, and certain heritage color variations are easier still. Chat to your local hatchery and ask for their advice. If you are hatching your own, then its 100% a surprise.
How Much Do Baby Chickens Cost?
A good egg-stimate would be anything from $2 to $10 per chick. The price fluctuates with breed, bloodline, and age, but most breeds can be picked up for around 2-3 USD per chick. They may charge more if the chicks are sexed.
What Do Baby Chickens Eat?
Baby chickens need more nutrients packed into their feed than adult chickens to fuel their rapid growth. You'll need to find a good starter feed that's made of at least 20% protein. Starter feed comes in a crumble and pellet form, and you should keep chick's feeders topped up: they'll take what they need, but they need a lot, frequently and fresh.
You have to start off with crumble and slowly move to larger food, just like human babies! It’s a really complex process if you don’t take the time to understand how to feed and care for your baby chicks. Chickenpedia will old your hand and guide you through the process to avoid tragedies, I highly recommend you do their online baby chicks course.
HOT TIP: Baby chickens snack constantly, just like kids. They'll peck and scratch around looking for nibbles and tidbits. Know this, they are either eating, sleeping or pooping.
What Vaccinations Should Baby Chickens Have?
In the US, a good hatchery is likely to have vaccinated their chicks against all these icky illnesses.
In certain epidemic areas, there may be more specific diseases to look out for too. If you buy your chick from a good hatchery, all of these should have already been given and they don't require any boosters. Bonus!
- Marek's disease
- Infectious Laryngotracheitis
- Avian Rhinotracheitis
- Newcastle disease
- Salmonella Enteritidis
- Infectious Bursal disease
- Infectious Bronchitis (various strains)
- Newcastle disease
- Infectious Laryngotracheitis
- Avian Encephalomyelitis
- Egg-drop syndrome
Should I Get Baby Chickens?
You're bound to love the little fluff bomb, but are you ready to take on poultry-parenting? You should never commit to a chick half-heartedly (this goes for you too, guys). Here are just a few soul-searching questions to reflect on before you head to the hatchery:
Can you commit to raising them?
Chickens live for 6-8 years. If this is a new idea or you just love the look of them then chicks aren’t for you. You could commit to hating the baby chicks as an experience with your kids as long as you have organized suitable coop-a-licious homes for them to move into once they are out of the brooder.
Have you found the right breed for you?
Different breeds are very different to care for and have different traits to offer. Some are better pets, some don't grow too big, and some lay loads of eggs. Do your research!
Can you afford them?
Chicken feed alone can cost around 40 USD a month for a flock of four chickens, but different breeds might need more pricey produce. There are one-off fees like a coop & run, and feeding equipment, and other costs like bedding and grit to consider. For chicks, you'll also need a pricier starter feed and heater. Like with any pet, you can sped a little or a lot, it comes down to how much time you have to devote to them.
Do you have the right lifestyle?
Are you an early bird, or are you always short on time? Baby chickens need a lot of extra care. If you can't stand commitment, care, or hard graft then chicks aren't your bag, baby. You will need about 8 weeks of high maintenance care.
Is everyone in?
It's important to have support when you take on chicks because they'll be around for 6-8 years. Have the chat.
Are your neighbors onboard?
If you have nosey, noise-averse neighbors then a rambunctious rooster and a coop of gobby girls may start a war. Look for quieter breeds like the Wyandotte, Seabright, or Brahma and avoid a rooster. The chatter form the girls will be less than most neighbourhood dogs.
Are you allowed to keep chickens?
Each council has different rules, most of which allow keeping between 4-12 chickens, no roosters and about 2ft from the neighbors fence, in a clean coop.
Will your other pets be cool with chicks?
Dogs and cats seem to either love or hate chicks. Either way, you can't take your eyes off them when they're still chicks. Be honest with yourself. Nobody wants a blood-bath situation.
Do you have enough space?
A small flock of 5-6 average-sized chickens will need a 5x4-foot coop and at least a 25-foot run. Do you have room for these chicks when they're fully grown? During the hatching stage they won’t take up much space at all. Once they move to the indoor brooder, you will need a slightly larger area. They cover this extensively in Chickenpedia.
Have you considered getting adult chickens?
Chicks are gorgeous, and their appeal is utterly obvious, but just like puppies, they're harder work than adult chickens would be. Chick days don't last long anyway, so unless you're sure, why not hop straight to hen?
The Lifecycle of a Baby Chicken
A hen begins ovulation immediately after laying an egg. The yolk is formed first and then the white and the shell. It takes about 26 hours for an egg to be fully formed. That's a very productive day in my eyes!
Mummy and Daddy chicken are very much in love and a fairy magics a little chick into mummy's tummy.
Not buying it? A rooster performs the – rather kinkily named – Cloacal kiss, where he mounts the hen and inseminates her via his papilla when their cloacal are in contact. There is a little bit of romance in it. He dances for her first.
The fertilized egg will be laid within 24 hours and the embryo takes 21 days to develop to maturity, at which point the chick will hatch.
Baby chickens are known as hatchlings immediately after birth when they're still wet.
They're generally referred to as chicks once they're up on their funny little feet and foraging, at around day 2 or 3.
Pullets & cockerels
Once chicks can be sexed, they'll tend to take on their tick box term.
Chickens, roosters, or hens
Once they've reached sexual maturity they'll be known as adult chickens, or by their sex-specific title.
Fascinating Foul Fact
"If a hen decides the rooster didn't impress her much, she can eject his sperm to avoid fertilization. Harsh, but very cool!"
How Quickly Do Baby Chickens Grow?
They grow up so fast! They'll be too cool to hang out with you before you know it.
On the first day leave the chick where they hatched, whether that's with mum or in an incubator. Leave them with the egg and wait for their down to dry off before moving them.
Chicks can be parted from their mums immediately. If they're not parted, they'll stay with Mum for about 6 weeks.
Chickadee has used up all the yummy nutrients he absorbed from his yolk sack before he hatched, and now he's hungry.
Day 3 – 2 weeks
You'll be in training mode! Training your chick how to use their water dispenser and where to find their food. They'll be eating lots and drinking three times as much as they're eating. They'll also have mucky bottoms. They'll be growing rapidly and their down is slowly replaced by feathers.
Those super-soft baby feathers are replaced with adult feathers, starting at the nape of their neck. They look and act like scruffy teenagers and the battle of the pecking order begins. Some chicks start to flap about at 2-weeks old, and they'll clumsily flap their way out of their brooder box.
Now they show their true colors! They should be looking like little chickens now and be confidently exploring. You'll start to spot your chick's personality as they peck about, scratch, and investigate. They will get into mischief at this age and enjoy 'toys' like branches and pots to hop onto.
They should have a full body of adult feathers including their flight feathers, and you'll see them taking to short flights. When this happens, they're fully equipped to defend themselves and it's time to introduce them – carefully mind – to the big kids!
By now you might be able to sex your chicks by their appearance, and if not, then before long they'll be crowing or laying. They've found their place in the world, and the pecking order. Welcome to adulthood guys!
Your cockerel may become a man and awkwardly gargle his first crow. You are now the proud mama of a rooster!
Your pullets will soon lay their first egg and officially become a hen. Awww, you’re a nanna!
What Do I Need To Care For Baby Chickens?
Never ever leave poultry-baby prep until D-Day! When you hatch or bring home your baby chicks, you need to be ready! Well…as ready as you'll ever be. You'll need these on your list:
A fancy pants one, or a cardboard box. Anything will do.
A heat source
You need a safe and adjustable heat source.
Hemp bedding is ideal, you can move to hay or similar when they're bigger if you want to.
An organic, high-protein starter feed will give your chicks everything they need to grow up strong.
This one's easy at least and a reliable waterer that is shallow so they won’t drown.
A low plate or plastic lid will do to start with.
Chicks can drink 3 times their own body weight and have no table manners at all. They'll need a constant supply of fresh water. Id spend my money on decent waterers.
If you're using a starter feed then they won't need grit, but as you introduce table scraps and treats chicks will need a very fine grit to aid their digestion.
Don't wait for something scary to happen to decide on your emergency plan. Join a reputable chicken community like Chickenpedia. When you have questions or worries, you'll have unlimited access to courses, poultry peers, expert information, and one-to-one support. All at a fraction of the cost of a vet trip.
Where Can I Buy Baby Chickens?
You want chicks. You're 100% in. Where to begin?
A hatchery is the safest way to select chicks. They can tell you all about the bloodline and history of your chick and are better equipped than most to sex chicks early.
You'll see baby chickens at the pet store from time to time, but the lovely shop assistant isn't likely to know that much about them, where they came from, what they'll become, or what vaccinations they might have had.
It's not just hens that go up for adoption. Sometimes people were hoping for another gender or took on more than they could handle. It's worth checking in with your local shelters to see if any chicks need a loving home.
Having chicks from friends or acquaintances who know their chicken stuff can be a great option. You'll be able to meet the parents which feels wildly reassuring.
Hatching your chicks from hatching eggs (fertilized eggs) can be amazing if you're already comfy with these critters and have all the kit and the know-how. As a beginner this might be one step too far.
Questions to Ask Your Breeder
1. What Vaccinations have the chicks had?
Most vaccinations can be given very early in life to baby chickens, and if the hatchery has taken care of this that's less money spent on vaccines or treatment for you.
2. What can you tell me about the strain or breed line?
It's nice to know the bloodline of your chicks as this is likely to impact their characteristics and life expectancy.
3. Can I see the parents?
This won't always be possible, but sometimes you can meet the hen or both.
4. Are You NPIP certified?
The National Poultry Improvement Plan certifies breeders who have their birds independently tested for Pullorum-typhoid and Avian influenza. It doesn't mean immunity is guaranteed, but it's a very good start.
"I'm doing this! I want baby chickens!"
Loving your commitment! Once you've decided that you're starting from scratch with baby chickens, whether you're buying them as chicks or as hatching eggs, you'll need to know how to prepare for and care for them. Next up…egg-sactly that!
Check out my blog, <the ultimate guide to baby chicken care>. You'll find out what equipment you'll need when to switch your chick's feed, how to manage their temperature, and when to introduce them to the big kids. You got this mama!
Parents need a network. You'll want to know how to change your chick's feed and housing to suit their development, whether all that weird stuff they're doing (or pooping) is normal, and how to help keep them happy and healthy. Chickenpedia offers the perfect course to help you fly through poultry parenting rather than scratching around for information. Check out their baby chicken course here.