If you’re a proud owner of baby chicks, then you know how precious and delicate these creatures are. And naturally, you probably want to ensure that your little feathered friends grow up healthy and strong.
One of the most crucial aspects of raising baby chicks is their diet. But what do baby chicks eat?
Baby chicks should eat a well-balanced diet that includes proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. Commercial chick starter feed is an excellent basis for their diet because it has ideal ratios of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Curious about when you can transition your chicks to an “adult” diet, and what a baby chick’s diet should actually entail? In this blog post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know.
What Do You Feed Baby Chicks After They Hatch?
For the first few hours (up to 24-72 hours) after your chicks are born, they don’t actually need any food.
They’ll survive solely off the nutrients from the egg they hatched out of. This is why chicks you purchase via the mail aren’t sent with any food – they are sent as day-old chicks and don’t quite need any food yet.
After a day or so, you’ll want to start providing your chicks with food and water.
A starter feed is widely recommended by professionals for baby chicks. Chick starter feed has all the vital ingredients a baby chick requires for healthy growth, but it can be given in two different varieties – medicated and non-medicated.
Medicated feed contains Amprolium, which helps in preventing coccidiosis.
Chick starter is different from adult chicken feed due to its protein content. It will contain around 18 to 22% protein, with the ratios being reduced as your birds get older.
It doesn’t matter much whether you’re raising meat birds (broilers) or laying hens – as chicks, they need about the same quantities of protein.
What Do Baby Chicks Drink?
In their first hours and days, a chick’s diet should mainly consist of water. The little birds require clean, fresh water around the clock.
It is advisable to give chicks lukewarm water (somewhere between 85 and 90F) that will allow them to drink and digest it quickly.
Chicks need to consume around 2.5-4 ounces of feed and about 4-6 ounces of water daily.
Make sure the water source is shallow enough for the chicks to drink without getting wet or drowning.
Specialized chick waterers are available, but any clean shallow container, such as saucers or plastic lids can suffice.
If you are worried about drowning, you can put a few pebbles in the base of your waterer, which will prevent the chicks from hanging out inside.
What to Feed Baby Chicks During the First Week
The first week of a chick’s life is critical to its overall health and well-being. During this time, chicks need high levels of protein to encourage healthy growth and strong feathers.
Again, a chick starter feed with at least 20% protein is the best choice during their first week.
Since baby chicks can be messy eaters, it’s important to choose a feed with small pieces to avoid waste.
You can also supplement their diet with hard-boiled eggs or chicks-sized pieces of scrambled eggs if you choose, but this isn’t necessary.
Moving forward, each week brings a new set of challenges and needs for your flock.
Below, I’ll break down what you should be feeding your baby chicks during their first week of life, as well as what they should be eating as they transition into the next few weeks.
What Should 2- Week Old Chicks Eat?
Continue to provide chick starters. You can also begin to add some fresh greens or vegetables to their diet to introduce them to new flavors and textures.
Be sure to finely chop any greens or veggies to make them easier for your chicks to eat.
What Should 3-Week Old Chicks Eat?
By three weeks old, your chicks will be more active and curious. They’ll be eager to explore their surroundings, including any tasty treats you offer them.
In addition to continuing with their starter feed, you can begin offering small amounts of scratch grains or cracked corn.
These snacks should be given in moderation, as too many can prevent your chicks from getting the nutrients they need from their regular feed.
What Should 4-Week Old Chicks Eat?
Continue with the starter feed and occasional treats, but also offer grit to aid in digestion.
Grit is small pieces of gravel or rocks that chickens need to consume to break down their food in their gizzard.
What Should 5-Week Old Chicks Eat?
Your chicks will be getting bigger and stronger every day. Keep supplying starter feed and keep offering grit and occasional treats to keep your chicks happy and healthy.
What Should 6 and 7-Week Old Chickens Eat?
At the six- and seven-week marks, your chicks will be getting close to maturity. They’ll be almost fully feathered out and ready to join the rest of your flock.
Continue feeding them starter feed and offering plenty of fresh water, grit, and occasional snacks to promote good health and a strong immune system.
When Can Baby Chicks Eat Normal Food?
When chicks reach around 8 weeks of age, they should be ready to begin the transition to adult chicken feed.
This transition should be a gradual process, and it’s essential that you take your time to avoid causing any digestive upsets.
Begin by mixing a small amount (around 10%) of adult chicken feed with their starter feed for a week, gradually increasing the amount of adult feed over time. Within a few weeks, you can fully transition your chickens to adult chicken feed.
When choosing an adult chicken feed, look for one that provides a balanced diet with all of the necessary nutrients your chickens need.
Most chicken feeds have a protein content of around 16%, which is perfect for adult chickens.
It’s important to note that the transition period and type of feed can vary depending on the breed of your chickens.
Some breeds may be ready to transition earlier or later than others, so keep a close eye on their behavior and weight.
Make sure you choose the right type of adult food for your birds depending on their purpose – broiler feed for meat birds, layer feed for laying hens, etc.
Do Baby Chicks Need Supplements?
Baby chicks do not need any kinds of supplements. You can choose to give them Sav a Chick, which is a supplement that contains electrolytes and other nutrients, if they appear weak.
However, this is not necessary if your chicks appear to be healthy.
As far as mineral supplements go, chickens only need supplements once they near laying age.
Laying hens should be given calcium supplements when you start transitioning them to adult feed (no need to do this if you’re feeding a layer pellet that already contains calcium).
Broilers do not need any additional supplementation at all.
How Much Should You Feed Baby Chicks?
Generally, it’s recommended to provide 1-2 tablespoons of starter feed per chicken per day.
This amount should be divided into three or four small meals throughout the day to ensure the chicks are getting enough nutrients (or use an auto feeder).
As your baby chicks grow, you can gradually increase the amount of feed you give them – to support their sustained growth and increased bodyweight.
You should also monitor the way they behave when it comes to feeding. If they’re constantly pecking at the feed and finishing it quickly, you may have to increase the amount.
On the other hand, if the chicks are leaving food untouched, you may need to decrease the amount.
Which Treats Are Good for Chicks?
Baby chicks don’t necessarily need any treats, but if you want to give them a few here and there, that’s fine. Just remember that moderation is key!
Some good options include:
What Herbs Are Good for Baby Chicks?
There are several healthy herbs you can feed your baby chicks (in moderation, of course), like:
- Parsley – is a great source of vitamin C, which can help boost your chick’s immune system.
- Oregano – packed with healthy vitamins and minerals.
- Rosemary – it has antifungal properties that help prevent respiratory infections.
- Thyme – also packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s particularly high in iron, which can help prevent anemia in your chicks.
- Basil – a great source of vitamin K, which helps your chicks build strong bones.
What Shouldn’t Baby Chicks Eat?
Although chicks can eat many of the foods adults can, some can harm their growth and overall health, particularly when being fed liberally and not in moderation.
Some no-nos for all chickens, including adult birds, are:
- Apple seeds
- Raw potato
- Tomato pieces and parts
- Anything that is moldy
- Anything with caffeine/lots of added sugar
Though you may not notice any problems by feeding your chicks these foods every now and then, regularly including them in your birds’ diets can lead to problems like upset stomach, diarrhea, poor growth, and even death (in extreme cases).
As a rule, if something can be given to adult birds in moderation (as a treat), you should avoid giving to chicks until they’re 6 – 7 weeks old.
Now, things may get a little confusing when it comes to things that adult bircs can eat, but chicks really shouldn’t.
I put the most common items into a table so they’re easy to digest (pun intended). I also bolded the foods that are safe for your adults birds but not for your chicks…
|Food||Can adult chickens eat it?||Can baby chicks eat it?|
|Raw potato||Yes||In moderation|
|Raw potato skin||Yes||No|
|Banana||Yes, as a treat||In moderation (too much sugar)|
|Apple fruit flesh||Yes||In moderation|
|Tomato fruit||Yes||In moderation|
|Nuts||Yes||In moderation (crush them first)|
|Oatmeal||Yes||Yes, but after they’re 6 weeks old|
|Kidney beans||Yes, but cooked||Yes, but cooked|
|Lavender||Yes||Yes, in moderation|
|Grass clippings||Yes||Yes, but after they’re 6 weeks old, in moderation|
|Green peppers||Yes||Yes, but after they’re 6 weeks old|
|Squash||Yes||Yes, but after they’re 4 weeks old|
|Corn||Yes, in moderation||Yes, but after they’re 4 weeks old|
|Radish||Yes||Yes, after they’re 4 weeks old|
|Peanut butter||Yes, in moderation||No|
|Sunflower seeds (unsalted)||Yes||No|
|Zucchini||Yes||Yes, after they’re 6 weeks old, in moderation|
|Spinach||Yes||Yes, after they’re 4 weeks old|
You can get a full list with even more foods in PDF format here.
Can You Force Feed a Baby Chick?
Force-feeding a baby chick is not recommended. While it may seem like a good idea to try and get them to eat, it can actually cause more harm than good.
When a chick is not eating, it’s usually a sign that something else is wrong.
If you force food into their beak, it can cause them to aspirate, which means the food goes into their lungs instead of their stomach.
What Do You Feed a Struggling Baby Chick?
If you have a baby chick that isn’t feeling well, there are ways to get them to eat… One is to offer them some plain yogurt.
Yogurt is easy on their stomach and has live cultures, which can help their digestive system.
Another way is to dip their beak in some sugar water to stimulate their appetite.
Besides their regular diet, you can also give your poor chick some treats to help entice them to eat.
Scrambled eggs are a good protein source, for example. You can also try offering them some mealworms or finely chopped fruits and vegetables.
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about what baby chicks eat…
It’s not too challenging to feed a flock. Baby chicks need a bit of special attention, requiring more frequent feedings (and in smaller amounts) and of certain nutrients to avoid upsetting their delicate digestive tracts.
Pay attention to the tips above to make sure your chicks get exactly what they need and you’ll do just fine!
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.