Newly-hatched baby chicks spend their first days of life in a brooder (or under their mum!). But at some point, they will grow up a little, become more adventurous, and get bored in the brooder. One of the more commonly asked questions amongst new chicken breeders is, when can chicks go outside? Every growing chick needs warmth and this early period is vital for the health of the adult bird and future well being. The key to success is keeping the chick safe, providing clean food and water
When Can Chicks Leave the Brooder?
This is very dependent on the time of year and the weather. Chicks are not fully feathered until they are 11-12 weeks old – and are vulnerable to a chill until then.
First, remember that babies raised by a mother hen are outside with her from the outset – she is always there caring for them and offering a safe, warm place to scurry back to.
Incubator-hatched chicks will need to stay in a brooder until they are 4 weeks old. At 4 weeks, they will have some feathers, but mostly down – which does not retain heat. They may go outside briefly for little excursions at this point if it is warm (not too hot!) and sunny.
Planning for Leaving the Brooder
Safety is paramount, and it requires some planning on your part.
4 Tips for planning before your chicks leave the brooder
1/ A Safe Enclosed Area –
An area to protect the chicks from other, bigger flock members as well as predators. Other birds (not to mention the neighborhood dog or cat) will find little chicks irresistible.
The best area will be on short grass. They will want to explore but need to be contained and unable to escape. You could even create a portable playpen of sorts, using chicken wire or netting with wooden poles.
The holes in the wire or netting must be small enough to contain the chicks – they must not be able to squeeze through it. Make sure the sides are high enough that they can’t escape, as they will flap about. Remember that netting will not keep predators out.
Ideally, outside playpens will have a cover on the top to prevent predator access and chickens from escaping.
2/ An area for them to go to if scared –
Baby chickens may become anxious and will naturally seek shelter. They may be frightened by new outside noises, new sights and smells, and other things that can easily spook them.
Provide a safe place for them to retreat to – even a big cardboard box will do. You could also use their small brooder box. Be careful – chicks can be resourceful and may try to escape. Put boxes etc. in the center of the enclosure rather than near the sides, as they may try to climb on them to “fly the coop”.
3/ Water source –
Your chicks will need fresh, clean drinking water, but not from a source in which they can immerse themselves, get wet, or drown. They also need a nutritious, balanced food source.
4/Outside temperature conditions –
Choose a warm, sunny spot on dry ground and out of the wind. On hot days, they need a shaded area as well.
What you Need to do When your Baby Chicks go Outside
When you begin letting your chicks outside, no more than an hour or two at a time will suffice. They can use this time to explore, become used to noises, but not get too cold or tired.
If the chicks are peeping loudly, puffing up their feathers, huddling together, or retreating to their shelter, it’s time to bring them in. It’s also time to bring them in if the temperature drops, the wind picks up a lot, or it starts to rain.
Once chicks are fully feathered, they can stay outside full-time and be introduced to the flock.
Above all – SUPERVISE!
Your presence will not only reassure them but will ensure their safety and protection. Spend time outside with your chicks, get to know them, and use this sunny, happy time to bond with them.