One of the joys of living on a smallholding is witnessing new life and caring for chicks. Few creatures are more endearing, and so synonymous with spring, than chicks.

It is important to provide water immediately after they have hatched. Chicks dehydrate quickly at the high temperatures of rearing. They find water quickly after hatching and learn to drink. Drinking often starts with the chick pecking at a bubble, and some water movement helps to start them drinking.

A good idea is to lay paper on the floor and place the feed and water on that. As they are pecking around, the chicks will discover the feed and water by accident.

If you are keeping the chicks in a brooder, provide 24 hours of light at this very vulnerable learning stage.

By 3½ weeks, a chick will have drinking sessions of a minute long, during which they can drink 11 times with a few seconds pause between each. Drinker design has an important effect on chick drinking behaviour. Some trough designs are better than others at encouraging socialising while drinking.


Food recognition by the chick is complex and mostly quite accidental. They will peck indiscriminately at various objects in their environment such as sand grains, shiny objects and even other chicks.

If reared by a broody hen, the advantages of watching her tid-bitting for food are obvious. She uses her vocal calls to encourage and guide them to eat the food items she indicates.

Some starter feeds are made up into three-dimensional crumbs to be more attractive.

Studies show that with 10 hours of light, chicks up to three days old only spend 30% of their time eating, but by day ten, this increases to nearly 60%.

The number of times that they eat and drink each day varies.

As age increases, the number of feeding times drops but total feed eaten increases.

Caring for chicks
The mother hen provides the perfect temperature and protection.


Temperature needs to be carefully regulated if you are keeping chicks in a brooder.

The chick’s first response after hatching is to seek warmth and cover. Ensure that there are no draughts.

Body temperature at birth is 38.6°C rising to 40°C by day nine.

If heating is inadequate, chicks huddle together in a semicircle facing outwards and can easily smother.

If they are too hot they move away from the heat source.

Chicks will not move out into colder temperatures for food before 5-7 days.

The ideal temperature when caring for chicks is 30°C. Lower rearing temperatures (e.g. 20°C) will slow growth, cause earlier feathering, but increase the size of organs such as the heart, thyroid and adrenal glands.

When chicks are with their mother they have a built in source of heat and protection from draughts.

We have a great deal of information about chickens and other poultry, which you will find here.

To subscribe to the SA Smallholder click here.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *