When Can Baby Chicks Go Outside?
One of the joys of poultry keeping is getting chicks to increase your flock. The cute fluffy little chicks will grow up and get bored in their brooders. As they try their wings, you will get a bigger brooder. With time, this brooder will be too small, and the chicks will get jittery. At this point, it is time for them to get out.
But are your chicks old enough to go outside? Are the outdoor temperatures warm enough for them? How will you introduce them to the flock? And how will you keep them safe?
There are several aspects you will consider before letting your chicks go outside. Nonetheless, experts recommend taking your chicks for short walks outdoors when they turn 4-6 weeks if the temperatures are warm enough.
The brief outdoor sessions will help your chicks acclimate gradually, forage for food, and get some exercise. You can move the chicks outside permanently when your outdoor temperature matches the required brooder temperature for your chicks’ ages and they are fully feathered, often at 6-8 weeks. Read on for a comprehensive guide on letting your chicks go outside.
Factors to Consider Before Letting Baby Chicks Outside
Not all six-week-old chicks venture outside because several considerations will impact this decision. Below are the four main factors that determine whether or not your baby chicks can go outside.
– Age of the Baby Chick
Chicks grow quickly and need free access to water and food, which can be comfortably offered outdoors. However, if you move them outdoors too quickly, they can die when exposed to e-coli, coccidian, Mareks disease, and staphylococcus. The chicks will have built their natural immunity against these diseases and others at about 4-6 weeks.
Moreover, most farmers will have vaccinated their chicks against the common diseases in their environments by this age. As such, you can let your chick go outdoors safely when it turns 4-6 weeks. Furthermore, at 4-6 weeks, most chicken breeds are feathered so their bodies can withstand the adverse elements to which they might be exposed.
– Weather Conditions
Chicks need heat to keep warm and survive. Even if your chicks have feathers at 4-6 weeks old, do not take them outside if the temperatures are freezing. Some parts of their bodies are still covered in down feathers that will not retain heat since their barbs will not interlock. As such, the chicks can freeze to death. There are different temperature needs for chicks at different ages.
For instance, when they are four weeks old, the chicks thrive in temperatures of eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Do not take your chicks outside if your outdoor temperatures are below this. If it is winter, wait till your chicks are fully feathered before you take them outside. This happens at 6-8 weeks for most chicken breeds.
– Feather Development
Feathers give your baby chicks protection from the elements and help them control their temperatures. They are made of beta-keratin, the same substance that makes up fingernails and human hair. The development of feathers starts in the embryonic stage along the middle of the back and then spreads out as chemical signals dictate.
You will notice the fluffy look of your chicks disappearing when they turn 4-5 weeks old. The fuzzy down will be replaced by mature chicken feathers signaling the chicks’ entry into the “teen stage.”
Most chick breeds will develop their wing feathers first, followed by the chest feathers and the rest of their bodies. Your chicks can safely go outside full-time when they are fully feathered, which is at 6-8 weeks for most chicken breeds.
You need a good starter feed for healthy feather development. This feed has a 20-22% protein content compared to 16-18% in feeds for adult chickens. The higher protein content supports healthy feather formation.
– Protection from Predators
Baby chicks love stretching their wings and running around when taken outside though they are utterly defenseless when they meet predators. Before letting them outdoors, you should ensure the area is secure. You can cover an outdoor run with mesh all around to protect the chicks from predators.
The area should also have no small crevices through which the chicks can sneak. You can settle for about five square feet per chick for your outdoor space to avoid cramping them. If you have an excessively big space, this will be harder to secure. Alternatively, you can get a trained guardian dog to watch over your chicks.
Remember that chickens have a pecking order. As such, you should also be wary of older chickens in your flock when you take your chicks outside. Mixing the chicks with adult chickens can expose the former to bullying, serious injuries, and the spread of diseases.
You can introduce your chicks to the older birds when they turn 10-12 weeks old and are almost fully grown hence able to handle the older chickens better.
Temperature Requirements for Baby Chicks
Most poultry keepers wonder if they should use supplemental heat when moving their chicks outside. Generally, it is advisable to avoid using heat plates or heat lamps outdoors because these are fire hazards. The ideal option is to ensure your outdoor temperature matches the feathering and age of your chicks.
If it is too cold for them to go outside based on these elements, keep them inside. Here is a table on the temperature requirements for chicks at different ages.
|Hatching to 7 days
|90-95 degrees Fahrenheit
|85 degrees Fahrenheit
|80 degrees Fahrenheit
|75 degrees Fahrenheit
|70 degrees Fahrenheit
|65 degrees Fahrenheit
|More than 6 weeks
|60-65 degrees Fahrenheit or room temperature
Ideally, your chicks can move outdoors at more than six weeks old if the outdoor temperatures are above sixty degrees Fahrenheit. In most cases, noisy birds are unhappy ones, but there is a difference between the noise, and a cold chick makes and that of a chick frightened by its new environment.
If you notice your chicks huddled together, noisy, and not playing with their feathers puffed up when you take them outside, this shows they are cold and thus not ready for the move.
Tips for Letting Baby Chicks Outside
Here are a few tips for easing the transition of your chicks from the brooder to the outdoors:
- Remove supplemental heat since chicks can tolerate room temperatures at 6-8 weeks. Cold-tolerant chicken breeds can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Removing supplemental heat a few days before letting the chicks out gives them time to adjust to room temperatures.
- Move your brooder outside to maintain consistency. When you place the brooder outdoors, this gives the chicks time to accustom to their new environment before you release them. Alternatively, you can use a pet carrier to move the chicks.
- Start by letting your chicks free-range while supervised for a short time, then work up to extended periods. Maintain a routine in how the chicks free-range so the birds become comfortable and can then be left unsupervised.
- Keep your area clean. Biosecurity and sanitation are crucial for chicks. Remove wet litter, old feed, and manure daily. You should also sanitize and clean the outdoors with a safe cleanser and warm water while keeping waterers and feeders clean.
- Deny the chicks access to nest boxes since some might be inclined to run and hide here because of a change in environment.
- Lay a cardboard over a section of the mesh in the chicks’ outdoor area to provide some shade.
Deciding to move your chicks outside is often worrisome. There is no definite time to move the chicks, and your choice is dependent on several factors. The information above has hopefully given you crucial pointers on handling this inevitable transition. During the move, monitor your flock for any signs of infections and distress, then intervene appropriately.