When you keep chickens, looking after new babies can be stressful. It is easier to have a hen that hatched the chicks as she will know how to look after them. She will naturally introduce them slowly to the big wide world. If you have hatched chicks in an incubator, you may be wondering when your precious brood can go outside for the first time. What precautions should you consider in keeping the chicks safe?
Chicks can go outside when the temperature is 65° F (18° C) or above. They should be at least six weeks old. At six to ten weeks, the chicks develop adult feathers allowing them to maintain better body heat. Precautions should be taken to protect the chicks from predators and environmental dangers.
Letting your chicks outside for the first time can be anxiety-provoking. It may be complete your chores as you keep rushing out to check on your little flock.
When Can Baby Chicks Go Outside?
If your hen has hatched chicks, she will want to take them outside on the second or third day after hatching. She usually sits until she feels most eggs have hatched and the chicks are dried and strong enough to follow her.
In the beginning, the chicks spend much of their time tucked under their mother’s wings, making very short forays to feed when the hen clucks to encourage eating. Their time under the mother’s wings will decrease as they get older.
Hens are usually sensible creatures and will often take their brood of chicks back into the nest after a short time outside. This helps keep the chicks warm and trains them to return to the nest as the sunsets.
Some people may be concerned and uncertain if they should let the hen take her chicks outside. There is no reason to keep the hen locked up in a sheltered enclosure if the weather is warm and dry.
If the weather is freezing or wet and the hen lacks motherly common sense, it might be necessary to keep her in a sheltered, protected enclosure.
When Can Incubator Chicks Go Outside?
Chicks hatched in an incubator have no mother hen to care for them and provide heat while they are outside. They are vulnerable to weather and temperature variations.
Their downy chick feathers are not adequate for providing warmth or protection from the rain. Chicks need to be kept warm with heat lamps until their adult feathers grow in.
Different chicken breeds get their adult plumage at different ages. This stage may occur at any time from six weeks to ten weeks.
It is critical to provide a safe environment for the chicks where predators cannot catch them. This applies to both hen-reared chicks and ones that hatched in an incubator. Often chicks outside with their mother are lost to predators such as falcons, hawks, monkeys, cats, and dogs. Rats are also a big problem for young chicks. The chicken keeper assumes they will be safe with their mother, but this is not the case.
4-Week-Old Chickens Outside
Four-week-old chicks need to be kept at temperatures around 75° F. At four weeks, the chicks are too young to be outside for any length of time. If the weather is warm and the temperature is 75° F or above, the chicks can go out for short periods.
The chicks are fragile and vulnerable to environmental hazards. Dog drinking bowls, water bowls for adult chickens, and other seemingly non-threatening water features have resulted in the death of many chicks.
The chicks are easily knocked over, and even a mild blow can prove fatal to these tiny birds. It is best to keep the chicks in a small enclosure if they are allowed outside at this age. The enclosure should be covered on all sides, including the roof.
6-Week-Old Chickens Outside
Six-week-old chicks can tolerate temperatures of 65° F to 70° F. In some breeds, the chicks may be acquiring their adult plumage. Chicks with adult plumage are better able to regulate their body heat.
Chicks at this age can stay outside for longer periods. Each batch of chickens must be assessed individually to decide how long they can stay out. In some breeds, six-week-old chicks still have the baby down and will need protection from the cold.
If the ambient temperature is warm enough, the chicks can stay out all day. They will need to be brought in at night when the temperature drops. Chicks are still vulnerable to predation and environmental hazards. Keep them safely in an enclosure.
7-Week-Old Chickens Outside
At seven weeks, the chicks become very active. Many resemble small adults, although some might still have scruffy plumage as all the adult feathers are not yet present. In some larger chicken breeds, the chicks may still have a baby down.
Assess your chicks’ maturity and feather development before deciding to leave them out overnight. The local climate will play a big role in determining if the chicks can be left out overnight.
If the weather is warm and dry and the chicks have adult plumage, you can begin leaving the chicks out overnight. The more chicks there are, the better the chick flock copes as more communal heat is generated.
Chicks that are very noisy and huddling close together are cold. They may also fluff out their feathers, and they will not eat if the temperature is too low.
8-Week-Old Chickens Outside
At eight weeks, chicks have grown considerably. They can be left out overnight but will need protection from cold, wet weather.
It is important to remember that heat stress can also be a problem for chicks. Shade, adequate water, and protection from direct sunlight are essential.
It is probably a good idea to keep these chicks in an enclosure to protect them from predation.
9-Week-Old Chickens Outside
In some breeds, nine-week chicks look like mini-adults. However, it is vital to remember that they are still young and inexperienced in flock manners and habits. The chicks will often still need protection from other flock members.
It is helpful to introduce the chicks to kind hens or roosters but beware of those vicious henhouse bullies. Some roosters and hens can be aggressive to young sub-adult chickens. It is best to watch flock politics carefully when introducing the chicks to the flock.
Chicks hatched by a hen can be outside right from the start. They have their mother with them to supply heat on demand. Incubator hatched chicks should only be out in the coop from approximately six weeks. The transition to being outside permanently should only occur when the chicks have their adult feathers, and the weather is warm enough for a gradual acclimation.