How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks

Spring brings new chicks!

If you will be receiving baby chicks in the mail this year, it’s best to be prepared. There isn’t a tremendous amount of work required to get ready for chicks, but you certainly don’t want to bring them home only to discover that you forgot something critical. We recommend creating a checklist to refer to in future years.

You Will Need

  • Brooder (we recommend a deep metal stock tank as a roomy and draft-free solution).
  • Cover for brooder (e.g., a panel from a wire dog crate).
  • Heat lamp.
  • Spare light bulb for heat lamp.
  • Thermostat for heat lamp (optional).
  • Pine shavings (NOT cedar, which contains toxic oils).
  • Newspaper or similar paper (e.g., torn from a brown paper feed bag).
  • Small waterer.
  • White sugar.
  • Small feeder.
  • Chick feed.


  1. Before your chicks arrive, you will want to prepare the brooder. First, find a building where you can put it so that the chicks are not exposed to rain, drafts, or predators. The building will also need to be supplied with electricity.
  2. Spread a deep layer of pine shavings evenly across the entire bottom of the brooder.
  3. Cover the shavings with paper so that none are exposed. This is to prevent the chicks from eating the shavings before they learn what their food looks like.
  4. Set the wire cover on the brooder to keep chicks in and predators (such as cats) out.
  5. Hang the heat lamp from the wire. If for some reason this is not possible with the cover you have chosen, set a lightweight board across the top of the brooder and hang the heat lamp from that. You are now ready for chicks!
  6. When your chicks ship, the hatchery should provide you with tracking information. Although your post office should call you when the chicks arrive, accidents do happen, so track the package yourself.
  7. The day you expect to receive chicks, fill up the waterer with fresh, clean water, mixing in one teaspoon of sugar for every quart. Set the waterer in the brooder, but not directly under the heat lamp. Chicks do not like hot water.
  8. Fill the feeder with chick feed. Also sprinkle some feed across the paper so that it catches the attention of the chicks.
  9. Turn on the heat lamp. If you have a thermostat, set it to 95°F.
  10. As soon as the chicks reach the post office, drive over and bring them home immediately.
  11. Do not release all the chicks into the brooder at once. Remove them from their shipping carton one at a time, dipping the beak of each individual bird into the water first so that they know where to find it. Make sure you actually see each bird drink before you release it.
  12. Verify that the temperature is comfortable for the chicks (you will want to do this again later in the day). If they are huddled together directly under the light, they are too cold. If they are sitting along the edges of the brooder away from the light, they are too hot. Adjust the temperature by raising and lowering the light. If the weather is particularly chilly, you may need to add a second light.
  13. Over the next few days, monitor the chicks for signs of shipping stress. Continue to put sugar into their water for a little while if you see droopy chicks that fail to thrive. Pasty rear ends may need to be very gently cleansed with a clean rag moistened in warm water.
  14. After about one day, once the chicks have started to eat their feed, throw away the paper and give them access to the shavings.

Caring For Your Growing Chicks

Following these directions will ensure that your chicks get off to a good start. It is important to note, however, that not all variables are under your control. Shipping is stressful. In any given shipment, one or two chicks may fail to thrive, and there will be little that you can do besides making sure their basic needs are met. In particular, make sure they have continual access to cool, fresh water, supplemented with sugar if signs of stress are present.

As your chicks grow, they will need less and less heat to stay comfortable. If you have a thermostat for your heat lamp, turn the heat down very slightly every day so that the temperature drops about five degrees per week. If you do not have a thermostat, you will have to monitor the chicks and raise the light as needed. (Also be sure to keep the lamp safely above the level of inquisitive beaks as the chicks grow.) By the time the chicks are six weeks old, they should not require the heat lamp any more, provided that the weather is mild.

Once your chicks are accustomed to the natural outdoor temperatures, they will be ready to move out of the brooder and into their new home. Choose a warm, sunny day to move them to their permanent housing. If you already have adult chickens outside, however, you will need to introduce the two groups gradually.

Enjoy your chicks!