Don’t risk putting your baby chicks outside too soon. Doing so puts their health and safety at risk – find out when can chicks go outside!
After several weeks with chicks inside of my garage, I began to wonder – when can chicks go outside? At first, chicks are adorable, but then they start to grow and poop more.
Need I say more?
When I went into my garage and realized all of my chicks escaped, I knew it was time to start the transition process. Chicks need to go outside at some point, but I had no idea when. Raising baby chicks is hard – there are so many unknowns.
In general, baby chickens go outside after six weeks old once they are fully feathered. However, some breeds of chickens take longer to develop their feathers, or you may live in colder climates.
If you have wondered when you can put chicks outside, here is what you need to know.
- How Long Do Chicks Need a Heat Lamp
- When Can Chicks Go Outside to Play
- When Can Chicks Go Outside Without a Heat Lamp
- When Can You Put Chicks Outside Permanently
- How to Move Chicks Outside
- When Can Chicks Join The Existing Flock
- Final Thoughts
How Long Do Chicks Need a Heat Lamp
A general rule of thumb is that baby chicks need to use a heat lamp for chicks until they’re four to six weeks old. If you’re raising baby chicks in the middle of the winter, they will need the heat lamp for longer than six weeks. It’s easier to keep chicks warm in the summer.
Once chicks are fully feathered at six weeks of age, they can comfortably handle temperatures of 60 degrees F or higher.
When you stop using your heat lamp for chicks depends on the temperature where you keep them. If you have your chicks in an unheated garage or barn, you’ll need to keep the heat lamp on until they’re fully feathered or until the temperature goes above 70 degrees F.
It’s important that they stay at the best temperature for baby chicks for proper health. Freshly hatched chicks need to stay in an environment between 95-100 degrees F. Each week, the temperature decreases by 5 degrees.
Here are the best temperatures for baby chicks.
- The first week: 95 degrees F
- The second week: 90 degrees F
- The third week: 85 degrees F
- The fourth week: 80 degrees F
- The fifth week: 75 degrees F
- The sixth week: 70 degrees F
Start your chick’s brooder temperature around 95 degrees F. Each following week, decrease the temperature by 5 degrees. So, by the 5th to 6th week of life, your chicks should comfortably be at 70 degrees F or room temperature.
At this time, it should be safe to take away the heat lamp because you should be close to the ambient temperature of the air. However, if the outdoor temperature is still below 70 degrees, leave the source of heat there.
Keeping Chicks After Hatching
When newborn chicks hatch, they have to stay warm; chicks need a heat source. In nature, the mother hen keeps the babies warm, and if you use a broody hen, you won’t need to worry about keeping your chicks warm.
However, in a brooder box, you need a heat source. You might wonder why they need heat, though.
A day old chick only has a soft down covering their body. They feel so soft and cuddly, but that soft down doesn’t protect their bodies from cold weather nor hold in body heat well. Young chicks cannot maintain their body temperatures, similar to human infants!
So, the answer is to give your new chicks a warm and safe brooder. Some use heat lamps, but I suggest using heat plates. Plates are much safer than heat lamps.
One time, the heat lamp fell into my brooder box, burned some of the bedding, and filled my garage with smoke. It’s not worth the fire risk. We strictly use heat plates now.
There are plenty of ways to set up a brooder space for your baby birds. They need to be contained in a space area where predators cannot harm them; chicken wire over the top is a form of protection.
Some start with a cardboard box, while others have a wooden brooder box. Here is what you should have available, besides a box and heat.
Start your brooder temperature off at 95 degrees under the brooder plate. This is why I prefer a heat plate; if the chicks get too warm, they can move away, but they can’t always escape a heat lamp.
When Can Chicks Go Outside to Play
As your chicks get older, you’ll want to bring them outside for some playtime. Chicks love these little field trips; it gives them exercise and helps expose them to foraging and life outside. Watching chicks peck at the lawn and chase bugs is adorable.
It’s safe to start bringing your chicks outside for some play time when they’re around four weeks old, but make sure it’s a warm day with outside temperatures around 70 degrees F and sunny weather. That’s especially true for their first time going outside!
If it’s too chilly, rainy, or windy, it’s not a good day to let little chicks play outside. They need time to toughen up and acclimate to the weather.
If the temperature outside is right for their age range, then outside playtime is safe for chicks. Ideally, it’ll be a little warmer than that range because wind chills chicks.
So, as long as you ensure it is the appropriate temperature outside for short trips, start bringing your young chicks outside between 4-6 weeks old.
How to Safely Bring Chicks Outside to Play
When you bring your chicks outside, there are a few things you need to have for them to keep them safe.
- An enclosed playpen for the chicks to play. Make sure there are no big holes they could escape from or that predators could enter. Hardware cloth or chicken wire keeps predators out and chickens inside.
- Keep food and water available for your chicks while they’re outside playing. Make sure you include waterers and feeders in your supplies for baby chicks.
- Put a cover over the top of the playpen space, preventing predators from grabbing them. Chicks are easy prey for hawks, eagles, cats, and other animals.
- Lay a sheet of cardboard over part of the top to give the chicks a bit of shade.
- Always supervise the chicks. If you get busy and cannot watch them, bring them inside.
When Can Chicks Go Outside Without a Heat Lamp
Chicks can go outside without a heat lamp between four and six weeks old, assuming that you aren’t moving them outside permanently. The temperatures must be around 70 degrees F until they’re fully feathered.
When determining if your chick is fully feathered, don’t look only at its wing feathers. Wing feathers develop first, but the rest of a chick’s body takes time to get rid of its down feathers and turn into real feathers.
Ensure the ambient temperature outside is a temperature your baby chick can handle.
Signs That Your Baby Chicks Are Cold
Keeping your chicks warm is essential; chicks die from being too cold. Know the signs that they’re too cold.
- Huddling together
- Not playing
- Puffed up feathers
When Can You Put Chicks Outside Permanently
When your baby chicks are six weeks old, they can go outside permanently, depending on your current weather. This depends on when your chicks are fully feathered, your setup, and your local weather and climate. You cannot use only an arbitrary age to decide whether to put your birds outside full time.
I live in Ohio, so typically, I won’t put baby chicks outside until May or June. Sometimes, they still need heat during those chilly, spring evenings.
I start by turning the heat lamp off for several days inside my barn and letting them experience life without it but still in a controlled environment. They won’t be exposed to any extreme weather, but this period helps them acclimate.
It’s smart to put them in their outside playpen daily to help with the transition.
After one to two weeks, I move my baby chicks outside permanently. At this stage, they’re fully feathered and ready to embrace their true lives as outdoor chickens.
How to Move Chicks Outside
When it’s time to move chicks outside, you want to do it correctly. There are two methods you can try.
Moving Chicks Outside Gradually
The method that I use is a gradual process of moving chicks outside. It starts with removing the heat lamps when the chicks are fully feathered. After that, move your chicks there if there is a colder part of your home.
Start bringing your chickens outside when they’re around four weeks and do so each day until they’re ready to move outside permanently.
Watch for any signs of distress. If your chicks huddle together or act differently, it’s a sign that the chickens are too cold.
Should You Use Supplemental Heat?
You may wonder if you want to use supplemental heat when you move your chickens outside into their chicken coop.
In general, it’s best to avoid putting a heat lamp or heat plate outside; it’s a fire hazard. My husband, who is a volunteer fire chief, responded to several chicken coop fires.
The best thing to do is ensure the outside temperatures – daytime and nighttime – work for the age and feathering of your birds. If it’s still too cold outside for your birds, keep them inside for a bit longer.
It’s always possible to leave the chickens outside and bring them inside at night if you feel they aren’t ready for 24-hour outside time.
Fully feathered chickens survive outside well in cold temperatures. All they need is a draft-free chicken coop with proper ventilation. Adult chickens don’t need a heated environment. In fact, it harms them because their bodies cannot adapt to the outside temperatures.
Moving Chicks The Fast Way
The other way to move your chicks is to put them outside without any transition period. This typically means cutting the heat lamp and then moving them outside after one to two weeks.
Watching for signs of distress during this method is increasingly important. Since your chicks haven’t had exposure to the elements, it increases their risk of becoming chilled.
When Can Chicks Join The Existing Flock
Chicks must be raised on their own for at least six weeks before joining your flock. However, it’s best to wait until they’re closer to 12 weeks before integrating them with the rest of the flock. Adult chickens are much larger!
Chickens are territorial and far from welcoming. Introducing new chickens to a flock is sketchy; they often attack or injure newcomers, so it has to be done properly. Pecking order is a real thing for chicken flocks. The older chickens let the new chickens know their place in the flock, which seems a bit brutal initially.
Keep an eye on your chickens!
Wait until your new chickens are around 12 weeks old so that they can hold their own more against the other members of the flock.
Making the decision about when can chicks go outside is worrisome. You don’t want your chicks to get sick – having a sick chick is a recipe for disaster. Once your chicks are fully weathered and over six weeks old, it’s time to begin moving them outside.