When Can Chicks Go Outside Full Time? (Tips For Raising Baby Chicks)
Stinky, noisy, and homely…these are just a couple of words to describe your chicks as they begin to grow into adolescents. At a month old they’re a far cry from those cuddly yellow fluff-balls you loved so much in the beginning.
As the poop fumes waft through your kitchen, you begin to feel the chicks have outstayed their welcome in your home, basement, or garage. Perhaps, you think, it is time for them to take the big plunge and move outside.
But when, exactly, is the right moment? Keep reading to find out when and how you can transition chicks to the great outdoors!
When Can Chicks Go Outside Full Time?
Alas, the level of stink and general annoyance your adolescent chicks give you is not an indicator of when they should go outdoors. When deciding the right moment, you must consider many different factors. Just a couple are listed below:
- How old are your chicks?
- How well are their feathers developing?
- What time of the year were your chicks hatched, and what is the temperature outside now?
- How bad do they smell? (Just kidding! Remember, we are trying to be objective, here!)
Chicks’ Internal Temperature
Ability to regulate body temperature is the most important benchmark in determining if you birds are ready to head outdoors. A healthy chicken’s body temperature can vacillate between 103.5F and 106 F.
Chickens are extremely sensitive to body temperature changes and chicks are at an elevated risk because they cannot regulate their bodies’ temperature on their own. Long story short, the cold can kill your chicks and kill ‘em quick!
If the chicks were hatched by a hen, the mother makes her number one priority keeping her babies warm until they are ready to go off on their own. When you buy chicks or hatch them yourself though, you do not have the benefit of a mother and it becomes your responsibility to make sure they stay warm–especially in their transition to the great outdoors.
Use the guidelines below to determine if your chicks are ready to go outside:
1. How Old Are Your Chicks?
The youngest you should ever take your chicks outside is 4 weeks old. You may choose to wait longer based on the breed of your chicks and their feather development. Is your breed of chicken cold-hardy? “Chick out” this resource to find out!
2. How Well Are Their Feathers Developing?
Down (the fluff chicks are born with,) does not retain heat. Wait until your chicks develop a significant amount of feathers before attempting to take them outside.
3. What time of the year were your chicks hatched, and what is the temperature outside now?
You want to let your chicks outside during the summer so that they do not get chilled. Check the weather and make sure the temperature will be relatively stable so that the chicks’ bodies won’t have to regulate body temperature suddenly. Never leave your chicks in the wind, snow, or rain. If you made the fatal strategic error of hatching chicks during a cold time of year, get to know and love those babies, because they are going to be in the house with you for a long time!
Do Chickens Really “Freeze To Death”?
When chicks die of exposure, some people say they accidentally “froze” their chicks. This may lead you to believe that chicks will only die if the temperature reaches 32F, but this is absolutely not true.
A better term would be that the chicks died of chill. Sudden fluctuations in temperature and any temperature that brings the baby’s internal temperature below 100F for a significant amount of time can damage or kill baby chickens, so be extremely careful, and only bring your chicks outside if they’ve already experienced that temperature indoors.
The “Slow Release” Method Of Moving Chicks Outside Fulltime
When children are young, parents often send them to preschool or meet up with other families for play dates. These outings help the children learn the rules of life, socialize, adjust, and prepare for attending school full time in first grade. Chicks also need a similar time of transition to life in the outdoors.
Like kids, chicks are scared of a lot of things, and are not physically prepared to be pushed into the deep end of the pool, so to speak. To help them adjust, do a “slow release” into outdoor living.
Create a space outdoors for your chicks to have a periodic “playdate.” This should be an enclosed structure with a top so that chicks cannot fly out and get lost. It must have everything the chick may need such as water, and food. To help the chicks regulate temperatures, set the enclosure in an area that has both shade and sun. This will allow the baby chickens to cool down or heat up as needed. Get some DIY chicken enclosure inspiration here.
You’ll also want to consider protecting your chicks from predators while they are outside. This doesn’t just mean raccoons or hawks. Dogs, cats, children, and even your other adult chickens may try to get into the slow release pen to kill chicks either intentionally or unintentionally. Be sure that the enclosure does not have any holes where the chicks could slip out or predators could get in. Cover the enclosure with chicken wire, fencing, or mesh to make sure nothing can attack the chicks from above.
Great! My chicks now have an enclosure and are released into the outdoors. Are you done? No! Just like you wouldn’t throw a child into the deep end of a pool, you shouldn’t abruptly transition your chicks from the brooder to the outdoors in an instant. Doing so may kill the chicks.
Take your chicks out periodically. Start with 15 minutes and increase the time they spend outdoors by ten minutes each day. As you monitor your chicks, you will be able to tell if they are ready to stay out for longer periods of time by reading their behaviors.
Are they gathering together for warmth, even on a relatively warm day? They probably aren’t ready to be out for very long, as they are struggling to maintain body temperature. Have your chicks exchanged their panicked, loud chirping for happy chicken behaviors such as dusting themselves and hunting for insects? That means they are feeling comfortable and independent. They are probably ready for more time outside.
Let Your Chicks Guide The Process
Some online articles will give you a hard and fast timeline for transitioning your chicks to the outdoors, but ultimately your chicks’ development and comfort should determine the pace.
Pay attention to the development and behavior and let those be your guide as you transition your babies out of the house and on the road to independence. Remember this general advice:
- Chicks should be at least 4 weeks old before being allowed to go outside.
- They should have some feather development as down does not hold heat.
- The transition shouldn’t be abrupt: Take a slow release approach instead.
- Monitor behaviors closely and adjust time outside accordingly.
Once your chickens can spend the whole day outside and are fully feathered, it is time to introduce them to the rest of your flock, but more on that in another blog article!
Do you have an adolescent chicken story to share? Let’s chat in the comments!
More From The Hen’s Loft…
- Here’s How To Tell If You Have A Rooster Or A Hen
- At What Age Do Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
- What Does It Mean When A Chicken Lays Soft Shell Eggs?
- Your Chicken Is Molting…Here’s What To Expect
- Is Your Chicken Sneezing? Here’s What It Means