How to Move Baby Chicks Outdoors in Winter

Last August, a friend who was moving out of state gave us her chickens (two red sex linked, one buff orpington, and two unknown) and coop. I’ve always wanted chickens, but have had a hard time convincing my husband that it’s worth it to take on the start up costs. Free? He could handle that.

We had a relatively short amount of time to prepare for the chickens (the friend wasn’t sure if she was moving until a couple weeks before), so I read as much as I could before the chickens got here. Still, I didn’t know much. I’ve been working on gaining more chicken knowledge as I go, but I’m far from an expert. One of the things I didn’t understand was molting. Every fall, chickens can (but don’t necessarily always) molt. This means that they stop laying for a while so they can focus on growing new feathers. When our chickens stopped laying sometime in September or October, I thought it might be molting, but I didn’t realize how long it can go on. I think that I may have made them go even longer with being a novice chicken owner (sometimes I wouldn’t fill their water often enough and they’d go a day without water, which can make them stop laying too).

I wasn’t sure if they were going to stop laying for good (they’re somewhere around 2-3 years old, which is the normal time frame for chickens to stop laying) and I didn’t want to go without eggs for long. So I came up with the brilliant idea to get chicks in October and raise them indoors, ideally getting eggs from them in the Spring (rather than having to wait if we got spring chicks). I found some on a local site where people go to sell random stuff and brought them home.

IMG_1881 The first two chicks we got (not a lot of chicks available in the fall, so we took what we could find, this case being only two) we beautiful Japanese Silver Phoenix. They were super tiny and were going to grow up to be beautiful birds. Sadly, even with the addition of 6 other chicks (or possibly because of), they both died. It made me really sad because even though our chickens are purely farm animals (no names, we will cull them when they stop laying, etc.) these ones were just great. I could tell that they would have been great to handle as adults. 

The other six we got were a mixture of either Buckeye (rooster) with either Cinnamon Star, Buckeye, Speckled Sussex, or Rhode Island Red hen. The lady that was selling them buys speciality breed eggs for selling and then just throws in a few from her own hens in the incubator at the same time. So they could be from any of her hens. The chicks took a lot longer than the other two to get used to being handled and they’re still not as good with it, but now they seem to realize that I’m here to help. It’s nice when the chickens get that and don’t run away from me constantly. It took our big hens a while to understand it too. 

Anyway, back to moving them outside. 

Obviously we had to have them indoors while they were young. There are plenty of guides about how to do this online and in books, so I won’t get into the details. First they were in a big box that I realized was too small pretty much as soon as we got the six bigger chicks. Then they moved to a kiddie pool that we happened to have lying around (and we kept for doing this in the garage with future chicks). They pretty quickly decided that they should fly out the top and we didn’t have anything to put over the top to keep them in, so we moved them to the big dog crate. This is what they stayed in until they moved outside. It was a bit cramped at the end, but they spent most of the day outside by that point. 

The plan was to move them outside at 8 weeks, just like you do in the spring. I’d spoken with someone else who raises chicks in the fall and was able to do the same thing. She specifically said that she gets them so they can go outside before it snows. Of course, luck would have it that we had a huge storm come in when they were about 6 weeks. This was also when I realized how much dust they were creating (I’ll never raise chicks indoors again and we had to deep clean that entire room), so I was in a bit of a panic. I started frantically searching the internet for how to move chicks outdoors when the weather is below freezing (both day and night) and came up with absolutely nothing. I ended up winging it and it went well, so that’s why I’m sharing it here! 

First, I started by gradually increasing their time outside for about a week. They had already been outside before, but I stopped once the snow hit. They needed to get used to the snow and cold if they were going to go outside though, so this is where we started. First it was about an hour, the next day maybe 3 hours, and so on. By the end, they were out in the morning and brought in as it started to get dark. I did this for maybe 2-3 days. One day I even got them a little too late and they started trying to hide in a bush which was a huge pain. Luckily they didn’t go deeper in the bush trying to get away from me (I think they realized I was there to take them inside) but I still got covered in welts in the process. 

Once they had spent a few entire days outside, I decided it was time to move them into the coop overnight. I was afraid that the big chickens would be mean though (I had already had to chase them away from the chicks for trying to peck them on the head multiple times), so I decided the best idea was to divide the coop in half with chicken wire. Most guides tell you to put them in a cage in the middle of the coop, but ours isn’t big enough for that. I had a bunch of chicken wire lying around so this seemed like the best bet. I just wedged the chicken wire in and stuck the chicks in the side that didn’t have the door to get out. I took out the daylight lightbulb (trying to extend the daylight hours for the big chickens so that they would lay more) and replaced it with the red heat lightbulb. I let it run 24 hours a day. 

When I came back to check on them the first time a few hours later, everyone was happy as clams. The big chickens seemed to really appreciate the heat lamp. The next morning though, the chicken wire had fallen over. Should have secured it with a staple gun! It trapped one of the chicks (it was fine) and the others were mingling with the big chickens. No one was getting pecked though! I took out the chicken wire and they’ve been together ever since. No one is getting picked on and everyone is happy. The two groups still mostly separate in the day (the big chickens like to hang out by the back door waiting for me to throw scraps at them (or yell at me when I open the door and don’t throw scraps at them) and the little chickens wander the yard in a group. 

I’ll slowly be decreasing their heating hours for the next probably month or so until I can switch it back to the daylight extending lightbulb (I want more eggs!). And of course we’ll be culling the boys when I get off my lazy butt and go sex them (it’s a lot easier when they’re older, I hear). For now though, we’re a happy 11 chicken family.

So that’s how I move baby chicks outside in freezing temperatures (with snow on the ground!). It was much easier than I thought it would be and everyone is happy and healthy. Though I probably won’t get baby chicks in the fall again because my garage isn’t warm enough to keep them (and they’re not staying inside my house again), I definitely would suggest it for someone else. I even found two tiny eggs this morning that I suspect were from the baby chicks! 

Almost all the chickens happily eating some hard boiled eggs (with shells). They love them and they’re great for them-who knew!?

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