When Can Chicks Go Outside?
Using a Chicken Growth Chart and Temperatures to Plan Chicks’ Field Trips
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Keeping brooders at optimal temperatures helps babies stay healthy. But when can chicks go outside?
Hens will let offspring spend longer moments outside, as babies age. Wings develop and tufts form on tails. Then chests fill in. Eventually, babies have enough coverage that they no longer hide beneath wings to keep warm.
When Can Chicks go Outside for Short Trips?
Though they’re not old enough to live outside, chicks living in brooders can enjoy short “field trips” starting around weeks three and four. Caring for baby chicks is more fun as you take them onto the lawn to peck at grass and chase bugs. But stay wary of weather, outside temperatures, and the chicks’ ages.
These field trips allow chicks to exercise and expand their diets. Exposure to the elements, at appropriate temperatures, “toughens” and acclimates them so the first night out isn’t such a shock. And it allows you to bond with brooding chicks as they grow, which creates a gentler and more human-friendly hen or rooster.
When Can Chicks go Outside Permanently?
Chicken growth charts can be difficult to find, but an Internet search shows how little fluffballs with nubby wings grow into pullets and cockerels. “Fully feathered” is the point where all fluff has been replaced by true plumage. Chickens self-regulate temperatures by fluffing their feathers and creating air layers. If even the neck still has fluff, brooder babies aren’t ready to sleep outside.
Until then, use the rule that newly hatched chicks need ambient temperatures of 95F; each week after, reduce that by five degrees. They can spend all day outside if temperatures stay within the right range for their ages. But remember that even if it’s warm enough, wind and water will chill a chick. The more chicks are in the flock, the more they can huddle for warmth and you don’t have to rush them inside as fast.
Outside “playpens” should be fully enclosed, with all openings too small for chicks to squeeze through. Always cover the enclosure’s top, because birds this small are at risk of cats and other predators. Even blue jays can enter topless enclosures and terrorize chicks. Smaller wild birds may bring diseases.
Keep food and clean water available, as well as shade and somewhere the chicks can seek shelter. Shade/shelter can simply be a box lying on its side.
Bring chicks inside if it rains, or if you see them huddling together instead of exploring their surroundings. Also, if their daytime “playpen” is unsecured against predators, bring them inside anytime you cannot supervise.
Try carrying them one by one, out to the playpen and back in, instead of hauling a pet carrier full of babies. This gets them used to being handled and makes them more trusting. It lets them know that being grabbed by their human owners isn’t something to fear.
As babies near that six-week mark, turn the heat lamp off. Let them experience days and nights within your house or garage. The brooder won’t expose them to weather extremes, but eliminating a heat lamp during the last week or two lets them acclimate. Remember, adding heat to outside coops is dangerous! Transitioning gradually from a heated environment, to unheated but comfortable, to outside and sheltered is easier than going straight out at week six to brave the elements.
This six-week timeline has exceptions. Research how to care for baby chicks and illnesses they may face. Coccidiosis is more common when baby chicks spend time outside because protozoa can be spread by wild birds. But coccidiosis is easy to treat with medicated chick feed and probiotics. If you see pink, meaty-looking, or bloody stools, stop “field trips” for a few days and treat the babies. Respiratory issues are also carried by wild birds, and some are highly contagious. Though infectious bronchitis is a virus, and cannot be eliminated with antibiotics, keeping babies sheltered and warm during illness reduces stress and risk of secondary infections. When can chicks go outside if they’ve been sick? After they no longer show symptoms, especially if you have other chickens they may infect.
Whether chicks are outside or in, always ensure they have clean bedding, food, and water, to reduce stress and risk of infection. Watch how they act: do they huddle to keep warm, are they lethargic, or do they happily flap around and peck the ground? That happy flapping and pecking are your best signs that babies are healthy and warm enough.
Chicken Heat Table
|0-7 Days||95°F||Now is not the time to let babies|
stay outside the brooder more than
a couple minutes.
|Week 2||90°F||Babies start flying very early! Be sure the|
heat lamp is secure and can’t be reached.
|Week 3||85°F||Chicks can make short trips outside,|
if the weather is nice and warm.
|Week 4||80°F||Let chicks enjoy more time outside, but|
keep a close eye on them.
|Week 5||75°F||Is your house 75F? Turn off the heat lamp.|
|Week 6||70°F||Start acclimating the chickens, letting them|
spend all day outside unless the weather is
cold and rainy.
|After 6 Weeks||Ready for Outside!||Fully feathered chicks can endure 30F and|
lower. Acclimate them before putting outside
for good. Be sure coops are draft-free.
Get more great tips from Marissa for raising baby chicks in the April / May 2017 issue of Backyard Poultry.
9 thoughts on “When Can Chicks Go Outside?”
Thanks I looked it up the ways you
This crable it it’s just better to understand.
This is my current situation trying to decide how to slowly acclimate my six week old chicks here in Ohio. We are currently around 50-55 degrees during day, and 35-40 at night. I’m gonna wait one more week. They have been in my garage since day one. The current temperature in there is 65 degrees, so I will take it down about a degree or 2 over the next week. It’s a big deal for me since this is my first ever chickens, so I’m nervous about temperatures!
Can you handle your baby chick to much I have one I’m trying to take care of and it has a problem with standing up he/she is 4 days and I have in an incubator take it out to feed and when do I take it out of the incubator?
Chicks should be in a brooder after hatching in an incubator. They should have access to food and water all the time when they are so little. Here is a good guide:
I have 4 week old chicks. It’s July and temps outside are in the 80s during the day and mid to upper 60s at night. Is it safe to move them out to their coop?
I have the same Question..as above…
Mine aren’t kept in a warm house due to health issues. I have a storage/nursery room inside my main coop with a separate entry. I have a total of 4 coops, 2 are step up ones for when they outgrow the brooder tank. The 3rd is an introduction coop with a fenced covered area so the rest of the flock can get used to them before integrating all together. I only use a 250 watt heat lamp in the brooder. I’ve raised chicks, ducklings and keets this way for the last 6 groups of babies. All my coops are enclosed and can be outfitted with a heat lamp if the temperatures suddenly drop to knock off chills. I use baby monitors to hear how my flock is behaving or if something is trying to access that shouldn’t be. I have a mixed group of chickens and guineas in coop #3 that will be joining the rest at months end.
And I have a small group of 3 light Brahmas and a Rouen duckling in the brooder currently. I just got them over the weekend.
The Rouen duckling turned out to be a little 3 pound Mallard. She spends most of her time around the chickens. It’s been a year and a half now and she was never fully accepted by the ducks. Her name is Trixie – she cozied up with my oldest rooster, a Cuckoo Marans for several months until she gained enough confidence to wander around on her own.