There’s no doubt about it, baby chicks are incredibly adorable. They are fuzzy, they have the cutest little chirps and watching them scratch and peck at the bedding like adult chickens just adds to the experience. But those adorable little fuzzballs are not as sturdy as their grown-up counterparts. Point of fact, they are actually at significant risk – especially the first 24hr to 36hr after you get them home. Making sure that they drink water should be at the top of your priority list.
The best way to ensure that baby chicks drink water is with the spoon method. Holding a spoon full of water, at ground level, plays upon their natural instincts to peck at something new. And when they do ‘check out’ the spoon, with the water in it, they will give this new substance an inquisitive taste. At which point, instinct will take over and they will drink their fill.
Currently, the school of thought is to simply dip the chicks beaks into the waterer (when first introducing them to the brooder). This gets their beaks wet and shows them where things are at. We have used this method for some time. However, we have come to realize that this method is not guaranteed. Every once in a while, a chick just doesn’t make the connnection and sadly perishes from dehydration.
Another benefit of using the spoon method to water chicks, is this enables us as caretakers to keep track of who is drinking water and who isn’t. And that is absolutely critical. Not every single chick will actually be thirsty when they first come out of the box. So forcefully dipping their beaks in water might not actually be constructive as the need hasn’t quite been realized.
By way of comparison, if one thirsty chick starts drinking from the spoon, this is sure to attract the attention of the others. And chickens learn a lot from observing other chickens.
Also, I can tell you from personal experience, it’s actually quite enjoyable to have 3 baby chicks drinking from the same spoon as you’re holding it. Just make absolutely sure you that you offer the fluid to everyone and keep track of who is just sampling and who is taking long drinks. This will tell you how the chicks are progressing with the use of the waterer.
Remember, your goal is to ultimately have them use the waterer. The ‘spoon method’ simply bridges the gap while the chicks are learning.
### Important Note ###
As chicks are unable to maintain their own body temperature, it is absolutely critical that they stay dry. Don’t worry so much when they walk through the waterer (as they walk through everything). Just make sure that the waterer stays upright and that there is plenty of dry bedding for them to lay on.
It’s also worth noting that baby chicks grow really fast. You should take care as the birds will soon be quite rambunctious, as well as, big enough to knock the small chick-sized waterer over. For most breeds, this generally happens around 3 weeks of age.
How Soon After Hatching Do Chicks Need Water?
As someone who is a firm believer in purchasing chicks online, most of my birds come through the mail.
This means that a chick will hatch, be collected and processed by those amazing people at the hatchery, before getting put in the mail. The mail then ships the birds to the post office closest to my home where these extraordinary people will in turn call me (as I will have notified them about the chicks) to let me know that my chicks have arrived.
So with this in mind, it’s easy to see that the chicks may have gone as much as 72 hours without food or water before I am finally able to provide for them. This is a long time and a person would be justified to worry. However, chicks are able to go for 48hr to 72hr without food or water as they will absorb the remaining material in the yolk sac just before hatching.
Think of them as tiny one-time camels.
However, I implore you not to push the time limits for these fuzzy little creatures, but rather have the food and water ready BEFORE you get them out of the box. These are fragile living beings and should be cared for with every ounce of your ability.
How Much Water Should Baby Chicks Drink?
This is one of those questions that I refuse to quantify. I have read articles that give numbers. And while the science behind them is often very interesting, this is one of those situations that it’s easy to ‘not see the forest for the trees.’
As the needs of baby chicks will vary, not only from breed to breed but from chick to chick, your goal as their caretaker should be to always have an ample supply of water for the birds to drink. Please do not try to anticipate/ration their water as the variables, for what a chick may need to stay hydrated, can change from day to day.
For those who may be new to raising chicks, you will quickly learn how much water your flock will generally need. We have a small 1 quart waterer that we initially use for our chicks. And for reference, I can tell you that this will work just fine for a flock of 15 birds. There is always some water left when I do my daily rinse and refill. However, it should be noted that I will replace the 1 quart waterer with a 1 gallon waterer at around 3 weeks of age.
Chicks Watering Schedule
With chicks being so small, things can happen really quick. For this reason, I am very proactive during the first 72 hours after I have received them.
When the chicks first come out of the box, I still dip their beaks in the waterer. This is something I have done since the beginning and do genuinely believe it to be a good practice. However, I do not stop with just dipping their beaks – I will employ the spoon method in conjunction.
For the first 24 hours that the chicks are in your care, the spoon method should be employed every 4 hours. (Just make sure that you are observant of who is drinking and who is not). After this initial 24 hours, you can back off to every 6 hours for the next two days. During this time, you should find that the chicks will have become bored with the spoon and are no longer taking long drinks.
When you get to the point where you are no longer be able to entice the chicks with the spoon (after the first 72 hours), then you should feel confident that the chicks are making use of the waterer as they need to.
Chicken Waterer: Chicks Vs Adult
One thing that has always amazed me is how much chicken ‘stuff’ is available for purchase. I think this is pretty telling of how much people enjoy raising chickens – or at least eating the fresh eggs that the backyard flock will provide.
A chicken waterer is a perfect example of this. There are so many different kinds available, it can be a little daunting to the first-timer.
Normally, I try to do things as economically as possible. But the waterer is one place that I don’t look for shortcuts.
A chick’s waterer will be smaller in volume, but more importantly, have a lower water level in the drinking dish. This is because chicks will walk through everything. And if your baby bird gets wet and chilled, they could be at considerable risk
An adult chicken waterer, will be larger (1 gallon and up) as well as able to maintain a deeper level of water to drink from. This is important as chickens do not suck/lick water. They are only able to get it in their beak and then tilt their heads back in order to move it to their throat. If the water level is too shallow, they will not be able to get enough in their beaks.
For an in-depth look at this visit: What Is The Best Way To Water Chickens?
What Kind Of Water Do You Use For Baby Chicks?
One of the things that I have observed from ‘hanging out’ (ok, maybe pestering) at the local wildlife rehab is the ever present bottle of pedialyte. This is because when small animals come into the rehab center with signs of dehydration, they are quickly given a dose of electrolytes. In these critical situations, this can go further towards stabilizing an animal’s health more so than regular water. However, it’s worth noting that these types of situations are unique.
For chicks that arrive in a healthy condition, the best fluid for maintaining proper hydration is regular water.
Please don’t give pedialyte to a healthy chick. One has to remember just how small these fuzzy little birds are. It would be extremely easy to give them too much of a good thing… and they could easily suffer from it.
(To see the spoon method start at 53 seconds)