What do baby chicks need to drink?

So you've got your brooder set up, there's a reliable heat source and your chicks are almost ready to venture into the big, wide world.

Baby chicks in incubator

It's getting crowded in there! These babies are ready to come out of my Brinsea Eco Advance incubator.

But wait - what do we need to have available for them to eat and drink?

Baby chickens can survive without food or water for up to 72 hours after hatching - the yolk, which they absorb in the hours before hatch, provides all the nutrition they need.

But after that (actually, I tend to move them out as soon as they've fluffed up, and certainly no longer than 48 hours) they will need both.  Be sure you have supplies well in advance.

Water first.

Two baby chicks with bowl of water.

Baby chicks need to drink water.  Simple.  Without it, they will dehydrate and die very, very quickly.  All you need to do is make sure it's kept plentiful, clean and fresh. 

How?

There are two basic options available : a ground waterer and a hanging bottle system.  

Personally, I use the hanging system, but let's look at the pros and cons of each, starting with the basic ground waterer.  

My particular favourite is this mason jar design.  It's not cheap (at least in Europe), but it lasts much longer than the plastic style - and OK, I admit it - I just like the way it looks. 

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Pros :

  • Easy to set up
  • Easy to clean
  • Heavier than the plastic watering systems, so not as easy to tip over
  • No chance of chemicals leaching into the water if using Apple Cider Vinegar (see below), as with some poorer quality plastic systems.

Cons :

The problem with any kind of ground drinking system is that baby chickens kick.  A lot. They kick shavings, they kick food, they kick anything that gets underneath their little cutesy feet.

It's in their nature.  They're just experimenting with foraging.

So it's quite difficult to keep the water clean.  You'll find yourself clearing out the dish several times a day.  If you don't, the danger is that the water will become infected - and so will the chicks.

There is also a small risk of tiny chicks drowning in the dish.  It's easily avoided, though, by adding a few pebbles so that, if they do happen to fall into the water, there's not enough room for them to drown.

Avoiding dirty water.

I use a bottle waterer which hangs from the side of the brooder.  

It's made from 'Brooder Bottle Caps' from 'The Chicken Fountain'.  It's a simple nipple attachment, screwed into an everyday soda bottle.  The chicks tap the nipple and, as if by magic, water drips out!

It works a treat - my littlies always get the hang of drinking from it immediately they're introduced into the brooder at just a few hours old, and can't wait to use it ever after.

Two chicks drinking from bottle watererThese chicks are just a few hours old and already expert at using the Brooder Bottle Cap system.

Pros.

  • Easy to set up
  • Inexpensive
  • Chicks learn how to drink from it immediately
  • Keeps water completely clean
  • Teaches babies how to use the adult version - the Chicken Fountain.

Cons.

There really aren't any to speak of.  You'll need a system to hang it - I use a simple piece of dowling across the brooder, and attach it by piercing two holes in the side of the bottle with a piece of wire through and string attached.

You do need to have enough bottles for everyone to be able to get plenty to drink.  As a rule of thumb, I use one small bottle to about five chicks.

Chicks can get a bit messy and slop drips onto the shavings in the brooder.  To avoid this, I simply place a piece of absorbent matting underneath.

Making sure your chicks know how to drink.

As soon as you take the chick out of the incubator, dip her beak into the water if you're using a ground system, or tap her beak against the nipple if using the bottle system.

You only need to do this once - chicks are very quick learners.  

Just keep an eye on them for a day or two to make sure that everyone is getting their fair share.  It's very important that they all keep hydrated, otherwise you're likely to  get issues like pasty butt, which can be fatal.

Three baby chicks drinkingThree of my baby Polish (UK Poland) chicks form an orderly queue for the waterer!

Can baby chicks drink Apple Cider Vinegar?

  • The short answer is 'yes'.  Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is excellent for the digestive system of even very young chickens.  
  • Some people believe it helps avoid pasty butt; however there's no hard evidence of that.  What is for sure is - it can't hurt (unless you use too much), and it can help.
  • Make sure you buy the organic, unpasteurised ACV which contains the 'mother' - the ordinary vinegar you buy from supermarkets won't work.  
  • For babies the dilution should be much weaker than for adults - I use 5 ml per litre of water (a teaspoon to about 4 cups).
  • Bear in mind that with any form of metal waterer, the acid in the vinegar will corrode the metal which will leach into the water.  If you're going to use ACV, stick with plastic or glass waterers.
  • Want to know more about ACV and its use for your flock?  I have a whole chapter about it in my free book - see this page for details.
  • Where to get ACV from?  You'll find it in pet shops but generally speaking it's less expensive to buy online.

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And now - what about food for chicks?

It can seem like a minefield when you first raise chicks - what's good to feed them at what age, what's not good, what treats are healthy for them ...

If those things are a concern for you, these articles will help.  Click on any of the pics for more information.

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