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As your chicks grow into teenagers, you may be eager to move them outside to their coop.
Since they have become messier and smellier in the house or garage and outgrowing their brooder box, they need to go outside!
So when can chicks safely move to the coop and stay out all night? Several key factors must be considered, and you can ensure they are ready for the transition.
The move will need to happen gradually over a few days or more.
This article will help you understand and decide when it’s safe to move your chicks outside.
When Can Chicks Stop Using a Heat Source?
I’m often asked the question; the short answer is it depends.
Chicks hatched with mother hens can go out as early as day 2. But this is because Mama is a mobile heater that closely monitors her chicks.
When they get cold, they crawl under her and snuggle in the down feathers of her breast and stomach.
She will fluff out her feathers and lift her wings for them to crawl into a warm place. She will remain in place until they are warmed and ready to move back to the safety of the coop.
But for chicks hatched in an incubator and raised by you, it’s up to keep them warm enough. This article on raising baby chicks will give you more specifics on temperatures for keeping chicks safe and warm enough.
What Happens If You Move Chicks Outside Too Soon?
Baby chicks are hatched as little fluff balls covered with tiny, soft, fluffy feathers called down feathers.
These feathers keep them warm, but they have their limitations. It’s not until they grow adult, contour, and wing feathers that they can regulate their body temperature and be ready for the outdoor coop.
Chicks younger than 6 weeks old shouldn’t even be considered for going outside. They are too young and depend on the brooder to keep them warm.
If you’ve been brooding them inside with a heat lamp or heat plate, like this EcoGlow, gradually reducing the temperature by 5 degrees each week.
They will continue to do well inside as long as it remains comfortable at 70°F (21°C) degrees.
But if you take them outside too soon, it can send their body into shock.
Even if the daytime temperatures are in the 70s but the nighttime temperatures drop, their little bodies can’t handle this.
The shock is rough on their immune system and can cause them to become sick or even worse.
7 Key Points to Consider Before Moving Chicks Outside
As mentioned, chicks younger than 6 weeks shouldn’t even be considered for moving outside.
Generally, chicks can begin going out when they are about 6-8 weeks old and fully feathered.
Use this helpful list to determine if they are ready to be out permanently or only for playtime.
1. Age – Are they fully feathered?
First, and most importantly, they should be fully feathered; generally, this is around 6-8 weeks old.
We call these the teenage weeks. It’s not until this time that they should be able to stay out all night.
They should have developed adult feathers that regulate their body temperature and protect themselves from the night air.
What does fully feathered look like? As chicks grow in their feathers, they go through some ugly stages. The baby fuzz is disappearing, and their mature feathers are growing in.
You’ll begin to notice their wing feathers appearing and getting thicker, their tail feathers start growing in, and many will change color completely.
A fully feathered chick will no longer have any baby fuzz left on its body. Most of the time, the last place for down feathers to disappear is on their head.
2. Outdoor Temperatures – Are they consistent?
When deciding to let chicks go outside, it is crucial to consider the outdoor temperatures.
Young chicks are sensitive to cold and can quickly become chilled, leading to illness or death.
The temperature outside should consistently be above 60°F (15°C), day and night.
Here in Tennessee, it’s ordinarily late April to early May before we move chicks outside to the coop.
Of course, on warm sunny days in early April, I take them outside in a playpen to let them forage on grass and chase bugs. But I do keep a close eye on them since they are defenseless to area predators.
This is also an excellent time to clean the brooder.
3. Weather – What is in the forecast for the first week?
In addition to temperature, it is crucial to consider the weather conditions as well. Rain, wind, and extreme heat can all be dangerous for chicks.
It’s best to wait for calm, sunny days to take them out, especially for their first few times.
The last thing you want to do is move them outside to the coop and then have rain.
Even though fully feathered, their little bodies are not yet used to being outside, and the additional weather issues cause additional stress.
I always look at the 7-day forecast to make the transition easier for them.
4. Predator Protection – Is the coop safe and secure?
Before moving your chicks outside, it’s vital to ensure their outdoor coop area is secure and well-protected from predators. This includes installing fencing or electric netting, like we use, as well as a safe coop for them to go inside.
Chickens have all kinds of predators you’ll need to protect them from. Coyotes, possums, skunks, cats, foxes, and even dogs love to kill and eat chickens.
5. Socialization – Introductions
Chicks benefit from socializing with other chickens. So gradually introducing them to the rest of your flock can be helpful. I start this around 12-14 weeks.
Begin by letting them spend short periods outside around other chickens but separated.
I take them out in a large dog crate or a playpen near the big girls and let them scratch, peck, and eat grass. They don’t notice the big girls, but the big girls see them.
I do this off and on for a couple of weeks.
6. Health – Chicks need strong immune systems for outside
You should ensure your chicks are healthy and illness-free before letting them go outside. If you notice any signs such as lethargy or loss of appetite, they should be kept indoors until they fully recover.
First, beginning to go outside is hard on their immune system; if they are sick, this will double the trouble. Once a young chick becomes ill, it is not always easy to bring it back to health.
So take all precautions.
7. Supervision – Keep a close eye on them
Finally, it is important to supervise them when they are outside.
Keep an eye on them to ensure they are safe from predators and not getting into trouble.
Gradually increase the time they spend outside as they become more comfortable and confident.
How to Transition Chicks From the Brooder to the Coop
As mentioned, your babies should ideally be at least 10-12 weeks old and close to their mature size before you let them mix with older hens.
I don’t start introducing mine until they are 14-16 weeks old, very close to laying age.
I keep baby chicks on grower feed until they are old enough to switch to layer feed at about 16 weeks old. Keeping the two feeds separate in a common coop is impossible.
We use electric netting and rotate our chickens every 3-4 days to fresh grass.
So we keep the electric net between them to make sure they see each other to begin learning that the flock is growing.
If you use netting or your run is not covered, you should take precautions against aerial predators such as hawks and owls. Smaller birds are one of their favorites.
If you have a permanent coop with a run, this can be easier in several ways.
- Put them inside a large dog kennel or crate where they are protected and set them inside the run. This allows the big girls to see and smell them and gives time for the newness to wear off. Do this for several days, making each time longer. Again, keeping food and water in the center for them, so the big girls can’t help themselves.
- If you have the space, you can build a temporary wire-partitioned area inside the run that separates the young from the big girls. It should be tall enough that neither can fly over. Move the babies into the partitioned area, along with their own food and water, and let them live side by side. And, of course, they will also need their own coop.
I use a manufactured coop for teenage chickens like this one. We have reinforced it to be mobile. And the big girls are in their own chicken sled.
It’s important that you introduce them slowly. Don’t just toss them in the coop. Big chickens can be bullies.
When can they join the flock?
Before you toss them into the coop, you’ll need to start transitioning them to layer feed about 2 weeks prior.
If you are introducing them to the Big Girls, it’s crucial to supervise. As mentioned, bullying is a real problem with chickens. It’s in their nature to keep “the pecking order.”
Some hens will only peck at the new kids to show who is higher on the pecking order, but others will relentlessly chase them, pecking at them and even killing them. The transition time helps a lot with bullying.
So I can’t stress gradual introductions enough. Once they have lived side-by-side for a few weeks, I remove the netting between them and combine the flock. During this time, you’ll need to be transitioning them to layer feed.
I usually do this at night while they are sleeping. The big girls tend not to notice the net is gone, and the transition goes smoothly.
This step may sound like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s well worth it for the protection of your birds.
More Homesteading Articles You’ll Like:
- 13 Best Backyard Chicken Breeds for Beginners and Why
- Best Books about Homesteading for Modern Homesteaders
- 28 Realistic Ways to Make Money Homesteading
- How to Create an Emergency Stockpile
- Setting up a Brooder Box for Baby Chicks
- Raising Baby Chicks Beginners Guide
- How to Plan and Set Goals For Homesteading
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Dianne Hadorn is the owner of Hidden Springs Homestead nestled in the hills of East Tennessee. She is a Master Gardener and enjoys helping others learn how to grow and preserve their own food and sharing tips for living a more self-sufficient lifestyle.