When Can Chicks Move Outside?

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When can chicks move outside?

This simple question has dozens of answers. When a mother chicken hatches out her brood, she will usually take her chicks out for their first adventure in the new world by day 2. Clearly, chicks can handle being outside right from the beginning. But that mother hen is a portable source of heat & security and leads her babies to food & water as needed. As a human raising chicks, we need to rely on heat lamps, secure coops & brooders, and feed & water located where the babies can easily find them on their own.

Generally speaking, your chicks should be mostly feathered, and outgrowing their brooder box around 4-6 weeks (and you are probably ready for them to get out of your house!). But the exact time you can move your chicks outside is going to depend on your set up & your local weather more than an arbitrary age.

when can chicks move outside?

Temperature

If you started your chick’s brooder temperature around 95 degrees and have been decreasing it by 5 degrees per week, by the 5th week you should be around 70 degrees. If you are brooding your chicks in your house, you might be able to take the heat lamp away around now as you are probably close to the ambient air temperature. To take those chicks and suddenly put them outdoors in 30 degree weather would send them into shock and could have dire consequences.

The first couple of weeks chicks are only covered by fluffy down. Until chicks have feathers, they can’t properly keep body heat in so having an external heat source is necessary. By 4-6 weeks they should be feathered enough where they can handle chillier temperatures – but these baby feathers have their limits. In southeast Massachusetts I usually have to wait until mid/late May before evening temperatures are warm enough for chicks to live outdoors full time without heat. My general guidelines are over 4 weeks AND nighttime temps in the mid 50s.

When can chicks move outside?

If you live in warm climate, or are brooding chicks during the summer, you might be able to move them straight outdoors after a month as long as the nighttime lows cooperate.

What do you do if you don’t live in a warm climate but you need to get the chicks out of your kitchen because they need more space (or because of the smell)? You could look to your basement, garage, or 3 season porch, as a good “bridge” between indoor living and outdoor living. You can also start bringing them to their outdoor coop during the day, but still bring them inside to warmer temperatures at night.

If you are thinking of moving your girls outside along with their heat lamp, I would suggest you think again. Heat lamps can cause fires so putting your chicks out in their new coop with a heat lamp where you can’t monitor it could be a dangerous idea. Ideally by the time you move your chicks outdoors, they won’t need additional heating. If you have a radiant chick heater (like Brinsea’s EcoGlow) they are much safer than traditional heat lamps. Keep in mind most radiant heaters are not designed to work when the air temperature is below 50 degrees, but I have found if temps are in the 40s and your chicks are at least a month old and feathered it can be enough to keep them comfortable. You will know if your chicks are too cold, you will see them all huddled together and chirping loudly at you.

Transitioning my 5 week old chicks out to my unheated barn in April. Their EcoGlow heater doesn’t work great in temps under 50 degrees and the nighttime temps are mid 40s. But it is enough to take the edge off this tiny space with these older chicks, and is much safer than a heat lamp. In a week or so we will take away the heater and move them to a much bigger stall until the weather warms up and they can move outdoors

Security

Another big factor in bringing your chicks outside is security. They will love having more room to run and stretch their wings but they are utterly defenseless so you can’t just toss them out into the world.

Ensure the place you are putting them is totally secure. If it is an outdoor run it should be totally covered on all sides (including the top). If you are moving them to a coop but not giving them outside access yet, make sure there are no small crevices where they could get stuck or could sneak outside.

I would not suggest giving them a huge area to roam. 2 square feet per bird for 5 week chicks is plenty. The bigger the area, the harder to secure it. You also want to make sure they can easily find their way to food & water.

When can chicks move outside?

Other Birds

If you have other chickens the chicks will be joining, special considerations will have to be made. The chicks will still be outgrowing their original brooder and still be ready to move outside around 4-6 weeks, but they will definitely not be ready to meet their grown up chicken friends.

Ideally, you should hold off until 10-12 weeks before you let your young chicks mix with your adult hens. When you mix them together, there will be bullying. They need to establish the pecking order and your older girls will not hesitate to let the babies know their place is at the bottom.

Some hens might just take a swipe with their beak, others will mercilessly chase the new birds down and peck at them. Unfortunately you won’t know how your girls will react until you add the new birds. Sometimes even the sweetest hen suddenly is the biggest bully. An adult hen could easily kill a young chick. By 10-12 weeks your chicks will by fully feathered and getting close to their full grown size. They will be better able to handle the older hens.

I like to start the initial introductions much earlier than 10-12 weeks. Usually around 6 weeks of age I will set up an area in my chicken coop for the chicks to live for about a month. During that month, the old flock and the chicks will be separated by a wire partition. This way the older girls can see the babies. They get used to seeing & smelling them in their space. But the babies are safe behind the wire where they can’t be hurt. A month later (when they are 10 weeks), the chicks are released during the day only. Then 2 weeks later (when they are 12 weeks) the wire partition comes down all together and the flocks are fully integrated. Click here to read more about introducing chicks to your flock

When can chicks move outside?

4 comments

  1. Paul says:

    Excellent information with really good observations, common sense, and great ideas. I would love to hear your take on roosters, pro or con, along with reasoning. I really like roosters and think they can be very cool. Noble protectors of the flock that will give their life and fight any predator, against impossible odds, just to buy time and save as many hens as possible. Also having fertilized eggs means any surplus can be hatched in an incubator and turned into more chickens for replenishing ranks or meat. But I am sure there more pros and cons that folks might want your astute perspective on (granted that is probably a completely different post). Thank you for sharing and caring Liz. You Rock!

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Paul! I think every flock could use a rooster (if your neighbors don’t mind & your town allows them). Right now we just have one, a Salmon Faverolle, he is gorgeous, gentle towards the humans, and protects all his girls. We had about a year or so where we didn’t have a rooster and in that time we lost 6 hens to hawks. Since we added back the rooster to the flock not a single one lost. When he sees danger he calls to all his girls and leads them to safety – even the ducks listen to him and take the cue to hide (we have three male ducks but they don’t come anywhere near the level of protector as a rooster). The rooster before our current guy was an Easter Egger and he was a jerk. We ended up having to get rid of him because he wouldn’t stop chasing my kids. And yes, that is a whole different post lol – you can find it here https://thecapecoop.com/the-rooster-question/

  2. Autumn Brown says:

    Hello! New chicken mama here. We weren’t going to get chickens right now but my boyfriend had other plans. Right now they are about 2 weeks old and in our basement. They went outside this past weekend and it was about 80 degrees and were completely fine. Even though they still have their heat lamp in the basement. I’m nervous about the transition to the outside. Our Ohio winters are harsh and unpredictable. Should I take the heat lamp away, put them in the garage in a few weeks and turn the heat lamp back on? I’m would really regret getting them in the fall if anything happened. Thanks!

    • Liz says:

      You do want to give them some time to acclimate to the outdoor weather. Typically when you live in colder climates you start chicks in the spring so they will be full grown before winter sets in. So you are on a bit of an accelerated time line to get your girls ready for winter. As long as it’s still warm at night (mid 50s) and you have somewhere secure for them I would move them out during the daytime after they hit 3 weeks, and full time when they hit 4 weeks. In the meantime, you might want to start backing off the heat lamp now. Chicks are usually fully feathered by 6 weeks and that will help them keep warm. When they only have the baby fluff they can’t regulate their body temperature. When your chicks are fully feathered you are looking at late October and it’s going to be starting to get very chilly especially at night. Your girls will be full grown around early January when the temperatures really start to drop. Chicken scratch can help them keep warm at night as it takes them awhile to digest it. As their body works to digest it, it generates body heat. I would hold off on the scratch until they are a bit older (maybe after 10 weeks), but it’s a good bed time snack for them

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