Although chickens are extremely hardy animals when they’re fully grown, baby chicks are fragile and even require supplemental heating for the first month or so of their lives.
Knowing the correct temperature for your chicks and ensuring they are as comfortable and healthy as possible during this challenging time is often surprisingly tricky.
How cold is too cold for a baby chick, anyway?
Baby chicks need to be kept at around 95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C) for the first week of their lives. With each week, they will be able to withstand temperatures 5 to 10° degrees cooler. At six weeks of age, they will be able to safely tolerate temperatures above 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C).
Keep reading to learn more about keeping your baby chicks warm and cozy, the temperatures to aim for, and when it’s safe to let them out into the coop!
What Temperature is Too Cold For Baby Chicks?
The exact temperature range your baby chicks will be able to safely withstand will depend primarily on their age.
As your young chickens age, they’ll be able to gradually tolerate colder and colder temperatures.
When they’re fully grown at around 7 to 12 months, many chicken breeds are hardy enough to tolerate cold temperatures below freezing!
For the first 6 weeks or so of their lives, though, they’ll likely need some kind of supplemental heating in the form of a small brooder.
A brooder is simply a heated, confined area where your baby chicks will eat, sleep, and live until they are old and strong enough to go outside into your coop.
Brand-new baby chickens under a week old have very little means to regulate their body temperature, and their bodies are obviously at the smallest and most fragile point in their lives.
They lack the dense feathering and body fat their older counterparts have to protect their bodies, so they need to be kept at around 95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C).
With each week, you’ll be able to drop this temperature by around 5 to 10° degrees.
According to this rule, a two-week-old chicken would only be able to tolerate temperatures above 85 to 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
At three weeks, they’ll be able to withstand around 75 to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C) and up, and so on!
Eventually, by the time your chicks are around six weeks old, they’ll be able to safely tolerate temperatures above 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C).
They’ll gradually tolerate even colder and harsher conditions as they get older and their feathers develop.
Many cold-hardy breeds of chickens are strong enough to withstand fall and winter temperatures below freezing.
How Do You Keep Baby Chickens Warm?
As we touched on above, your baby chicks will need some supplemental heating for the first four to six weeks of their lives, depending on where you live, the season, and the temperatures outside.
The supplemental heating will typically be in the form of a simple heat bulb like this one from Amazon or a ceramic heating element.
Again, the best way to accomplish this is by keeping the chicks confined to a brooder or a small, confined area where they’ll be kept safe in a temperature-controlled environment safe from predators and the elements.
A brooder doesn’t have to be any specific container or enclosed space.
Still, it should have plenty of ventilation (but not be too drafty) and enough room for your chicks to wander about comfortably and not be too crowded together.
There should also be enough space to provide a slight temperature gradient, so your chicks can move towards and away from the heat source whenever they feel like it.
However, the brooder should also be small enough to feel cozy and comforting to your chicks rather than overwhelming.
If the brooder is too large, it will also be difficult to heat evenly and sufficiently.
Depending on how many chicks you have and their ages, anything from a small wire cage to a large, lidless storage container or a small homemade pen enclosed with chicken wire will work just fine.
Your chicks will feel comfortable and safe as long as the space is secure, clean, spacious, and warm enough.
In addition to a heat source, the brooder should also have a layer of comfortable bedding for insulation and a soft floor to walk on, a freshwater source, and a food source.
Some ideal bedding materials are newspaper (either shredded or laid flat in sheets), rice hulls, and pine or aspen shavings.
Having a thermometer to check temperatures instantly is also highly recommended.
When Can Baby Chickens Stay Outside?
The right time for your baby chicks to venture out into the outdoors will depend, once again, on a few factors, primarily your chicks’ approximate ages and where you live and the current season/temperature range/weather outside.
The general estimate is four to eight weeks, or one to two months, depending on these factors.
The main one to watch is for the coldest temperatures at night.
If it gets too cold (based on the information from previous sections), don’t let them out.
At six weeks, you’ll likely be able to put them outside with your adult chickens in your regular chicken coop with no supplemental heat!
Make sure the coop at night doesn’t get too cold or drafty.
Keep in mind that this will still depend on the temperature and season where you live.
As long as the temperature has been consistently above 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C), it’s safe to transfer your chicks from their brooder to their permanent outdoor coop and chicken yard.
On the other hand, if you live in a cooler area or are experiencing some colder weather, it’s probably a good idea to keep your chicks inside for another couple of weeks.
Or provide them with an additional heat source in their outdoor coop to keep them at a comfortable temperature.
Read more on this in our article covering whether chickens need a heat lamp to live.