When Can Chicks {FINALLY!} Go Outside?

Your baby chicks can be moved outside into their coop permanently (without a heat lamp) when they are between 4-6 weeks old, fully feathered, and the outside temperatures are around 70º Fahrenheit (20º Celcius). However, this is not as cut and dry as people will have you believe.

Read on for more information on getting your chicks ready for the outside world.

day old orpington chicks in their brooder box
a brooder full of just-hatched Orpington chicks in my dining room

The baby chicks that you got as day-olds are growing rapidly. They may be starting to smell, kick up dust, and they’re definitely getting too big for their brooder. This can’t go on forever.

So, the natural question is when those chicks will be able to permanently go outside and live in their coop.

(And check out my thorough guide on Raising Baby Chicks At Home too for even more information on all aspects of chick care.)

After Hatching 

When chicks are newly hatched, they’re not strong or hardy enough to go straight out into the big wide world.

The soft down that covers them isn’t thick enough to protect them from cold temperatures. And if you are incubating chicks yourself at home, they cannot just cuddle up to their mothers for warmth.

You can’t just turn them loose, so the thing to do instead is to put them in a brooder.

Your brooder is a warm, safe enclosure that includes a source of heat (often a heat lamp but I strongly recommend against the traditional lamps in favor of the much safer heat plates), a source of food and water, and soft bedding for the chicks (chopped straw, for example). 

A screen on top can be employed to make sure the chicks cant hop out of their brooder and so that other animals (or children) can’t get in to interfere with the young chicks.

You can buy brooders in shops or online, but since they’re not all that hard to make, you might prefer to make one of your own. 

Literally just use a box of some kind.

If you do decide to do this, make sure that the heat lamp is safely out of reach – chicks can start to fly surprisingly early, and if they manage to fly up to the heat lamp, they might hurt themselves on it — or worse, start a fire and burn your house down.  

Again — use a heat plate instead and save yourself the risk.

Either way, that’s where your chicks will probably be spending the beginning of their lives. 

And if you want more thorough information on brooding and raising baby chicks at home, check out my article that covers this topic in-depth.

They can’t stay that way forever, though – they’ll have to come out eventually, so when should it be?

lavender orpington chick outside on pasture looking for food
I let my chicks out early (weather depending) for short times to let them practice foraging and to get some fresh air and sunshine.

Starting To Go Outside

When chicks go outside, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice. 

What we mean by this is that before chicks are ready to live outside permanently, they can still go outside for shorter times to help them get used to it more gradually.

Depending on the weather, you can start doing this when the chicks are only a few days to a week old. But since most people buy or hatch their chicks in early spring, it can be too cold depending on where you live.

In colder climates, you could start doing this about three or four weeks after they hatch. 

It can be heartwarming to watch the new chicks playing around outside, trying to chase after bugs and starting to peck.

It’s also great for allowing them to get some exercise and letting them expand their diets somewhat.

Another plus is that it gives you time to bond with them, meaning that they’re likely to be more friendly to you in the future.

Being exposed to the outside world also makes them tougher and prepares them for the time when they’ll be let out permanently.

This might otherwise be a shock to them, as they’re still fairly fragile in their young state.

If you’re going to do this, you’ll need to pay attention to the conditions outside.

You’re keeping these chicks in a nice, warm brooder for a reason, so if the weather’s cold, windy, or rainy, it might be better to save the field trip for another time.

Even if the conditions seem fine, you might just find that the chicks sometimes don’t respond well to being let out.

Keep an eye on them to make sure they’re having a good time and aren’t showing any signs of distress.  If they are, it might be best to return them to the brooder.

It’s usually fairly easy to keep an eye on the different kinds of behavior. 

For example, do the chicks seem lethargic and lacking in energy, or are they happily running around and pecking things?

Another good idea if you’re planning to do this is to create a sort of “playpen” area for the chicks.

This will stop them from running away and getting themselves into trouble while your attention is distracted, giving you a bit of peace of mind. 

Make sure it’s covered, too, like the brooder, to stop cats or other predators (like hawks) from going after the chicks as they play.

baby chick outside in coop on straw bedding
I have electricity in my coop so I can brood my chicks right inside the coop much earlier in the season.

Going Outside Permanently

While the exact time it’ll take for a chick to be ready to enter the wider world more fully varies from one breed or even chick to the next, there are some rules of thumb you can adhere to.

For instance, one thing that it’s really helpful to think about is the bird’s plumage. 

When baby chicks are born, and for a while afterward, they have a fluffy covering on their bodies. 

Contrast this with mature birds, who are fully covered in true feathers.

This fluff isn’t very good for keeping the heat in.

The process of replacement from one to the other is a useful sign of how far along the bird’s development is.

If it still has some of that fluffy plumage from when it was a baby chick, it’s probably not yet time to send it out into the world full-time.

This still applies even if it’s just a little area around the neck that’s holding onto its fluff.

Once all the feathers have grown in, the chicks are probably ready to move outside full time.

4 very young pullets sitting on a fence outside

Intermediary Stages

Before they reach that stage, though, there’s still a rule of thumb you can follow. 

Assume that newly hatched chicks need a temperature of around 95º Fahrenheit (35º Celcius), and then take that temperature down by 5 degrees every week for the first few weeks. 

If the outside temperature is within this range (and it’s not windy or rainy), then you can leave them outside in their playpen for as long as it lasts. 

Large groups of chicks can also huddle together for warmth, meaning that they’re somewhat better protected than lone chicks.

This is a kind of protection for them, but can also serve as a signal to you that they should be brought inside and not left outside to get colder.

When they reach about six weeks of age, you can try turning off the heat lamp in your brooder, but leaving the chicks in it for another week or two. 

This will give them the chance to acclimatize to the natural ambient temperature a bit more without putting them out into the world completely. 

The brooder will still protect them from any extremes of weather or temperature without necessarily coddling them.

Once they’ve spent time in the unheated brooder, have experience playing outside, and their feathers have grown in, they should be ready to move outside permanently.

Exceptions

Naturally, there are exceptions to all of this. 

Electricity in The Coop?

Our coop is wired for electricity so I will hook up the heat plates directly inside and place my chicks out much earlier — before they’re fully feathered.

In colder weather, you may even be able to do this type of setup with your heat plates alongside another safe source of heat, like this safe Radiant Coop Heater.

Some owners use these inside the coop for their chicken flocks in the winter (I do not) but it makes more sense for partially brooding chicks outdoors before they’re fully feathered and ready to face your climate.

Healthy Chicks

What was said above goes for healthy chicks, but you’ll probably need to modify it if you’re dealing with chicks that have any kind of illness. 

For instance, coccidiosis is a condition that can affect baby chicks. 

We protect against this by using the Deep Litter System of coop management that lets our chicks build up natural immunity against coccidiosis versus feeding medicated chick starter.

If you notice that they have bloody stools, you should stop letting them out and treat them with the appropriate medicines (thankfully, coccidiosis is straightforward to treat).

Some respiratory illnesses (like, for example, infectious bronchitis) come in the form of viruses and so cannot be treated with antibiotics.

In that case, the best thing to do is to keep the chick isolated in a warm, sheltered environment away from any other chicks.

This will keep them as comfortable as possible and make it easier for them to recover without any extra stress or the risk of secondary infections.

Wait for symptoms to clear up completely before you let chicks who’ve been ill go back outside, and make sure you keep them separate from any other chicks you have to make sure you don’t spread any illnesses to them as well.  

Final Thoughts

There you have it, a full guide on how to keep your baby chicks happy and healthy as you gradually introduce them to the world outside their brooder. Make sure you read my full guide on Raising Baby Chicks which takes you through the whole process.

Not all chicks will necessarily develop at the same rate, and different breeds grow at different rates too.

My Orpingtons, for example, are much slower growers than my Bresse chickens but both of these dual-purpose heritage breeds are much slower at growing than my Red Ranger chickens which I will be raising on pasture for meat for the first time this summer. 

With the advice and rules of thumb that we’ve given here, you shouldn’t have too much trouble identifying when any given chick is ready or not.  

Raising chicks can be such a rewarding and wonderful experience, you just need to know a few basic things. Also, make sure you read How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens? To keep your flock even more comfortable as the seasons’ change.

a flock of chickens on green pasture.

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4 Comments

  1. The weather starts to be sometime the end of this month about 20degrees at night sometime so when can my chicks be put out side permanently. They are about 6 weeks old now

    1. Are we talking 20 degrees Fahrenheit? Are they fully feathered and have an insulated coop? I would but I would also do it gradually at that temperature. Let them outside during the days for a few days and then take the plunge overnight. You can also use an outdoor-safe extension cord and set up a heat plate inside the coop to be extra cautious if you want to for a few days.

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