The First Three Days of a Chicken's Life: The Most Important Stage!

Every stage of a bird's life is important, but the first three days are the most pivotal in a chick's development.
first three days of a chicken's life: the most important stage

The First Three Days

That's right, just three days! This amount of time sounds insignificant, but it's usually a "make it or break it" period for chicks. Here is how you can give chicks the best chance of making it through the three-day period and performing better.



Preheating for Brooding

Chicks are poikilothermic, which means they cannot regulate their own temperature. Because of this, poultry houses typically need to be heated to somewhere around 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first days of the chicks' lives.

If you notice that chicks are huddling, they are likely too cold and the house needs to be warmed. You want to see chicks evenly dispersed across the brooding area to indicate that the temperature is warm enough.

Ensure Good Litter Quality

To start your chicks out on the right foot, provide fresh shavings. This creates a clean, dry foundation for growing chicks and has been shown to help keep them warm.  

We also encourage you to use your litter to evaluate your watering systems. If the area under the waterers is wet compared to the rest of the house, your pressure may be too high!  

Check Air Quality

Ventilation in your house should be minimal to ensure that wind speed does not chill the chicks. However, you do need to keep the air moving to keep harmful air components at bay, like ammonia, dust and extra humidity.

Keep the Lights On

It's recommended to provide 24 hours of light through day three. Note that it's not uncommon to see a spike in mortality when the lights go out the first time, so don't give up hope if you notice this occurring.

Feed Availability

Make sure that feed is clean and readily available for your chicks in the first three days. Old or moldy feed should have already been removed to reduce the risk of mycotoxins and enteric diseases!

Crop scoring or checking can be used on day two to ensure that chicks have found their way to feed and water. This can show you if changes need to be made so that the chicks can more readily access these vital nutrient sources. 

When you check the crop, you want to see the vast majority of them be soft. If they are hard and bulbous, it may mean that your chicks have found the feed, but not the water. If this is the case, consider altering your water pressure or providing supplemental water.

On the other hand, if crops are very soft, swollen or distended, this may indicate that chicks have been drinking but have not been eating enough.

Water Availability

Before chick placement, clean and disinfect your drinker lines to remove harmful biofilms. Adjust your water pressure so it's adequate for a chick and will prevent spillage.

Set drinker line height to be about eye level with the chicks. Some people have even seen success with placing supplemental floor drinkers to draw the chicks to nipple drinkers more quickly and prevent dehydration. 

A good benchmark is that water consumption should equal approximately 1.6-2.0 times the feed intake by weight on a daily basis. You can use your meters to check on this!  

Preventing Starve Out

When chicks hatch, they get their nutrients from the yolk sac. The yolk sac will last for about a day and a half to two days, and if feed and water are not readily available when it depletes, starve out may occur. This is why many growers see a mortality peak around day three—the yolk sac has disappeared and the chicks don't know how to get food or water!

After these first three days, it's also a good time to identify cull birds that will perform poorly later in the grow out. It's important to remove these birds so that they do not negatively impact later mortality, feed conversion or bird uniformity.  

Providing plenty of clean, easily accessible water and food will help prevent this starve out and mortality. This gives them the best chance of survival and health, which gives you the best chance of having a high-performing flock! Also consider the placement of your brooding zone—is it comfortable for chicks in terms of access to feed, water and heat without being crowded? 

Contact Us

Have any questions or ideas for future Poultry Biosecurity videos? Contact Allen Reynolds at or 800-608-3755.

About the Author

Allen Reynolds

Allen Reynolds

Poultry Sales Manager

This was written by Allen Reynolds, Southland Organics’ Poultry Sales Manager. Allen spent years working on poultry farms, from installing equipment to dumping chicks. He has been helping poultry farmers overcome obstacles since 2014, focusing on poultry farm strength in the antibiotic-free environment since 2017. He has traveled thousands of miles and worked closely with hundreds of farmers during his time with Southland Organics. Allen is known by even more farmers from the YouTube channel Poultry Biosecurity, where he regularly appears in videos that educate farmers on topics like bird health and farm business.

Learn more about Allen Reynolds

Isabella (Izy) Dobbins

Marketing Manager

This was edited by Isabella (Izy) Dobbins, Southland Organics' Marketing Manager. Izy has devoted her education and career to communicating science-related topics. With an enthusiasm for sharing accurate and honest content relating to science and agriculture, she ensures Southland Organics' publications are as informative as they are interesting. Izy graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in advertising, minors in both Spanish and environmental health science and a Certificate in Sustainability. She has been working at Southland Organics since 2021.

Learn more about Izy Dobbins

Izy Dobbins
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