Dirt Clumps For Chicks

Chicks need to be kept safe from predators, warm and dry, and in clean bedding. What they don’t need is to be kept away from all dirt and microbes. When chicks are raised under a mama hen, they venture forth for short forays. They peck at the ground, taste a bit of green grass, and get exposed in small increments to the germs naturally living all around them. Some of these microorganisms are beneficial. Certainly, the bits of grit and minerals in the earth are good for chicks, as are tiny amounts of a variety of foods.

It’s still too cold for my chicks to go outside, so I’ve brought a bit of the outside in. Every couple of days I dig up a clump of dirt with some clover attached. (I’d dig up dandelions but they’re not growing yet.) I set it under the heat lamp in the brooder.


The chicks think about it. The boldest come closest first.

thinking about it

And then they all join in.

chicks and clover

However, the best benefit of putting these dirt clumps into the brooder isn’t nutrition or disease resistance. It’s behavioral. From the first week, the chicks learn to peck at dirt and food and not at each other. I did this when the Gems were babies. I’ve never had pecking or aggression issues in that flock, even with a variety of breeds housed together. So far, these new chicks haven’t pecked each other at all. All is peaceful and friendly, and I attribute much of that good behavior to simply giving them a clod of dirt.


  1. Great advice! I am going to try that today. I have been giving them an uncooked hard squash to peck at (acorn as they had no winter squash at my grocery) for about 10 minutes once per day and they go crazy over it! That and some chick grit are all I have been giving them, but I will go dig up a clump of earth today. Also, I have one chick with a sore vent (I emailed you about this Terry), but thus far no pecking from her sisters and she seems to get a little better every day.

  2. …I meant to say all I have been giving them in addition to their crumble.

  3. How very clever of you to think of the dirt clumps as a way to discourage the chicks from learning to peck each other! I remember when I raised a little chick so many years ago, it would cry all night as if hungry UNTIL I hit on the idea of digging ‘fishing worms’ from the backyard each evening and letting the chick snack on a worm or two. That little chick began sleeping all night every night with never a peep. They need natural things from out of doors, be it worms, clumps of grass or dirt.

  4. Your chicks seem to be growing healthy and well Terry! When my chickens were 2 weeks old we started giving them clovers and shredded lettuce and they got these beautiful bright yellow legs which they have had ever since!

  5. On one of my previous replies, I see I spelled askew wrong from Cheryl’s entry. Oh well, just call me human. The chicks are getting so big. These tips will be so helpful when our chicks arrive. You were right Terry. Daily I consider adding chicks to our upcoming flock and I just don’t have the coop space. Saw a lavender araucauna this am and would love to add it. I was wanting to add a white leghorn yesterday. Hope this obsession stops soon!!!

      • Let it be known, I was warned. I just saw Edwina with a piece of green foliage in the run. I have considered getting a pair of leather gloves just in case one of my hens go broody. (After the Sussex pecked Siouxsie, hard, thought must be more to it than I thought and might need a little protection) After I saw what Edwina did to that plant, I’m thinking full body armour now.

          • Lol. I’m in over my head. I’ve never have even touched a chicken. This is going to be a disaster. Husband is going to have to help me to make it with the hens.

            • when you say shred, you mean shred. Can’t wait to see what chest thumping really is..

  6. LOL it does. Wish I found this site for the information, and the way Terry’s flock interacts, before I ordered my chicks. I have three aggressive hens coming with three very gentle hens. I’m not sure I’m up to watching the pecking order and bullying take place, and know what to do to solve their problems. Somehow I’ll figure it out. I’m watching to see what Terry does with Siouxsie if she doesn’t work out in the big barn. Hoping they all find their place.

  7. Great info. I wish I had thought of this for my first batch of chick. Thanks!

  8. I have been putting things in with my three girls to keep them occupied, they have a big perch, a ladder, logs, dry dust bath, plants, things to peck etc. Then my husband threw in a dead plant (a thyme bush with roots and dirt attached), well to my surprise this has been great value. They have gone back to it over and over pecking at the dirt and the roots. They love it. When I saw the clump of dirt with your chicks it was the same and I realized how good this is. From now on all the things that I used to throw away from the garden are going into the girls.

    Your chicks are looking lovely!

  9. Great advice Terry! I had one of my Buffs go broody about 30 days ago. There is a lady about an hour from my house on the Oregon Coast with Swedish Flower Hens… So I bought 8 fertile eggs for $20 and put them under broody Judy. :-) All 8 hatched on Saturday… So dang cute. That Orpington is the best mom. She already has those chicks socialized with the rest of my big hens. At first, the head hen Iggy tried to peck at one of the chicks. All hell-fire, battle armor and brimstone came out of the orphington as she grew 2 X’s her size and let out a scream and her tail looked like a tom turkey as she told Iggy where to shove her beak. Since then, all the big girls just ignore the babies and I think we’re gonna have a peaceful transition into the flock. Keep up the great work Terry, we love your website!

    • All hatched? That’s amazing. Kudos to the person who sold you the eggs and to your broody mama. Impressive, too that you already have the chicks living safely with the flock. Well done!

      • Thanks T…. My hens were all hand raised and tame. I have never even seen them once peck at each other so I wasn’t too worried. zIggy is the leader and will bump her chest on a hen now and then, but no real violence. I keep an eye on them though because you never know.

        • That is amazing that a nonhead hen is raising the chicks with the others with no problems save that one time with your head hen Iggy. The only other time I have personally seen this work, was when the head hen, a large white rock named Matlida raised her one hatched chick with the flock. But acourse she was the head hen, and half the flock was bantam and she maintained a tight rein on any of them getting near her chick for the first few weeks save his father Princess Leah the silkie rooster. Even know her grown son obeys her and will back down if she stares at him. Is your broody Buff one the higher status members of your flock, because Iggy might have some competition for that job after the chicks grow up and the pecking order gets reshuffled ? Judy might end up the next head hen.

          • Broody Judy has always been the free spirited one of the bunch. She went broody the first time at 7 months. One night when we went out to close the run and coop, she wasn’t there… We searched high and low and finally found her at age 7mo under a low lying tree branch with 18 eggs she had been hiding. She’s the smallest of my flock and just generally the grouchy one, although with humans she’s always been extremely friendly – like a lap dog. Big Iggy is the largest bird (Barred Rock) and has he own language, She doesn’t really cluck too much, she has this weird kind of hollow sounding honk. Almost sounds like quiet version of a Canadian Goose honk. Iggy doesn’t really peck the other hens to get them to do something, she puts out her chest and throws her weight at them… and she’s a big hen, like 7-8 lbs. Other than that she’s super mellow… When Judy gets done with the chicks I can see her collecting another bunch of eggs… she’s warped towards motherhood.

  10. DH came in yesterday with the first dandelion, half opened. I guess it’s really spring.

    I suspect your soil has small grit in it, but mine does not. So I would caution others about feeding solids without making sure there’s enough grit to digest it.

    When I start feeding solids, I put a tray of grit in the brooder too. It’s pretty popular.

  11. Thank you for this Tid-bit!!
    I did this last night with my new 6 chicks. I was worried for a bit as they seemed to want nothing to do with it. Had a bit of dirt and some clover.
    But this morning ALL of it was gone! Not a speck of it left!

    I’m so excited to have my first chicks!!