Spring is near and for many that means the peeping of chicks being started inside. Selection of a breed that works for you is important, but once your research finds those birds, a good hatchery and your order is placed there are some important things to have in place when the chicks arrive. Ideally this will be set up so it makes the transition easy.
Chicks absorb the nutrition from the yolk before hatching, which allows them to be shipped the first day without food or water. However, on arrival they will need a good start to stay healthy and thriving. You’ll need a clean brooder to start with. Hold off on bedding at first, simply having a clean bare floor. The brooder need not be fancy – a commercially made one can be used or you can adapt from many options. I’ve used a rabbit carrier inside a box as an effective way to start small batches of chicks, with 12-15 in each section of the carrier. Once the chicks identify food then bedding can be added to help keep a solid floored brooder dry.
Safety. Too many times those heat lamps are not properly hung, or a cord is frayed or worn. This is critical as too many fires result from such simple and relatively inexpensive fixes. Make sure the light doesn’t come in contact with flammable materials. Temperature is important! You want the temperature at the chick’s level to be 95 degrees. If chicks are too cold they will pile in a corner or on top of each other…often the strongest ones push underneath to the center and are then smothered by the others. Make sure the chicks have enough heat – if they’re avoiding the heated area then it’s too warm, but they shouldn’t be crowding on top of each other either. A good balance is the ability to retreat to food and water and a cooler area if they want to but plenty of warmth. The temperature should be reduced by five degrees per week until the chicks are feathered out, when they can begin transitioning outside.
Feeders should be easy to find and filled with a good starter. This gets the birds started with all the vitamins and nutrition they need to thrive and become productive layers. It also supports muscle growth for meat birds. Make sure there is enough space for all chicks to have room at the feeder. A general rule of thumb is an inch of linear space per bird. Initially, because the brooder has no bedding, you can spread several small piles around the brooder. This makes it very easy for chicks to find feed and start eating.
Waterers should be cleaned and filled on arrival. Some people prefer a little sugar in the water for an energy boost, some prefer electrolytes and some prefer just plain water, but have it filled. As you pull each chick from the shipping box quickly dip their beaks in the water before letting them go. This shows them where water is, as well as the normal reflex of raising their heads to swallow. Quick introduction to water is important to combat any dehydration from their journey. Once bedding is put in the brooder, I like to (before bedding) but a small block, just a couple inches tall, to raise the waterers up. This helps keeps bedding out of the water, but be sure chicks can reach the water (no more than back high).
These five basic things can be provided many ways from reused materials to new name brand equipment. The important thing is attention to detail for healthy birds!