1: What should go on the bottom of my brooder for the first week? Some people say newspaper, some shavings, some shaving w/ a paper towel... I'm most concerned about the first week. After that I think we are good.
I don’t know what your brooder looks like, how big it is, where it is located, things like that. What you want is a brooder that stays dry. The chicks poop a lot, that is wet if it builds up. Sometimes waterers create moisture. A wet brooder is a dangerous brooder from a disease standpoint plus they stink. What you need is a material that will absorb moisture and that you can change out when you need to. That means you may need a certain volume. A real common bedding is pine or aspen shavings, don’t use cedar as that can possibly cause respiratory problems. Other people quite successfully use other things.
Many people are concerned that the chicks will eat too many shavings before they learn where their real food is so cover the shavings for a few days with paper towels. Those make easier to clean the brooder, at least the first few days. Those chicks poop a lot.
Do not use newspaper. Newspaper is kind of slick and can cause some leg problems form them slipping on it. Like most things people warn you about in here, it usually does not happen but it can, so I consider it best practice to not use newspaper or something slick.
My brooder is in the coop and I use ½” hardware cloth for my brooder floor. Due to manufacturing processes, wire can possibly have sharp nubs that and cut their feet, but those are on just one side. I suspect you will be brooding in the house so wire is probably not a great choice for you, but I just make sure the smooth side is up when I install it.2: Do i need medicated starter or not? These chicks are coming from a private chicken owner who gave eggs to our science class.
I’m going to copy something here that I wrote for another thread. That may help you make an informed choice about whether to use medicated feed or not and more importantly if you use it, how to actually get some benefit from it. Unless that Coccidiosis bug is present, it doesn’t do you a bit of good. That bug will not be present from the hatching eggs. It’s in your dirt if it is present.First you need to know what the "medicated" is in the medicated feed. It should be on the label. Usually it is Amprolium, Amprol, some such product, but until you read the label, you really don't know. Every "medicated' feed I'm aware of from major brands for chicks that will be layers uses Amprolium, but people on this forum that I trust have posted hat some feeds for broilers have things other than Amprolium. I'll assume it is an Amprolium product, but if it is not, then realize everything I say about it may not apply. And it is possible that the "medicated" is Amprolium AND something else.
Amprol is not an antibiotic. It does not kill anything. It inhibits the protozoa that cause coccidiosis (often called Cocci on this forum) from multiplying in the chicken's system. It does not prevent the protozoa from multiplying; it just slows that multiplication down. There are several different strains of protozoa that can cause Cocci, some more severe than others. Chickens can develop immunity to a specific strain of the protozoa, but that does not give them immunity to all protozoa that cause Cocci. Little bitty tiny baby chicks can develop that immunity easier than older chickens.
It is not a big deal for the chicken’s intestines to contain some of the protozoa that cause Cocci. The problem comes in when the number of those protozoa gets huge. The protozoa can multiply in the chicken’s intestines but also in wet manure. Different protozoa strains have different strengths, but for almost all cases, if you keep the brooder dry, you will not have a problem.
To develop immunity to a specific strain, that protozoa needs to be in the chicks intestines for two or three weeks. The normal sequence is that a chick has the protozoa. It poops and some of the cysts that develop the protozoa come out in the poop. If the poop is slightly damp, those cysts develop and will then develop in the chick's intestines when the chicks eat that poop. This cycle needs go on for a few weeks so all chicks are exposed and they are exposed long enough to develop immunity. A couple of important points here. You do need to watch them to see if they are getting sick. And the key is to keep the brooder dry yet allow some of the poop to stay damp. Not soaking wet, just barely damp. Wet poop can lead to serious problems.
What sometimes happens is that people keep chicks in a brooder and feed them medicated feed while they are in the brooder. Those chicks are never exposed to the Cocci protozoa that lives in the dirt in their run, so they never develop the immunity to it. Then, they are switched to non-medicated feed and put on the ground where they are for the first time exposed to the protozoa. They do not have immunity, they do not have the protection of the medicated feed, so they get sick. Feeding medicated feed while in the brooder was a complete waste.
I do not feed medicated feed. I keep the brooder dry to not allow the protozoa to breed uncontrollably. The third day that they are in the brooder, I take a scoop of dirt from the run and feed it to them so I can introduce the protozoa and they can develop the immunity they need to the strain they need to develop an immunity to. To provide a place for that slightly damp poop, I keep a square of plywood in the dry brooder and let the poop build up on that. I don't lose chicks to Cocci when they hit the ground.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeding medicated feed to chicks, whether the protozoa are present or not. It will not hurt them. They can still develop the immunity they need. But unless the protozoa are present, it also does no good.
If you get your chicks vaccinated for Cocci, do not feed medicated feed. It can negate the vaccinations.
When do I give them grit?
If all they eat is prepared commercial chicken feed they don’t need grit. That feed has already been ground up so they can handle it, even in crumble or later pellet form. But if you feed them anything that needs to be ground up they need grit. One of the first thing a broody hen does when she takes them off the nest is take them to a bare patch of dirt and let them get grit. I personally consider it good practice to provide grit within a couple of days so their systems are set up to handle anything that might come their way.3: Reading alot of ideas about handling. My kids (12 & 16yrs) will want to handle them as much as possible. Is this ok? Kissing is a no-no always, is that right? My twelve year old says she'll scrub her face regularly if she can give them a little kiss now and then on the head.
Just like your pet cats, dogs, or any other animal you have and especially if they go outside, it is possible the chicks could transmit some disease. It’s possible but it’s not likely. It’s good practice to wash your hands after handling the chicks, pet your dogs, etc. before you put your fingers in your mouth or touch your eyes. There are a whole lot of things in this world that can happen, but many of them are not very likely. I’m not going to tell you there is absolutely no risk to your kids’ health if they handle them or kiss them, but I think that risk is pretty low.
Now something you did not ask about. I strongly suggest the best brooder is one big enough so you can heat one area but let the rest cool off. Provide different temperature regions in that brooder so the chicks can decide where they want to be. There is no one perfect temperature for the chicks. Just like a roomful of people some like it cooler, some warmer, some want it somewhere in between. Too much heat is dangerous to the chicks, just like too little heat. If you give them a brooder with one area warm enough and another area cool enough it takes all the stress off or you to be perfect. They will take care of it.
Good luck and welcome to the adventure.