The first important aspect in a chickens like is when it hatches. Hatching, is a great obstacle a developing chick faces to come into the world. It is a very tiresome and exhausting process. The chicks first pips a hole in the large end of the egg, then continues cracking it as they turn themselves around inside the egg. This part of the hatch is called zipping, and once it’s done, the chick now needs to push itself out of the egg, using all of the strength that he has got left in him. Once they are out, extremely exhausted, they fall asleep. They have overcome the first challenge in their little chicken lives.
Step #1:Setting up the brooderWithin four hours since they have hatched, the chick will be dry, fluffy, and ready to come out of the incubator, and into the brooder. But at least 48 hours prior to hatching, the brooder must be set up.
If you don't already know, a brooder is a the place where the chicks will spends the first few weeks of their lives. The brooder is meant to mimic the mother hen, by keeping the chicks warm and secure.
Basic Brooder Necessities: Optional but may be necessary:
~Brooder box ~Protective(wire)lamp cover/shield
~Bedding ~Brooder roof (absolutely necessary if outdoors)
~Heat lamp ~Automatic timer for the heat lamp
The Heat LampWhile seting up the brooder, remember to hang the heat lamp by a chain, not the cord. If it is hung by the cord, it may unplug,and fall on a chick, trapping it and burning it to death(this can be avoided by having the wire cover). The falling heat lamp will also, lay on the ground and not be able to warm the brooder, potentially chilling & killing the chicks. The trapped heat from the lamp to the brooder floor, may also light fire to the bedding and lead to the whole brooder ablaze. So hang the heat lamp by a chain, or clip it securely to the brooder, so it won't fall and kill everybody.
It is also advised to use a infrared bulb for the heat lamp. This will produce a nice red and warm glow, that will give the chicks enough light for them to see, and not blinding them with a bright white light. White light, may also overstimulate the birds, causing them to become restless and noisy. It can also lead them to start picking each other, then eventually cannibalism. The nice, calm red glow of an infrared bulb does not overstimulate the chicks, it's not too dark for them to see, and it's not too light for them to be rowdy, it's just right, and is used by many breeders to help prevent pecking and cannibalism in their newly hatched flock.
Feeders and WaterersWhen placing the feeders and waterers in the brooder, it is best to distribute them around so the chicks have to exercise a bit to get what they need, but it should still be fairly close to the heat lamp. The waterers should be nearer to the heat lamp, because the chicks will not want to drink it cold, and cold water also discourages drinking. If the waterers are too close, or right beneath the heat lamp, the water will start to get slimy because of all the dust and litter that gets into it, and the chicks will not want to drink it. The feeders can pretty much go wherever, as long as they are not to far from where the heat lamp is.
Additional tips on setupIt is best to block of any corners in the brooder with a piece of cardboard, because chicks like to huddle together, and can suffocate each other if the can get into tight corners. It is also advised to put pebbles or marbles in the chick waterer. This is to prevent the chicks from drowning. Sawdust should not be used as bedding, for at least the first week, because young chicks cannot tell the difference between it, and food, and will eat it causing them to have things like pasty but etc.
Once the baby chicks have dried, and are completely fluffy, you can then take them out of the incubator and place them in the brooder. Right before you set him down on the brooder floor, hold him in one hand, and take him to the waterer. With a finger on your other hand, dunk his little head in the water. This is to show him where the water is, and how to drink it. Do this with every chick before placing them in the brooder. With the food, take them to the feeder, and "peck" at the food with your fingers, and they will get curious, and peck it, and learn to eat. Remember, they should only be fed chick starter, or chick mash. If you ever run out, you can also feed them crumbled up hard boiled egg.
The Heat Lamp
Right after you are done showing them how to eat/drink, place them directly under the heat lamp, so they know where the source of heat is. Make sure that you have left the heat lamp on a few hours before you put the chicks in, this is so the spot under the heat lamp has a chance to warm up, and the chicks can tell easily where the warm part of the brooder is.
It is said, to higher the heat lamp so the temperature goes down 5 degrees per week, because, as the chicks grow, they will be needing less and less heat. But your best bet on how your chicks are doing temperature wise, is the chicks themselves. If you see the chicks huddled closely beneath the heat lamp cheeping loudly, it is too cold, and the heat lamp must be lowered closer to them. If the chicks are chicks make a circle around where the warm spot of the heat lamp is, like a doughnut, they are too hot. If they are all dispersed as far away from the heat lamp as they can go, and are pushing themselves against the wall of the brooder, panting, they are way too hot, and the heat lamp should be risen higher to lower the temperature immediately. If there are some chicks near to the heat lamp, and some wandering around, not piling on each other, and relatively quiet, the temperature is just right.
Step #3: Having The Chicks OutsideOnce the chicks are old enough, or at least fully feathered, it's time for you to move them outside. Some people like to have them in a tractor, until they are old enough to putt them with the older chickens. If you have a coop already built for them, put them in, but make sure that the chicken door that leads to the run is closed. They need to be locked in the coop for at least a week, so they know where to sleep and get used to the idea that the coop is their home, so when you do let them out, they will come into the coop at dusk to sleep without you having to herd them in.
Integrating them With the Older Flock
If you want to mix them in with the older hens, have the chicks in a little chicken tractor(or separate pen)just outside the older flocks run, when they are old enough to be outside. You can put your chicks outside when they are about 3 or 4 weeks old, but they still might need a heat lamp. So they will be in there, growing up beside your older flock, until they are two months old. The older flock will get used to the chicks presence there, and this will help them to get to know each other a little before you mix them in. Once the chicks are 2 months old, or stop making baby chick noises, you may put them in with the older flock at dusk by setting them on the roosts.
Adding chickens to an already existing flock will trigger the reinstatement of the pecking order. The adolescent chicks will most likely not even put up a fight with the older chickens. Although the chicks will be very submissive, and run away when an older hen comes near, not being aggressive makes them easy to get along with the older hens over a period of time. Two months is kind of the sweet spot to integrate young chickens with the older flock. If the chicks are too small, the older chickens will kill them, and if the chicks are already full grown, the older chickens will kill them. They wont necessarily "kill" the full grown chicks, but they will fight a lot, and this sometimes results in death of a younger chicken. At two months old, they are not too vulnerable, and they are not to feisty, so fighting or death should not be a problem.
However there are way to integrate them at a younger age, as long as you have the correct equipment and set up in place. See here: Integrating new birds at 4 weeks old.
If you have any questions about any particular problem, just PM me and I'll be glad to help
Raising Baby Chicks Forum Section