1. Heating pad brooder. Brood them outside in a predator proof coop. I give them just a couple of days inside so I can monitor feed intake and their adjustment to the brooder, then they go out to my grow out coop.
2. Fermented feed.
3. Be sure they have plenty of room. 1 s.f./bird for the first week. After that, 2 s.f./bird for the next several weeks. By the time they are 4 weeks old, I like to see them have as much room as a full grown bird.
4. Integrate them into the flock early. Some chicks are integrated as early as 3 weeks. A lot depends on your coop/run set up, how much room you have available, and your flock dynamics.
5. Poultry Nutri-Drench is a life saver for stressed chicks.
6. Don't order chicks in the dead of winter or in the heat of summer.
I order for delivery when the weather is mild; not too hot or too cold. Always have the chicks vaccinated for Marek's disease. My brooder is set up ahead of time, water set up the day before, so it's not cold when they arrive. I have a thermometer under the heat lamp to figure out the best placement, so there's the right temperature gradient for the chicks. It's turned on when the call comes from the post office, and I get them. Each chick gets it's beak in the water when it's unpacked. I will often use the electrolyte powder in the water for a couple of days, but not for a long time. Plain water and chick starter, and chicks on shavings after a couple of days. Love the cuteness! Mary
We start ours on sugar water and we use a turkey or game-bird starter with higher protein. It just seems to give them a better start than regular chick starter. I've also seen where some feed the babies boiled egg yolk mixed with their feed the first day to give them a boost. We also put marbles in their waterers to keep them out of the water and it encourages them to peck at the shiny stones.
I feed either medicated chick starter, or Flock Raiser, not medicated. Haven't ever had a problem with coccidiosis here, so it's been okay. Medicated chick starter is the safer choice, in case your soil turns out to be heavily infected, something you find out the hard way, with sick chicks. IMO, simple is best. I don't spend time mixing special formulas, adding magical ingredients, or indulging in voodoo (sorry, couldn't resist!) to grow birds. Sick birds may need extra help, but healthy chicks will do great on normal food and clean water. Mary
I show up at the post office with honey water and mashed hard boiled egg. Open the box up, make sure everyone has a good long drink, take the water away, and give them the egg to munch on on the way home. I keep those chemical handwarmers in my van normally, so if they look chilly, a few of those go in the box as well for the drive. In the brooder, I have Mama Heating Pad set up and scootch everyone under it (since they've had a snack). Got Poultry Nutri-drench in the waterer for the first 12-24 hours, then switch to plain water. I feed fermented feed--it is a probiotic, so don't need to add that. I generally only need to check for pasty butt the first few days with this routine because the shipping stress is overcome quickly and heat stress isn't an issue.
I do also start feeding finely minced fresh herbs/greens/veggies with sand grit as treats after their first week, making sure to include hot peppers weekly. Occasional seeds and bugs. It gets them eating a variety of foods from the start (and the capsaicin from the peppers stimulates gut immunity) so they aren't so picky later.
I like to add in a handful of alfalfa hay for them to get some green stuff in their diet. You can put it in a bowl or make you a hanging net holder like for horses in miniature. I also put in suet cakes you can find for bird feeders. They come in all sizes and varieties. Mine cost less than $1 each. It's to give them something to pick at. This gives them some added calories and it keeps them busy.