I would be very careful about this. I realize that many people rush into chick rearing with abandon following tried and tested methods that plenty of people take for granted are the right way. Today's economy means that we must be very mindful of each step and do away with the waste and mess of rearing chicks.
Also, rear the chicks in an environment where they learn how to behave like natural creatures rather than industrial robots.
First off- the brooder should look a bit like a forest floor exhibit at the zoo or in a museum. Nothing to catch fire- but rather- design something that resembles a camp fire- a few stones in a circle for example- at the end furthest from the light- where it is not going to be under any direct light, put a single piece of fire wood for the chicks to perch on and run and jump on and off. Chicks need to excercse all their muscles- their wings- their legs- and most importantly: their air sacks.
Every chick should know that it must roost to survive. Think about and ask farmers how old the chicks are before their mother and father bring them to the roost. They must be able to jump high and flutter and fly at the earliest possible age- this how nature built the wild junglefowl and well- we messed with nature and created the dumbed down domestic chicken from that grand design but the essentials remain the same. The firewood perch- may not be used at first- not at night while they huddle near the light for warmth- but during the day they will leap and flutter from it and this is integral in the development of their muscles, and air sacks.
All birds inhale air through their mouths and nostrils- but unlike mammals, this air- well at least seventy percent of it at any rate, bypasses the lungs altogether and instead fills the bellows- the avian air sacks- which believe it or not, circulate through the entire skeleton of the bird!
Everytime a bird jumps up flies or runs it is pushing air through its air sacks. What does this have to do with the manner in which you rear your chicks?
You can save money and avoid having the chicks inhale the dust of messy inefficient chick starters for one. You can also cut way back on the amount of this food that you put out in a day and this will help you save money and keep the birds as clean and healthy as nature intended.
1. chick starter place the chick starter in no tip cat food dishes. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil to the starter and another of cinnamon powder. Mix thoroughly. Now your chick starter is not so dusty and the cinnamon is a natural antibacterial.
2. grind up some dry cat food just one tablespoon per cup of chick starter. Mix this into the improved chick starter just described. Now you have a higher fat and animal protein content to the diet. Some might say- why would you add stuff when everything they need is in the chick food? The truth is , it isn't all in the chick starter. Yes they can survive on it but the amount of the chick starter they will need and the filthy environment that it creates are neither efficient nor practical if you are serious about the long term health of your flock.
3. grind up some pine nuts or any other tree nut- peanuts are alright too - about one table spoon per cup of mash. Add this to the improved starter-
4. Because of the superior ingredients of your chick starter, you can put out just as much as they will eat in about five hours. In other words, not much- but fill the no tip cat bowls- if you have twenty chicks you should have five cat bowls in the brooder- or go ahead an use the long chick feeder - even though they tend to spill feed in these-
5. Make sure that your feeder is contained within another container. This way when the inevitable feed spills from the feeder, it does not contaminate the entire substrate. You do not want them eating the food that has mixed with droppings. The way to insure this is to only put out as much as they can eat in a few hours and supplement what they are eating with the materials just described.
Since you will worry that your birds are hungry, put out apples cut in half. Cook a sweet potato and after it cools you can cut this in half and let them forage on this all day instead of a big dusty pile of mash.
The apple and cooked sweet potato also provide additional dietary fiber. This is invaluable because it helps the chicks slow down the rate of digestion and this means that they will absorb more nutrients from their food before pooping. All that chick poop- represents crude protein that the chicks failed to digest entirely. This means phosphate rich nitrogen rich chicken manure- which should tell every poultier ( chicken husbandry person) that their feeding regime is wasteful.
Once the chicks are ready to go to the brooder you will want to mix steel cut oats into their starter and increase the percentage of dog food- which can be soaked- the larger and more active the chick- the more bugs they would catch in nature- this will enable them to develop faster and be less dependent upon their parents sooner- as nature intended-
If all of that is too confusing-
Murray McMurray has a fantastic product called Babycakes. This is a special foragecake just for chicks. Its made from crustacean meal (shrimp, crab and lobster shell meal), de, ground nut dough and loaded with cranberry seeds, ground canary seed, and special spices like turmeric and cinnamon.
If you put out a cookie sized slice of babycake once a week, you can half the percentage of food fed out per day. Feathers will grow in more rapidly and pigments will be much more vivid- like wild birds are because the babycake is designed to nurture chicks as if they were eating bugs and berries as they would with their mother in the undergrowth.