After they have their first drink, set each chick next to your heat source. If you have an Eco-Glow contact brooder, nudge their little behinds under it. A contact brooder will allow the chicks to self-regulate their temperature and become used to the day-night cycle. If using a heat lamp, just set them down. Be sure to use an infra-red lamp, secure the lamp very carefully to prevent it from falling and causing a fire, and be careful not to overheat the chicks. Use a thermometer in the brooder at chick height. They should be 95 degrees during their first week, 90 their second, 85, and so on. Accomplish this by raising the heat lamp.
Make sure the chicks have enough room and clean litter. Give the chicks 1/2 a square foot each for the first two weeks and be prepared to increase this to 2 square feet per chick by the third week. Use a few inches of pine shavings on the floor. Do not use cedar; the fumes are harmful to the chicks. Cover the shavings with paper towels for the first three days to prevent them from eating the shavings instead of their food. Check the litter for damp spots a few times a day and remove the damp litter. Change out large proportions of the litter daily.
Use a feeder with little head-sized holes; this prevents them from scratching all of their food out onto the floor and into their litter. On the first day in the brooder, sprinkle some of the feed onto the paper towels to encourage them to eat. Place marbles or small rocks in their waterer. Chicks will do anything -- including falling asleep in their water. The marbles will help prevent drowning. Make sure they never run out of food or clean water. If you use a nipple waterer, make sure the water is away from the heat source.
Check the chicks’ bottoms every day for at least the first week and longer if you are having problems. You are checking for pasty butt, a result of physiological stress. Look for dried poop on their vent. If you find dried poop, soak their little behind in warm water. You can also use a warm wash cloth to loosen small bits of poop. Just picking it off might pull their feathers and skin. If your chicks have pasty butt, check to be sure that their water has vitamins or vinegar (1 tsp. per 1 gal.) and that the chicks have enough room and are not picking at each other. Be careful not to confuse the dried remnants of their umbilical with poop; leave the bit of umbilical. Their vents are higher up: Look down their back and then around their bottom, and the vent is the first opening you see. You may also see a pink bump near the end of their spine. That is their oil gland.
Also good to know:
- Do not cook with any nonstick cookware while chicks are in your house. The fumes can kill them.
- Try never to brood a chick alone. Try to get another chick from a farm store or another owner. If you must brood alone, make sure to give the chick a lot of attention. Also, put a stuffed animal into the brooder for it to cuddle for comfort.
- Chicks are ready to live outside when fully feathered, at about six weeks. If it is warm during the day as well as the night, this can be sooner. If you want to put them outside in the winter, run electricity to the coop and use a contact brooder in the coop (or heat lamp with extra fire precautions.)