When baby chicks are just hatched
they are at a critical stage of their lives and surely require protection, warmth, and the correct feed for those first few days of life.
You won't need a fancy, expensive building for the baby chicks and if you don't have an outside well-constructed building you can start them in a large cardboard box or plywood box. Don't keep them on the floor where you have had other chicks from previous flocks as there could be a disease. Get a box about three feet wide and four feet long and perhaps about 21 inches deep as this will hold about 35 or so chicks for those first three weeks.
Place a hardware cloth over the box to confine the chicks so as they grow they can't fly out. I also use clean dry litter in the box although you can use food particles such as rice hulls, sphagnum peat moss or even dry said. Whatever you have readily available or can afford the best use that item. I would advise not using any coarse or moldy matter or a slick surface. You can also put wire hardware cloth (one-half inch by one-half inch) nailed to a one by two so you can put newspaper underneath and pull it out and change daily.
If you want to start them in a large room in the warmer months of the year you'll need to construct a wire guard to keep them in one area for at least a week or so.
Go to your local feed or farm supply store and purchase your brooding, feed, and watering equipment. You can buy gas, oil, or electric brooders which usually include a thermostat to control the temperature. You can also choose to make your own brooder by using an infra-red bulb, but make sure it has fire safety features such as porcelain sockets, and also a chain to adjust the height and tip-up guard hoops.
If you choose to use a 250-watt bulb you will provide plenty of heat for up to 35 chickens. If you have the chicks in warm weather you might be able to use an ordinary 60 to l00 watt bulb placed inside a shield about eight inches above the floor.
If you use a brooder you might want to start the chicks at 90 to 95 degrees and then reduce the heat as the chicks grow until it is not needed. If you see the chicks all together you'll know the heat needs to be increased, if they aren't together then you know the temperature is fine. Always start the brooder a day before you have the chicks to be assured of the temperature for them. Chicks will tell you when they are too cold or too warm, as they will chirp and complain a lot if they are too cold, and when too hot they will pile up in corners. When they are just comfortable they tend to form a ring under the heat source.
You will also need a night light for the chicks in the brooder house for about three weeks as they need to be able to see their way around the holding area.
Make sure the chicks have plenty of food and water always. You can make feeding trays from cardboard or purchase a chick feeding box. Try to provide one lineal inch of feeding space per chick at the start and increase this to about two inches after they are a few weeks old. You can purchase a hanging tube feeder about l5 inches in diameter that will feed about 30 chicks, If you fill the trough too full you will tend to waste food after the first week try not to keep it full of feed, probably about half full is sufficient. Adjust the height of the feeder so that the top edge is equal to or slightly higher than the bird's back. This helps to cut down on feed waste and this feeder should last most of the week for them. Don't let old feed buildup or get wet or moldy as this can cause disease to the chicks.
For the water, you can provide a water fountain for up to 50 chicks then after the first month, add another half gallon fountain. The water fountain should be placed on a wire platform about two inches high, as this will prevent spillage and you certainly don't want glitter in the waterer. Clean this fountain daily and replace it with clean fresh water. You might also purchase automatic waterers if you wish.
To feed the chicks you will need a commercial starter mash that you can purchase from a local feed store or farm supply. You will want to start with a 22 percent protein mix. Talk to the person at the feed store and tell him your purpose for raising the chicks, he will take into consideration the climate conditions, the age you plan to slaughter or the production levels you wish to meet. You will want to purchase the most quality of feed for your purpose and also for your money.
As the chicks mature and grow you will naturally need more living space, also more feeders and watering methods. You will also need to plan ahead for growth as when they reach about four weeks they will have their feathers and the heat can be reduced. You will want to remove the chicks eventually to a brooder house to rear them to adults.