The very first thing to do before you release the baby chickens into the brooder is to to dip their beaks in water to get them to drink. A one gallon waterer should be provided for every 50 chicks for the first few days. As the baby chickens grow be sure to add more waterers or a larger 3-5 gallon waterer. Depending on the breed you choose, I recommend adding vitamin supplements to the water for better health. Do not let them run out of water.
Start your baby chicks out with a heat lamp that is placed high enough above the brooder floor to keep it at 90-95 degrees. Raise the heat lamp enough each week to lower the temperature by 5 degrees until it gets to 70 degrees.
Commercially made brooders will have an automatic heat source and an adjustable thermostat for heating the brooder.
The baby chickens should be fully feathered between 4-7 weeks of age and can then be placed into their permanent home. If the temperatures get below 50 degrees at night, give them some supplemental heat for a week until the chicks become accustomed to the cooler temps.
Use a chick starter feed for the first 8 weeks. Make sure that it has the correct protein level for your specific breed. Meat chickens will require a higher protein content. Fast growing breeds such as the Cross Rocks will also need supplements to keep them from breaking their legs due to their fast growth. Use a 24 inch feeder for every 25 chicks. After the 3rd day, mix a small amount of grit with the feed to aid in digestion. See our page on chicken feed for more information on feeding chickens.
Space: Initially, provide 1/2 square foot of space per bird and increase it to 3/4 of a foot after 4 weeks. After about 4-5 months, give the chickens 4 square feet of space if confined to small pen or just the coop. If they can range or have a large area outside you can get away with about 2 square feet per chicken for the chicken coop.
You will need a brooder to put your baby chickens in when they arrive. A brooder can be a commercially produced unit or a simple homemade item. It must be big enough to hold the chicks to an age of 4-7 weeks. It should be deep enough to keep the chicks from jumping out as they grow and keep them from drafts.
Line it with layers of shredded newspaper for the first few days then replace the paper with pine shavings or other similar material after the chicks find out what their food looks like. You do not want them to eat the shavings as it will make them sick. Straw, rice hulls, or ground cobs make a good litter. Do not use sawdust, cedar or treated wood chips.
Baby chickens can be purchased through one of many chick hatcheries or through your local farm supply store in the spring. You can also find them on Craigslist and eBay.
Buying baby chickens is probably the most common way of starting a backyard flock of chickens
Baby chickens ordered through a hatchery are usually shipped to you through the US Postal Service. Some chicken breeds are only available at certain times of the year and others year round. If your not sure what breed to order, check out our chicken breeds page for ideas.