Welcoming your new birds home

A bit of preparation and planning, along with a few simple supplies and pieces of equipment, will help you get your birds off on the right foot.

Your checklist

Your checklist should include:

• Brooder Housing with adequate insulation and ventilation
• Heat Lamp with a 75 watt bulb and a clamp for easy positioning and repositioning
• Thermometer to measure temperature at chick level, 2” off the floor
• Large Shavings for at least 2” of insulating litter on the floor, not cedar
• Jar Waterers with one gallon capacity per 10 chicks
• Chick Feeders with 3-4 linear inches per chick
• Sav-A-Chick® Vitamin & Electrolyte Supplement to keep chicks hydrated in hot weather
• Sav-A-Chick® Probiotic Supplement to help build healthy digestive function

Housing baby birds

To keep your tiny birds healthy and developing properly, they must be housed in a controlled environment, preferably in dedicated brooder housing which has adequate temperature control, ventilation and light. Newly hatched chicks will need just half a square foot of space each, but they grow quickly; by 6 weeks, they will each need 1-2 square feet of free space. Keeping the young chicks segregated from older birds will help prevent the spread of disease. When caring for flocks of multiple ages, always start your feeding or animal care routines with the youngest chicks first, then moving to older birds. This will help prevent the spread of pathogens from mature birds into the brooder housing.

Keeping your chicks at a comfortable temperature is of critical importance, especially in the first two weeks, when their young metabolisms are unable to effectively regulate body temperature. When they first hatch, their body temperature is 103ºF, climbing to 106ºF by day five, the same as mature chickens. If their body temperatures fluctuate too much in the first 12-14 days, they may have poor growth, poor feed conversion, or increased susceptibility to disease.

Make sure to bring your brooder to temperature before the chicks arrive. The ideal temperature for day-old chicks is 90-95ºF, measured at the chicks’ height. Because floor temperature is so important, maintaining a 2” cover of large shavings is necessary for insulation. Do not use sawdust, as the tiny chicks may mistake it for food.

Start by hanging the heat lamp 12” above the floor, away from waterers and feeders where the chicks will naturally gather. This will allow you to observe whether they’re at a comfortable temperature. If you see the chicks huddling together, they’re feeling chilled, and if they’re staying far away from the heat lamp or heat source, the brooder is too warm for them. Each week, as the chicks’ body temperature increases, move the heat lamp a couple inches higher to reduce the temperature at chick height by about 5 degrees.

Although direct drafts must be avoided, adequate ventilation is important to prevent the buildup of moisture, animal odors and gasses that can cause respiratory illnesses in the young flock. Windows, fans and inlets around the ceiling perimeter allow fresh, cold air from the outside to mix with warm air before coming into contact with the chicks.

Introducing young birds to the flock

When the birds are fully feathered, at about 6 weeks of age, they are able to regulate their own body temperature. In warmer months, this means they can be moved outdoors or to a larger coop. In winter, they may still need supplemental heat, and would benefit from staying in the brooder housing a bit longer. Start by letting the young birds into their new yard, pen or coop for a few supervised hours during the day. Look for signs of distress, such as huddling together or loud, persistent cheeping; this may be a sign they are not quite ready to leave the brooder. If your young birds will be sharing space with mature birds, it is better to wait until the young birds are closer in size to the existing flock, to prevent the youngsters from becoming picking targets.