The process of raising chicks that you have hatched yourself or purchased as day-olds depends on whether they were incubated using a hen or brooder. This Poultry Australia guide contains information on raising chicks using a brooder or hen.
Raising Chicks using a Brooder
If you are not using a hen to raise your chicks, a confined area called a brooder will be needed to keep them in for their first few weeks. The best brooders are made from large chipboard boxes with an open top. Brooders can be purchased as a flat-pack from most pet stores. However, it is easy to save money by building your own. As a guide, a 70cm by 70cm brooder will hold around 20 chicks.
The brooder should be located indoors and away from any drafts. Ideal locations for brooders include garages or secure sheds. Ensure that the brooder is located in a place that rats and other predators cannot reach. When the chicks are a few weeks old, a cover made from chicken wire will be needed to prevent the chicks from escaping. The base of the brooder can be covered in sawdust (available at pet stores), which is easily replaced once soiled.
A good quality chick brooder heat plate or heat lamp and infrared ceramic bulb are also important components of a brooder. The brooder heat plate or lamp should be positioned so the chicks can choose whether to stay directly under the heat source or move away to a cooler area within the brooder box. The brooder heat plate or lamp should be set to a temperature of 33 degrees Celsius at ground level directly under the heat lamp. As a guide, if the chicks are all huddled directly under the heat source, then it is too cold, if the chicks are avoiding the base of the heat source, then it is too hot. The temperature of the brooder should be decreased by one degree Celsius every three days. Once the chicks are almost fully feathered, they can usually be moved outside (depending on the outside temperature). Even young chicks only a few days old can spend some time outside, but only when the outside temperature is warm enough. Poultry Australia's range of brooders can be viewed on our brooder equipment page.
Raising Chicks using a Hen
If a broody hen was used to hatch the chicks, then she should also be used to raise them. Once the chicks hatch, the hen’s mothering instincts will kick in. Beware that if you plan to use a hen to raise day-old chicks that you have purchased, in many cases the hen will not accept the chicks as her own. Because of this, day-old chicks should be raised using a brooder.
Although a hen will try her best to protect her chicks, it is important that you take the following steps to ensure that they make it through their first few weeks of life. If they are not already separated from the rest of the flock, now is the time to do so. It is common for other hens to try and harm chicks that are not their own. Even if you have a rooster who fathered the chicks, there is still a chance that he could harm them.
Predators such as rats, cats, kookaburras and birds of prey all enjoy a feed of young chicks, so it is important to protect them from the various predators in your area. It is recommended that all young birds under eight weeks of age are not kept in confined spaces with any fully developed birds to avoid them being pecked by the larger birds.
Food and Water
The chicks will need a supply of both food and water available to them at all times. Chicks will easily drown in the smallest amount of water, placing clean pebbles or marbles in their water supply to stop them from falling in and drowning is recommended. Like their parents, chicks need their water supply changed daily. The chicks will put on weight at a rapid rate during their first few months. A high-protein diet will help give the chicks a great start. Good quality chick crumble has an increased percentage of protein and is recommended for chicks aged up to 8 weeks old. Once the chicks reach around two months of age, they can be fed the same balanced diet as the rest of the flock.