Producers should have their facilities ready for new chicks before they arrive
Chicks are often an integral part of farm life, whether you raise chickens for meat or eggs (or both), a commercial producer or a backyard enthusiast. While chicks are fun and profitable to raise, the entire process is much easier if you’re prepared and have a proper set-up before chicks arrive.
Housing: Two of the most important aspects of chick housing is that it needs to be draft free and easy to clean. A cold breeze can be lethal to fragile chicks; likewise, sitting on damp floors can also cause health problems.
“Whether you are a commercial poultry producer placing 400,000 chicks a cycle or a backyard enthusiast who may only have four chicks to raise, the brooding principles for newly hatched chicks are the same; a warm, draft free environment that encourages the birds to find fresh food and clean water as quick as possible,” said Susan Watkins, distinguished professor with the Poultry Science Department at the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, “Chicks are incredibly curious the first 24 to 48 hours so it is important that the environment makes the chicks comfortable enough to follow their curiosity.”
The floor space per bird also needs to be considered.
“As a general rule, you want to provide about 0.5 square feet per bird up to about 4 weeks of age,” said Dr. Keith Bramwell, avian reproductive physiologist and senior technical advisor with Jamesway Incubator Company. “After that, try to have 1 square foot per bird. As adults, you should provide a minimum of 2-3 square feet per bird. Of course, the big variable here would be the breed and size of the chickens. Bantams would require less space while some of the largest standard sized breeds would require more.”
Before your chicks come home, disinfect your housing area as a bio-security protocol. Prior to your chick’s arrival, you should also take stock of your pest control program – specifically, rodents. Rodents will be attracted to and consume vast quantities of expensive chick feed, and can carry disease to your poultry house. Place traps and rodenticide out of reach of the chicks.
Heat: Chicks must be kept warm, but not too hot.
“When the chicks are first placed, if the floor is too hot (more than 98 degrees) or too cold (less than 88 to 92 degrees) chicks will be more focused on trying to get comfortable rather than finding food and water and if adjustments aren’t made immediately, we lose a very important window in their development, both in digestive and immune system function,” said Watkins. A proper temperature in the brooder will make training your chicks much more convenient. “It is so easy to train chicks to find food and water during this window, so take advantage of the chance to start them with good eating and drinking habits. Waiting till they are older is too late because they quickly lose their willingness to trust,
Ideally, producers should know the exact temperature in their brooder.
“Measuring it with a thermometer or temperature gun takes away the guesswork and can help identify problems such as a draft or improper heat source height,” said Watkins. “Watch your chicks for the first few hours and let their behavior guide you in making heat adjustments. If they are panting and trying to get away from the heat, they are too hot. If they are all in a ball directly under the heat source, they are too cold.”
Feed and Water: “Make sure food and water are never located directly under the heater because it can get too hot for the chicks to eat – but these should be nearby for both warmth and easy to find,” said Watkins. “When possible, keep the brooding area well lighted, as this will also stimulate the chicks to look for nourishment.”
Most producers feed medicated chick feed, and most poultry professionals highly recommend it.
“If medicated feed is available, then use it,” Bramwell advised. Some producers might have concerns that there is unnecessary medication in the feed, but Bramwell explained that this is highly unlikely.
“A reputable feed supplier will not indiscriminately add medications, they are too expensive. But feed medicated to control coccidiosis, for instance, is much needed, especially for small producers that allow their birds to free range,” he said.
“Feeding a medicated feed does not overcome poor brooding conditions,” Watkins said. “But it can be beneficial if the brooding location has had a history of disease challenges such as E. coli or staphylococcus, even if it is clean with new bedding. However, medicated feed should never be a replacement for good animal husbandry.”