Beginner’s Guide: Raising Broiler & Layer Chicks
You have committed to the time it takes to raise baby chicks and you are prepared for the work ahead – congratulations! Here are a few tips to help your chicks get started:
Preparation Before Picking Up Chicks:
- Brooder guard (make sure to allow ½ ft2 per bird)
- Pine shavings or wheat straw (not sawdust, sand, or cedar shavings – cedar is toxic to chicks)
- Chick feeder
- Chick waterer
- Heat lamp with a red bulb
- Chick starter feed
- Brooder area should be draft-free and rodent-free.
- Brooder guard should be cleaned and disinfected.
- Allow about ½ ft2 per bird keeping in mind you need room for the heat lamp, waterer and feeder. The chicks will need room to move away from the heat lamp if they get too warm. The brooder guard should be about 46 cm (18”) high and ideally would be able to expand as the chicks grow.
- As chicks grow, they will need more room. After four weeks, increase floor area to ¾ ft2 per bird.
- Use large pine shavings or puppy pads. Do not use sawdust, sand or cedar shavings (cedar is toxic to chicks).
- If using wood shavings, bedding should be a minimum of 10 cm (4”) thick.
- Newspaper can be placed under the shavings for easier clean up but do not use newspaper alone as it’s too slippery and will cause leg problems.
- It’s important to keep bedding clean, so change it often. A wet, dirty brooder is bad for the chick’s lungs.
- Place a red heat lamp at one end of the brooder and make sure the pen area is nice and warm for your chicks. The brooder should be brought to temperature at least 12 hours before the chicks arrive. Temperature should be measured at 5 cm (2”) above floor level. Move the heat lamp up or down on its stand to change the temperature if needed.
- When chicks first arrive, the temperature should be between 30° and 32°C (86 and 90°F) in Ontario, and/or between 32° and 34°C (90° and 93°F) in Western Canada.
- Chicks need a warm area under the heat lamp to warm up as well as an area to cool off.
- Use a high-quality chick starter like Masterfeeds 18% AV Chick Starter/Grower (Ontario) or RWA 20% Poultry Starter/Grower (Western Canada) for broilers and layers. Starter feed is a protein-dense chicken feed designed to meet the growing requirements of baby chicks.
- Each chick should have enough room to access feed and does not have to travel more than 0.6 m (2 ft) to get to a feeder. Place the feeder(s) on a sheet of cardboard to keep the feed clean and free of wood shavings.
- Please speak with your local Masterfeeds Dealer for more specific feeding information, especially if you are new to raising chicks!
- If in Ontario you will need 18% Poultry Starter/Grower or the first zero to eight weeks for broilers and zero to four weeks for layers.
- If in Western Canada you will need RWA 20% Poultry Starter/Grower for the first zero to three weeks for broilers and zero to six weeks for layers.
- Depending on what you are growing, the next phase of feeding will differ between types of birds.
- Make sure that there are enough waterers so that every chick can access water at the same time. They should not need to travel more than 0.6 m (2 ft) to get to the waterer(s). Place the waterer(s) on a sheet of cardboard to keep them clean and free from wood shavings.
- Water should be fresh, clean and at room temperature.
- For an extra boost, add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water to help keep it free of bacteria and algae.
- Lighting should be continuous for the first three to four days from a source separate from the heat lamp(s).
Picking Up Chicks:
- Move chicks quickly from their pick up point to a room temperature vehicle avoiding drafts.
- Move them to the pre-heated brooding pen as quickly as possible and place them under the heat lamp.
- Observe the chicks after placing them in the pen to make sure they find the feed and water. You can dip their beaks into the water as well as the feed to “teach” them how to drink and eat.
- It can take a bit of time for the chick’s internal temperature to regulate. Once they start to warm up, they will become more active, spread out a bit and check out their new home. If they are too cold, they will huddle together. If they are too warm, they will often pant.
- Avoid handling the chicks or playing with them for the first two days. The move to a new home is stressful, so less handing will reduce their stress level.
The First Week:
- After day three or four, you can begin to restrict light to a natural day/night cycle. This will regulate feed consumption, reducing heart attacks and leg issues. NOTE: heat lamps must remain on (red bulb only).
- In Ontario, gradually reduce the heat by three degrees to 27° to 29°C (81° to 84°F) by the end of the first week.
- In Western Canada, the recommended optimal temperature for broilers is 34°C (93°F) for the first week. Gradually reduce the heat by 3°C (5°F) per week thereafter until reaching approximately 21°C (70°F).
Potential Health Issues:
- Some chicks will develop “Pasty Butt”, which is when their poop builds up on their backsides (vent). Check for this daily. If this is not cleaned away, they will not be able to poop and will die. Gently clean feces away with warm water and a paper towel and gently dry with a clean, soft cloth. Do not try to pull of dry manure as you may damage the chick’s skin or feathers.
- Coccidiosis is a common intestinal disease caused by a parasitic organism that attaches itself to a chicken’s intestinal lining. It can be deadly, especially in young chicks, so it’s best to treat it quickly. Some common symptoms are diarrhea, blood in the droppings, lethargy, decreased food or water consumption and decreased growth rate.
- The most common treatment for Coccidiosis is Amprolium, which can be added to your chickens’ water. Consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment information.
- To prevent the disease in chicks, you can use a feed with Amprolium added to it. You can purchase Masterfeeds Chick Starter with or without Amprol® in Ontario only.
- You can take steps to prevent Coccidiosis by keeping your coop well ventilated and clean as well as making sure your chickens have enough room. We recommend keeping a portion of soiled litter in your coop so birds can build an immunity to Cocci. Provide clean, fresh water daily.
Week Two & Beyond:
- After the first week, gradually reduce heat by two to three degrees each week until you reach 21°C (70°F) at the end of the sixth week.
- Do not allow feeders to run empty or stale feed to accumulate.
- Never feed any feedstuffs that are moldy, musty or suspect in any way.
- Refer to the Masterfeeds Poultry Feeding Guide for recommendations.
- Make sure there is a good supply of fresh air to remove ammonia and other odours.
- Be careful to avoid drafts.
- As chicks grow, they will need more room. After four weeks increase floor area to ¾ ft2 per bird.
- Birds for laying will require 2 ft2 per bird by week 20. Broilers typically need more space – 3 to 4 ft2 per bird inside the coop and 8 to 10 ft2 per bird in the chicken run.