When your day old chicks arrive from the hatchery they will need food, water, heat, light, fresh air and space. They will arrive stressed from excess heat or cold, lack of food, and might be showing signs of dehydration.
Your chicks can survive several days on the stored yolk in their body, but heat, food and water should be the first priority upon their arrival. It’s a good idea to have electrolytes on hand before you pick up your chicks. They might look a bit wilted from their travels, and this will help perk them up. I don’t usually use electrolytes more than two days. A popular brand of electrolytes is Sav-a-Chick, and is available online or at local feed stores.
Old School Practices
On the day your chicks arrive you should have a draft free box (lined with paper towels) large enough to provide a heat lamp (red bulb) at one end. Be sure to allow enough room for a cooler area so that the hatchlings can get away from the heat source if needed. A good rule of thumb is to provide a 1/2 square foot of floor space per chick.
The temperature in your brooder should be 90-95 degrees for the first week, then decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week following. You can raise or lower the lamp to help obtain that proper temperature. If you don’t need to use a heat lamp in the brooder, for the first few days, keep a light on so the chicks can find their food and water. After a few days, I suggest switching to a simple night light, just to help prevent piling or suffocation.
A Better Way…
Today’s Choice: Heat lamps are often hard to regulate temperatures, another choice is using a Brinsea Chick Brooder. They are safer, and you won’t be spending so much time adjusting the heat lamp. Available on Amazon.
If your chicks are in a room with a temperature of around 65-70, radiant heat is a better choice than a heat lamp. We have learned over time to pitch the heat lamp and make the switch to a more natural heat source from a radiant heat brooder.
On week two, you can start using shavings for bedding (not cedar) in the brooder. You can also raise the drinker a bit to help keep the water clean. Use a drinker made for chicks to avoid the possibility of drowning. Chick starter feed is all your hatchlings will need all the way until they are at their point of lay… which is about 5-6 months.
Something to watch for that can put your chicks in danger is pasting up, this is simply a poopy butt. This is real common in baby chicks, and if not tended to, they won’t be able to poop and can die. So keep those fuzzy butts clean by using a baby wipe, or a wet paper towel. Learn more about Pasting Up.