Guide to Successfully Starting Broiler Chicks
Whether you are raising a backyard or commercial flock, the first two weeks are crucial for growing large, plump, healthy birds. We’ve created this guide of best practices and advice to help you get your flock of broilers started on the right foot. By following this guide, you’ll be set up to successfully start raising broilers.
Before They Arrive
Prepare for your broilers at least a day before they arrive. Set up the brooder with proper bedding (we recommend medium pine chips or coarse pine shavings), a reliable heat source (a heat lamp with a 250 Watt red coated bulb), and sanitized waterers and feeders. The new chicks will need their bedding at 90-95 degrees, so turn on the lighting the day before arrival.
When Your Chicks Arrive
When you order day-old chicks from Moyer’s Chicks, your birds will arrive at your local Post Office location. You’ll head to the Post Office, pick up the birds, and take them to the location you will brood them.
For the first 4-5 hours in the brooder, we recommend giving the chicks only water. Some customers dip their beaks in water, so they can lick it off and know where to get a drink. After 4-5 hours, they will settle down and you can start introducing feed.
Chicks need consistent temperature for the first 2-3 weeks of their life when they can’t regulate their own body temperature. Performance and growth will be adversely affected if they are placed in a location that’s cold, breezy, or improperly heated.
For most brooders, you’ll rely on lights for heating. However, don’t make the mistake of judging the temperature by feel; purchase an inexpensive thermometer to accurately define the temperature of the bedding material.
After the initial week in the brooder, you can start decreasing temperature in the brooder 5 degrees per week. For example, if you started week 1 at 90 degrees, week 2’s temperature can go down to 85 degrees. You can continue lowering the temperature throughout the brooding until the birds go out to pasture or don’t require an alternative heat source.
Observing your chicks will tell you a lot about their comfort levels. If they are all huddling under the lamp, it means they are not warm enough. If they are all away from the light, it may mean it is too warm. A comfortable chick is a happy chick and happy chicks make for a good start to growing.
Brooding chicks need enough space for each chick to feed and drink at will and to cool off when they are too hot. As they grow, they’ll need more space. If they are crowded, there can be competition for feed and water which can compromise their development.
If you are brooding inside a box with corners, it is a good idea to place something in the corners to make the space rounder. We’ve seen customers use cardboard or brooder guard stapled to the inside of the brooder box. This practice helps prevent the birds from piling in the corner and suffocating.
Brooding chicks require regular access to fresh, clean water. Cleaning out the water 2-3 times a day will keep any contaminants (like bedding, feathers, or dirt) out of the water. They won’t drink ice cold or warm water, so make sure it is cool. You’ll also want to clean out the waterer regularly to avoid mold and mildew growth.
Chicks are susceptible to molds and mildew; bedding needs to be kept dry so molds don’t grow. Pay close attention to the bedding underneath the waterer and replace it with clean, dry bedding when it gets wet.
For the first two weeks of their lives, your birds will stay on chick starter. For weeks 2-6, we recommend you switch over to a Grower feed, which has the protein the birds need to get to the next stage in the growth cycle. After week 6, a “Finisher” feed will take the chicks to their final weight.
Make sure you are providing your chicks with fresh feed. Old feed can absorb moisture and start growing mold. Check for freshness when you purchase feed by ensuring that the date on the bag is current.
Focus on the Details
Raising a flock of meat birds requires focusing on the details. Little things like the size of the brooder, temperature of the bedding, or what feed they receive will impact the size, health, and performance of the birds throughout the rest of their lives. If you focus on getting the details right and watching how the flock responds, you will be starting them on the right path.
Have Questions About Raising Broilers?
At Moyer’s Chicks, our role with your birds doesn’t stop when you get them in the mail. We are passionate about helping farmers and families raise quality, delicious meat birds. Whether you are raising your first flock in your backyard or have been running the family farm for years, we want you to have a positive experience growing productive birds.
We provide resources like this guide, our FAQ page, and a collection of poultry books to help you become a better poultry farmer. If you ever have any questions about raising your flock of broilers, feel free to contact us. We can give you expert and practical advice, based on our experience from years of working with backyard and family farmers.