Generally speaking, most layer breeds of chicken will be fully feathered and ready to move into a coop by about 8 weeks of age. Until then, they will need to be kept in a warm, clean and dry brooder, protected from predators and supplied with fresh food and water.
During the first weeks, your new chicks will need to be kept at a much higher air temperature than at which you would be comfortable. At least 24 hours before your chicks arrive, you need to set up their temporary home, called a brooder, to provide the proper temperature. A brooder should consist of the following:
A plastic tote, stock tank, wooden box, cardboard box or swimming pool… something with solid sides to help prevent drafts and keep your chicks contained. If it has been used for poultry previously, scrub with 10% bleach solution and allow to dry before new chicks are introduced.
Pine shavings or similar bedding material. Do not use newspaper in your brooder. It is too slick for baby chicks to get a good foothold and can cause a condition called “spraddle-leg.”
A heat source for keeping the brooder at the proper temperature. This is often in the form of a 125 to 250 watt heat bulb. The bulb height will determine the temperature. Raise or lower the bulb to control the temperature to keep your chicks comfortable.
A thermometer placed at chick level in the brooder. 95 degrees is the ideal brooder temperature for the first week of the chicks’ lives. Then lower the brooder temperature by 5 degrees each week until they are fully feathered out (6-8 weeks).
Food and water in containers that chicks can reach but not crawl into or spill.
Upon the chicks’ arrival, carefully dip each chick’s beak in the drinking water to help them learn where their water source is located. Then let them explore their new home. They should start to eat and drink and will soon settle down for a rest. If the brooder is too cool, you will notice the chicks huddling together in a tight group directly under the heat source. Lower the lamp, increase the bulb wattage or make other adjustments necessary. If the chicks are too hot, they will try to get far away from the heat source and you may find them in far corners and avoiding the “spotlight." Raise the lamp, try a lower wattage bulb, or lower the temperature on the hover-type brooder. You want the chicks to spread out in an even pattern within the brooder.
If your chicks have leg bands, we recommend removing them or stepping a size, after about 7 days from their hatch date.