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. Find our Chick Brooding Checklist attached to this help desk article below.
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.
- It is recommended to allow around 0.5 square feet of brooder space per bird.
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).
Special notes when using a brooder plate-
- Place your brooder plate on the opposite side of your brooder space away from waterers.
- Set the height of your plate making sure there is a minimum of 1 1/8" space between the brooder plate and your bedding
- Allow enough space for your poultry to be able to move freely from underneath the brooder plate. Some brooder plates give you the option to adjust one side of the plate a bit higher than the other giving your poultry the option to choose their preferred height.
- Turn your brooder plate on 24-48 hours prior to the arrival of your poultry
- When your poultry arrives be sure to encourage them to go underneath the brooder plate showing them where warmth is.
- Brooder plates mimic a mother bird using warmth and touch so using a thermometer to measure the temperature is not reliable. It is important to watch the behavior of your poultry to determine their comfort level. If they are peeping and huddled together, adjust the plate lower, as this is a sign they are too cool. If they are avoiding the heat plate altogether it may be too low, therefore providing too much warmth.
- Brooder plates are ideal for indoor brooding. If the temperature of the room falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit your brooder plate will not provide enough heat for your new hatchlings.
Learn more on how to brood poultry using a heat plate here: Brooding with the Brinsea Ecoglow Safety 600 Chick Brooder Plate
Food and water in containers that chicks can reach but not crawl into or spill. For more information on feed recommendations and requirements please read our Poultry Feed Guidelines.
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.
While we do not anticipate a loss, Meyer Hatchery does cover losses of properly cared for birds that arrive deceased or that pass in the first 48 hours after arrival. Losses must be reported within 72 hours of arrival. To report a loss with a recent order, fill out our Loss Reporting Form.
If your chicks have leg bands, we recommend removing them or stepping a size, after about 7 days from their hatch date.
For the first few days to several weeks old...
- Chicks will spend most of their time eating, drinking, and sleeping. Keep a close eye on them to be sure everyone is finding the food and water.
- Chicks love a little attention. Feel free to pick them up and interact with them. This is a great way to ensure a friendly flock of adult birds.
- After a few short weeks, they will be ready for exercise! A good idea is to provide the chicks with something they can perch on. This gives them practice for the future.
- Once they are 3-4 weeks old, they are ready for field trips outside. You can use something like a dog playpen to keep the chicks together in a safe place, but still allowing them to explore. Make sure it's warm enough outside and the chicks have access to both sun and shade within their pen.
6-8 weeks old, time to move out...
- When the chicks are fully feathered it is time for them to move to their coop. Make sure the coop is draft-free, they have access to food and water, and that the coop is predator-proof.
- If you already have an established flock, you will want to slowly introduce them to their new coop mates. Check out our great blog post for more details on smooth introductions.