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Raising Chicks in a Brooder

By Alan Stanford, Ph.D.
Some Information Came from A Prairie Pioneers 4H Handout
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Always change the water every day. Wash the waterer with soap and rinse completely. Because chickens naturally peck at red things, a waterer with a red base teaches the chicks where to get drink. Add apple cider vinegar at the rate of 2 to 4 tablespoons per gallon. It is good for them and prevents bacteria from growing in the water. Keep the water in the coolest part of the brooder; it will stay fresh longer.

Fill the base of the waterer with marbles; they prevent chicks from falling asleep and drowning. Wash the marbles every day.


Feed a commercial medicated chick starter for the first 6 months. Chopped hard-boiled or microwaved egg is a good high-energy treat. Egg is especially good in the first week. Feed finely chopped greens starting in the third week. Keep the food in the coolest part of the brooder; it will stay fresh longer.


Your chicks will regulate their own temperature. Provide them a place where they can move closer to and further from the heat source. Avoid drafts. Start the brooder at 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Measure 1 above the floor at the hottest part of the brooder. Drop the temperature 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week.

If your chicks peep continually or huddle together at the hottest spot, they are too cold. If they huddle together at the coldest spot, they are too hot.

If you use a light bulb to warm the brooder, use a yellow "bug light"; bright white light encourages chicks to peck at each other.


Whatever bedding you use, keep it clean.

Some people raise their chicks on sand. This helps prevent pasty butts.

We raise our chicks on newspaper covered with 1/8 hardware cloth. The hardware cloth gives traction.

Another option is to raise young chicks on paper towels over newspaper.

Do not raise your chicks on newspaper, it is too slippery and straddle legs often result.

You can change to wood shavings around the fourth week. Do not use shavings before then. Chicks often eat the shavings and die because their digestive systems become blocked.


It is better to sprinkle powdered vitamins and electrolytes in the food instead of putting them in the water. Vitamins and electrolytes in the water encourage bacteria to grow. Do not give too many vitamins and electrolytes, too much is just as harmful as too little.

Figure out how much to use by watching how much water your little flock drinks. If they drink 1/2 gallon in a day, sprinkle the vitamins for gallon on one day's food.

Beneficial Bacteria

It is very important to get beneficial bacteria into your chicks as soon as possible. Beneficial bacteria keep digestion going correctly and fight disease by crowding out disease bacteria. You can just mix 1-2 teaspoons per bird of ACTIVE culture yogurt with a small amount of food and give this as the only food until they eat it. Give about 1 teaspoon per 8 young chicks. You can also buy lactobacillus at health food stores, pharmacies, Wal-Mart, and Lake's Unlimited 800-634-2473.

We mix lactobacillus into the first day's drinking water, after that we mix it into the food. This water turns bad fast; be sure to change it after one day.


It is important to handle your birds every day. It makes them tame and you can inspect them for problems.

In the first week, pick up and hold each chick securely in both hands once each day.

In the second week, pick up and hold each chick once each day. You may let them run around outside the brooder for a few minutes. Avoid slippery floors and cats.

In the third week, handle the chicks every day; allow them to run around outside the brooder for a few minutes.


Every day you should inspect your chicks for pasty butts, splayed legs, crooked feet, crooked beaks, and anything else out of the ordinary.

Crooked feet and splayed legs can be totally cured; the earlier you start treatment, the more complete the recovery. Here is a link on how to cure these problems.

Orthopedics for Poultry Made Easy for Beginners

If your chicks have pasty butts, you need to clean them. If it is dried on, wet it and gently remove the manure. Cold brooders often cause pasty butts, so do various diseases. Raising chicks on sand helps avoid pasty butts. You can add a little ground oatmeal to the feed to solidify the manure.

Crooked beaks can sometimes be cured and at least stopped from getting worse. Gently trim them into the correct shape with an emery board for human fingernails.

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