If you've recently hatched or acquired baby chicks, congrats are in order first and foremost! Now that your babies are here, it is up to you to ensure they get the best start in life possible. This means attending to their care needs and keeping them safe and comfortable as they grow. There are many things you will need to do, provide, and monitor as your chicks mature, all of which will be worthwhile and enjoyable as you are rewarded with growing babies every step of the way.
The first thing you are going to need is a brooder in which they will spend the early stages of their lives. Brooders can be bought or built in many different shapes and sizes. When planning your brooder, keep in mind the number of chicks that will be going inside and size it appropriately. You will then need to bed it down with something comfortable and dry, such as paper towels or pine shavings. Dryness is essential for good health as wet bedding can harbor disease. Be sure to avoid newspaper as it can become slippery when wet and possibly make it hard for chicks to find their footing, which will make conditions like Spraddle Leg harder to treat should they arise. In an out of the way section of your brooder, a small roost should be added as a learning tool to coerce chicks to begin roosting.
Heat is an important part of the brooder and there are several ways you can provide it. A commonly used method involves a heat lamp, but these pose a fire hazard. Also possible is a light bulb with a reflector and a regular 100 watt bulb, but this could pose the same potential risk of fire. If you choose to use a heat lamp, do so diligently and at your own risk. Another, safer alternative are EcoGlow Brooders which chicks can get under as needed and utilizes radiant heat. Whichever heat source you choose, the temperature should be at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week with a gradual decrease taking place over the next few weeks. If you have any uncertainty about the temperature in your brooder, watch your chicks; panting chicks are too hot and chicks closely huddled together are cold. Ideally your brooder will have both warm and cool areas where chicks can bask in the temperature of their preference.
The next items you will need for your brooder are food and water. A feeder that keeps feed in place is a nice idea, but baby chicks will scratch and kick feed about despite your best efforts. Discard any feed that leaves the feeder and be vigilant about keeping the feeder itself clean as chicks are not particular about where they relieve themselves and in the feeder could be one of those places. Also be sure you are feeding an appropriate Starter chick feed. Medicated feed is intended to prevent Coccidiosis and should only be fed if you have not vaccinated for Coccidiosis. If you have vaccinated, medicated feed is not necessary and can actually work against you, nullifying the vaccine and again making chicks susceptible to Coccidiosis. There is no need to supplement Starter feed with anything else, but if you opt to offer other food items such as treats, be sure to provide grit for digestion. As far as water goes, nipple waterers are best as they enable constant access to clean water. If you use a bowl, go with a shallow one as it is possible for chicks to fall in and drown. Water should be kept away from the heat source in the brooder. Adding probiotics can also be beneficial.
As your chicks grow, be sure to monitor them for development of any health issues. Issues such as Pasty Butt, Spraddle Leg, Star Gazing, and Marek's Disease are just a few of the things that can affect chicks. The sooner these things are observed and treated, the better chance of survival your chicks will have.
At a couple of weeks of age, you can bring chicks outside for a short period of time each day as long as the weather is warm enough. Do keep in mind that chicks are not only curious but can also move very fast and squeeze into tight spaces. They are easy prey for a hungry predator as well. Another threat posed to them is other chickens; you may want your flock to welcome them with open wings but don't count on it. Chicks have to find their role in the pecking order and that does not always go smoothly, so wait to introduce chicks to the rest of the flock until they are of the same size. Until then, getting to know one another through a barrier is best.
As their adoptive mother, it will be up to you to have these bases covered so that your chicks can thrive and grow into productive members of your flock. Enjoy the time you have with them as babies as you watch them grow, building a bond with them that will last throughout their lives.