Ground corncobs, wood shavings, or shredded paper work well as brooder bedding material. You want to be sure that the material is not so fine that the chicks will ingest it, nor so slippery that they can’t get traction on it. Chicks raised on slippery surfaces tend to develop splayfoot, which cripples them for life.
Turn on the heat lamp to warm up the brooder before installing the chicks. As you add chicks to the brooder, dip their beaks into the water trough and release them. If they huddle in a tight group beneath the lamp, they are cold. If they form a ring around the lamp, pant or lounge on their sides with legs stretched out, they are too warm. Adjust the temperature warmer by lowering the lamp and cooler by raising it.
Contented chicks will peep with a mesmerizing murmur and will be more or less evenly dispersed beneath the lamp, with individuals or small groups making frequent trips to the waterer and feeder.
You will want to lower the brooder temperature about 5 degrees each week by raising the lamp in small increments, and when your chicks are fully feathered it’s time to move them to a safe outdoor coop. Take a little care with brooding and in a few months, you'll be enjoying farm-fresh eggs every day.
Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The brooder temperature tips above appeared in Episode 16, “Don’t Count Your Chickens.”
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.