Hatching chicken eggs and raising chicks isn't as difficult as you may think. People have been doing it for thousands of years without the technology we have available today. Whether you actually incubate fertile eggs or simply purchase day-old chicks, there's every reason to believe that you can raise a great flock.
The most important factor in raising chicks is to keep things warm. If you are hatching eggs without a female hen, you'll want an incubator that is capable of constantly maintaining a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll want a pan of water in the incubator to help achieve 60 percent relative humidity. Turn the eggs several times each day during the first 18 days of incubation. During the last three days, don't disturb the eggs as the chicks are moving into hatching position. If all goes as planned, the little chickens will come out of their shells on the 21st day. They'll be OK in the incubator for a day as the residual yolk sac will sustain them.
Once you have day-old chicks, you need to show them their brooder. A brooder can be as plain as a circular pen made from corrugated cardboard with an infrared heat lamp or two suspended above it or, if your design is rectangular, insert curved cardboard in the corners to prevent chicks from piling up. Add an inch or two of clean wood shavings or other absorbent material to the bottom of the brooder. When placing the chicks into their brooder, dip their beaks into the water trough and set them down. If they huddle together beneath the lights, they're too chilly. If they disperse into a ring around the light, they're too hot. Adjust the lamp(s) until the chicks are evenly dispersed – content chicks will peep softly.
Besides warmth, chicks need a continuous supply of clean water and free choice food. Select a chick starter feed containing 20 percent to 23 percent protein from your local supplier. At around five weeks, switch to a growing ration containing about 15 percent protein. It's important to supply grit for the gizzard and crushed oyster shell as a source of calcium. If your chickens are confined, you may offer them some fresh alfalfa, clover, grass clippings or even leftover salad greens. Make sure the salad greens are salt-free and contain no dressing.
Cleanliness is important in rearing a brood of chicks. Their feed will get moldy if it gets wet. Always keep the waterer clean, as parasites and disease will spread rapidly through contaminated water. Remove wet bedding immediately and restore dry bedding to the brooder; add more as the manure builds up. Keep in mind that chicken litter and used brooder bedding can make excellent fertilizers – they work best when composted.
For more information on raising chickens, read "Nothing to Brood About - The Lowdown on Raising Chicks" at Grit.