Broiler chickens are birds crossbred from special strains of Cornish and Plymouth rock chickens. Hatcheries developed these birds for maximum growth over 8 to 10 weeks. By the time these birds reach eight weeks, most are ready for slaughter as broilers. Birds older than 12 weeks old and younger than 20 weeks are called roasters.
When you buy broiler chicks, you'll need to keep the chicks in a brooder until they fully feather out and acclimate to the temperatures, usually by three to five weeks old.
Broiler chicks require broiler starter feed for the first four weeks of their life. The broiler starter feed should be at least 20 percent protein, preferably 23 percent protein. After four weeks, you should feed a 19 percent protein feed (broiler developer or finisher).
Most starter feeds contain medication to prevent coccidia infections, so follow the instructions for withdrawal before slaughtering the birds to ensure there is no medication residue in the meat.
When first feeding your chicks, you'll need a feeder that will hold the feed in place while the chicks eat. You can use an empty egg carton without the lid for the first few days to hold the chicks' feed. Then once the chicks get used to eating, you can put a top on it and cut holes so that the chicks can get at the food easily. You can also buy special feeders designed for raising chicks.
Broiler chicks need access to fresh water at all times. You can provide fresh water using a poultry waterer that has a reservoir for the water and a pan for the birds to drink out of. These waterers are gravity fed. As the chicks drink the water, more water fills the pan from the reservoir.
Broilers suffer from heart attacks and a condition called ascites that may be related to feeding. These birds convert two pounds of feed into one pound of weight and grow so quickly that it can be stressful on the birds' systems. Ascites is congestive heart failure where fluids build up and cause high blood pressure in the chick.
Veterinarians recommend that to prevent ascites, you should remove the food at night to slow down the growth rate. Another way is to only feed 90 percent of the total food the birds are capable of eating every day. Eliminating supplement feedings may help as well.