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Setting Up Your Brooder For New Chicks
Baby chicks are fragile beings that need to be cared for diligently. One way to ensure that baby chicks have ideal conditions for growth and safety is to set up a well-designed brooder. A brooder can be designed any way you want but it must have adequate ventilation, be structurally resilient, contain bedding material, have food and water while maintaining an optimal temperature.
Many people, especially beginners, make their brooder out of plastic storage containers or cardboard boxes. While this will do, rounded metal containers, high-walled kiddie pools, and wooden brooders in the shape of an octagon maximize success. Rounded corners are ideal so the chicks don’t all pile up in one corner, suffocating the little ones at the bottom.
Add Bedding To The Brooder
On the floor of the brooder place bedding that will serve as insulation, make it easy to clean, and keep the little chicks warm. Lining the bottom of the brooder with paper towels is sufficient for the first few days after the chicks have hatched. Paper towels don’t present a tripping hazard as wood shavings may and paper towels are easy to remove while offering insulation from the bottom of the brooder.
After about four days, it is time to switch to pine wood shavings for bedding, as paper towels aren’t sufficient anymore. Simply scoop out droppings from the wood shavings daily and change out the wood shavings weekly so ammonia fumes don’t build up to toxic levels. Ideally, toss the used wood shavings on the compost pile.
Note: Avoid wood shavings from hardwood trees like teak and softwood trees like cedar, as they contain natural toxins that can poison chicks. Pine shavings are best.
What Is The Optimal Temperature For A Brooder?
A brooder must be held at an ideal temperature that mimics the heat of a hen’s body. The two options to properly heat a brooder are heat lamps and radiant heaters. Both options have pros and cons. Heat lamps are less expensive, however, radiant heaters more closely mimic a mother hen’s warmth. Professionals generally choose radiant heaters, as they aren’t a fire hazard and chicks can grow accustomed to the natural circadian rhythm from a young age, as the brooder isn’t constantly lit up.
Baby chicks prefer a temperature of about 95°F (35°C) initially. After the first week, lower the temperature of the brooder to 90°F (32°C) and continue to lower the temperate 5°F (3°C) each consecutive week until reaching room temperature. A good way to know if the temperature is appropriate is to look at how close the chicks are to the heat source. If they are all close to the heat source, the brooder may be too cool and if they are all far from the heat source, the environment may be too hot.
Adequate Ventilation And Protection From Predators
A brooder should have adequate ventilation which is why most don’t have a cover. However, in cases where predators like cats and dogs are present, a sturdy top is required. Ideally, use chicken wire or cage-like metal material and secure it firmly to the top of the brooder. This will allow for adequate airflow and keep your chicks safe from outside attacks.
Water And Food
Water bottles that can be hung on the walls of the brooder are the typical way to ensure that chicks remain hydrated and have access to clean water. Many beginners start by leaving a water dish on the floor of the brooder, but the chicks will walk into the dish, leave droppings, and can knock over the dish if it isn’t secured. If the water is too deep, chicks may drown or suffer from hypothermia. For this reason, it is best to have water in a container on the wall of the brooder.
Something we continue to emphasize is that these broiler and egg laying chicks are going to be cold after their transit in the mail. So in addition to offering sufficient heat in their brooder, they should also be offered warm water. If the water is cold, this can make them colder, which will lead to premature deaths of your chicks. So make sure your water is warm so the chicks can sustain a high body temperature.
As soon as you introduce each chick into the brooder, physically press their beaks into the water source so they understand where the water is located. Ideally, set your water bottle on the opposite side of the heat source so the water doesn’t heat up.
As with water, beginners generally place food in a dish on the floor of the brooder. The chicks will walk through the food, drop their excrement, and knock the food onto the floor. A plastic chick feeder is a better option. Plastic feeders are typically set on the floor, while plastic trough feeding systems are hung on the wall.
If hung on the side of the brooder, both the water and food can be adjusted higher as the chicks grow. With these convenient watering and feeding systems, chicks will always have access to clean water and food.
How Much Space Do I Need Per Chick?
Baby chicks should have at least one square foot of space each. While that may seem like a lot of space initially, baby chicks grow fast and will fill up the brooder quickly. If you are going to be keeping chickens in the brooder longer than two months, the general rule is that each bird should have 2 square feet of space. However, most farmers move chickens into the coop before 2 months of age.
Making A Budget Brooder
Making a brooder on a budget starts with a large plastic bin or cardboard box and a heat lamp. Add paper toweling or pine shavings to the bottom of the brooder, set up a guinea pig water bottle, and add a plastic chick feeder. Turn the heat lamp on and check the temperature in that area of the brooder. The goal is 95°F (35°C). Add the chicks to the brooder at one chick per square foot, add chick starter feed and show each chick how to drink from the guinea pig water bottle. Note how the chicks respond to the heat lamp and adjust it higher or lower depending on their preference.
Setting Up Your Brooder For New Chicks
If you have done everything correctly and your brooder is ideal for growing chicks, nearly all of them should survive to adulthood. However, it is common to lose a few chicks even if the conditions are ideal. While sad, this is part of the process of being a chicken farmer. The good news is, an optimal brooder will allow you to populate your chicken coop in record time.