Setting Up a Chick Brooder
The first step to raising chicks is to provide a snug, healthy home for the first weeks of their lives.
Adapted from Purina Mills content, Backyard Poultry
Your heart is in the right place. You have decided that the time is right to begin raising your first clutch of chicks. And not only do you want to raise chicks, but you also want them to thrive as chickens. Now what?
Murdoch’s sells chicks, lots of chicks, so put that purchase as the second item on your to-do list. For the first item, you need to create a place for the new chicks to live. A chick nursery is called a brooder, the home to chicks for the first six weeks of their lives. Over that time, chicks will grow to pullets and near or reach the size of an adult.
How to set up your brooder:
The main structure for a brooder can be a plastic tub, stock tank or even a kiddie pool. A stock tank or large plastic tub are ideal options, as both are available with high sides. Avoid using a cardboard box. Heat sources within a cardboard box present a fire hazard and water spills from a drinker will quickly degrade cardboard.
The enclosure should be spacious enough to accommodate the growing birds and their food and water. The size of the enclosure depends on the number of chicks, but factor about a square foot per bird. Chicks grow fast. And high sides of 18 inches or more are important because, well, chicks grow fast. By the end of their six weeks the birds will be testing their growing wings, and reaching the lip, or edge, of a structure is a tempting goal. High-sided structures can help keep the birds from escaping. If you do get escapees place a well-ventilated cover, such as a window screen, over the brooder.
Chicks need a dry, warm, and protected environment. Begin by layering the bottom of the brooder with a minimum of an inch of bedding. The best bedding material is large flake pine wood shavings. These shavings are absorbent and easy to clean up. Fine wood shavings or shredded paper are easily ingested and can create respiratory problems in the birds. Avoid them.
The pine shavings will not only absorb water spills and waste, but it will also give your babies some extra footing, preventing spraddle, a condition where a chick’s legs are splayed apart. This condition can be caused or exacerbated by a slippery brooding environment.
Without mom around, chicks need a heat source. To generate the heat without mother hen, a secure heat lamp with a red bulb is a good option. Another option is an electric chick warmer. Chicks need a temperature of 85 to 95 degrees F for the first week in the brooder. For every week thereafter, the temperature should be decreased by 5 degrees. You will need to devise a system to raise and lower the heat source, as needed. Watch the chicks. If the chicks cluster near a heat source, they are too cold. If they spread out away from the heat source, they are too hot. Happy chicks are evenly spaced in a brooder.
Feeders and Waterers
Chicks poop in and on everything! Let that guide your choices of food and water containers.
Feeders come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and commonly in plastic and metal. Tray feeders are difficult to keep clean (that poop thing) so consider a commercial feeder that has holes fashioned around it for the birds to access food. As the chicks grow, raise the feeder on small blocks that the chicks can hop on. This will help reduce waste by raising the feeder out of the bedding where the growing chicks scratch and poop. Feeders should keep food clean, minimize food waste, and be easy to clean.
A poultry waterer, or drinker, also comes in a variety of plastic or metal shapes and sizes. Some are even automatic with water nipples. Key attributes of a good drinker include ease of use for the chicks, safe (to keep the chicks from going for a swim), easy to clean, simple to use and adjustable (easy to raise as the chicks grow).
There you have it! Once you have your brooder set up, you’re good to go for the second item on the list: Buy chicks!