A brooder is going to be your baby chick’s first home. It will be a safe, warm place for your chicks to thrive during their first weeks of life. You’ll want to get your brooder up and running a few days before your chicks arrive, that way you’ll have all of the bugs worked out prior to use and more time to enjoy your new babies when they arrive.
Below you’ll find a complete list of brooder supplies and instructions on Brooding for Beginners, including how to set it up, along with explanations of each component’s function and value to your new clutch.
• Container – Can be a box*, plastic tote, galvanized stock tank, etc. with at least six square inches per chick
• Brooder Guard – enough to go around your brooder if it is shallow or enough to make the brooder. Prevents chicks from escaping and piling into the corners of a rectangular brooder and also prevents harmful drafts.
• Waterer(s) – with a shallow well to prevent drowning
• Feeder(s) – with rotating top or flip/slide top to prevent roosting over feed
• Thermometer – heat regulation is a must
• Heat Source – brooder heat plate or traditional heat lamp & 250 watt heat bulb
• Pine Shavings – do not use small shavings, sawdust or cedar. Fine shavings may irritate the chicks’ respiratory tract and cedar oil found in cedar shavings may be toxic to chicks. Another bedding option is perforated rubber shelf liner placed over newspaper. The shelf liner can be easily washed clean, replace the newspaper, and it’s good as new. The liner prevents the chicks from slipping.
*Warning: cardboard boxes can be a fire hazard. Use with caution. They are also hard to clean and are easily damaged. This may not be your best option.
Decide where you would like to keep your chicks for at least a month. Good areas for brooding should be indoors, draft-free, dry, away from other pets/potential hazards, and have a means of supplying electricity. Make sure it is located in a place where it can be easily cleaned. Also, keep in mind your chicks will be “feathering out” and losing down. This makes for a dusty atmosphere so the dining room might not be the ideal brooding location! Try a garage, basement, or outbuilding. If other poultry has spent any amount of time in the area make sure to disinfect well.
Once you’ve found the perfect place for brooding, it’s time to put it all together. Clean your brooder container and feeders, waterers, etc. (1 part bleach: 9 parts water makes a good disinfectant). Set your sterilized container of choice or Brooder Guard on a stable surface or floor. Check for sharp edges or anything else that may be hazardous. Next, lay your bedding 2″-3″ thick. Do not use newspaper. It is slippery and can damage your chicks’ fragile legs! Wood shavings are a good choice, but ONLY pine as other types of wood shavings can be toxic. Pine shavings are your best bet.
Place your feeder(s) and waterer(s) away from where you plan to have your heat source in your newly bedded brooder. Place a thermometer a couple of inches from the bottom of the brooder; at chick height. This will give you a more accurate temperature reading of your brooder. Clamp your heat lamp to the side of the brooder or hang (no closer than 18″ from bedding) above the brooder. Make sure you are leaving enough room in the brooder for your chicks to both enjoy the heat and get away from the heat. You can adjust the height of your lamp to change the temperature. A good start is 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Reduce the heat by 5-7 degrees each week until you reach 65-70 degrees. By then your weather may be warm enough that the chicks won’t require a supplemental heat source.
The very best way to gauge the temperature in the brooder is to simply watch your chicks’ behavior. If they huddle together under the heat source – they’re cold. If they are spread about the brooder and inactive, even panting – they’re hot. A group of chicks that are spread out over the brooder, chirping, and active are happy! If your brooder container is shallow, wrap Brooder Guard around it. This will eliminate any drafts which can chill your birds and cause losses. Your brooder is now ready for your chicks!
Once your chicks arrive, take the chicks out of the shipping box one by one. As you do this, keep count to make sure everyone is accounted for. Also, as you take each bird out, dip its beak into the water to show them where the water is located in the brooder. We suggest using a Vital-Pack Supplement in the drinking water at a rate of 1/10th of a teaspoon per gallon of water for the first week. This will give your chicks an extra boost of vitamins and electrolytes after shipping. The easiest way to measure 1/10th of a teaspoon is to use the 1/8th teaspoon from your kitchen and leave it “scant” when measuring.
• Chick behavior – Are they too hot or cold? Are they chirping excessively? Are they alert?
• Crowding around feeders and waterers – This can indicate a shortage of feeder or waterer space.
• The condition of litter – Strong ammonia odors means litter needs cleaned or ventilation is needed.
• Birds not growing at a uniform rate – May be due to crowding, insufficient feeder space, temperature too high.
• Rear-End Pasting – Sometimes the stress of shipping or cold brooder temperature causes manure to build up and stick to the back of the chicks. It is important to remove this buildup. Use warm water and washcloth to remove. You can rub olive oil around the vent to prevent further impaction. In a few days, the problem should cease as the chicks settle in and begin to grow.
• The ruffled appearance or huddling – may indicate ill birds.
Besides heat, the next most important thing for your chicks is water. We recommend using a vitamin-electrolyte solution mixed in the new chicks water, like Meyer Hatchery’s Vital-Pack. You may need to dip the chicks’ beaks in the trough to show them where the water is located. Usually, once a few birds have started drinking, the others will follow. Sometimes chicks will fall into the water trough and either drown or become chilled and die. This can be prevented by providing ample space for the birds, not putting a heat source right over the water, and using waterers with smaller troughs. You can always add clean rocks, marbles, etc to make the water more shallow. Water consumption is affected by several factors, including temperature, humidity, diet, diseases, and age of the bird. It is a good idea to fill the waterers when you set up your brooder so the water reaches room temperature. Cold water can lower your chicks’ body temperatures and cause chilling.
Use a poultry feed appropriate for the species of bird you are raising, since the protein and ingredients will vary for different birds. Starter grit can be offered beginning at 3-4 weeks of age until 10-12 weeks. Grower grit can be used from 10-12 weeks on. If chicks are slow to start eating, you can add a few shiny objects to their feed that they will want to peck at, like pocket change or even marbles.
• Age 0-7 weeks: free choice 18-20% chick starter and free choice water with electrolytes
• Age 8-16 weeks: free choice 16% grower feed, free-choice water, electrolyte in water only for one day a week.
• Age 17 weeks and up: 15-16% layer ration. Limit ration so that chickens will consume feed by late afternoon, refill feeders in the morning. This will help prevent overfeeding, that could cause extreme egg size, and which could be hard for the hen to pass. Free choice water, fresh daily. During times of stress or extreme heat use Vitamins & Electrolytes solution.
Raising your flock from the very beginning is fun. Not only do you get to build a lasting relationship with your chickens, but you also gain knowledge in the process.