Bringing home baby chicks can be exciting, but there are six things you need to put together so that your homemade brooder is perfect for your new chicks. Some folks hesitate to get chicks because they are afraid they will do something wrong and the birds will die. If you address these six elements of a brooder, you will help ensure your cute little fluffy butts start off on the right foot and grow to be productive flock members.
Once you have picked out the perfect chicks for your flock, you are going to need to put them in something, aka the brooder box. Now a brooder box can be made out of just about anything. We have used everything from an old Guinea pig pen to our preferred choice, a plastic tote. Even a cardboard box will work for a brooder, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Your brooder needs to be draft free. Chicks need to stay warm, as if their mother were sitting on them, and a draft is counterproductive. Make sure you place your brooder somewhere in your home where it will not be getting a draft. Make sure your brooder is spacious enough for the number of chicks that will be in it. You don’t want the chicks to fight due to lack of space. And remember, the chicks will grow and take up more room over time.
You will also want to make sure your brooder box is tall enough to contain your new chicks. They may not be flying now, but give them time and they will be out of your box! Just ask my neighbor who tried to use a kiddy pool as a brooder and ended up with chicks running around her basement! If your chicks begin to try to escape their broodier you can easily place a mesh cover on top.
You will want to put an absorbent material in the bottom of your brooder. Newspaper is a strict no-no as it doesn’t absorb and it becomes slick and could cause injury to your little ones. Don’t use sand either as it can become too hot and it can become a breeding ground for disease. We usually start off with paper towel till our day old chicks begin eating well, then switch to a wood shaving material. Until chicks figure out what food is, they can be tempted to try to eat the wood shaving. Avoid cedar shaving because the fumes from the wood can damage their respiratory systems
|Our first year with chicks, before we picked up a red bulb for out heat|
lamp. Also see that tiny bag of chick feed? Always big the big bag,
you will go through it!
Since you are now the chicks’ “mom” you will be required to keep your babies warm. We use a simple red bulb heat lamp. The red bulb helps prevent pecking issues and is shown to be less stressful on the birds then a white bulb. I would not recommend using a heat lamp with a cardboard box as it could be a fire hazard.
You will want your temp under the lamp on the floor of the brooder to be between 90-95 degrees for the first week. You should degrees the temp by five degrees each week after that for about 4 to 6 weeks or till the temperature in the brooder is the same as the temps outside. We place the lamp at one end and the food and water at the other end of our brooder. This gives the chicks the option of getting away from the heat if they are to warm. You will see them panting if they are too warm and have no way to get away from the heat. When the chicks are cold, they will huddle together in a pile under the lamp.
The first thing your chicks are going to need once they arrive at your home, is water. You will need to keep it filled and clean at all times. And let me tell you, chicks can and will kick shavings, food, and poo in their water and gunk it up. They are messy just like any other baby in this world.
Chicks can also drown in their water so make sure you get an appropriate waterer. Waters come in plastic and metal and are very affordable. Make sure you get the proper chick size and then as they grow you can purchase an adult size waterer. We set our water on a board to lift it up off the floor of the brooder, this helps keep the water cleaner.
For chicks, there are feeds that have been specifically formulated to give growing chicks everything they need. Chick “starter” comes in either medicated or un-medicated versions. If the chicks have been vaccinated for coccidiosis, then the un-medicated feed can be used while medicated feed is good for chicks that haven’t been vaccinated. If you aren’t sure if your chicks have been vaccinated, I highly recommend using the medicated feed.
Make sure your brooder is set up for safety, not just from the inside, but from the outside too. If you have other pets, make sure the brooder is set up somewhere they cannot get access to it. Trust me, even if you think your cat or dog would never hurt the chicks, think again. While I love Heidi the Homestead Hound, I have no doubt in my mind, given unsupervised time, she would snarf a chick in a heartbeat. Our cats, while calmer around the chicks, have been known to try to bop them on the head.
And don’t forget about young children. Baby chicks are SO cute, but they are very delicate too. Our youngest country kid has grown up around chicks ever spring since he was born, but at four he is still too excited to be left alone with the chicks. Make sure children can’t get into the brooder and are supervised till they know how to properly and gently handle chicks.
Just like all babies, chicks need to be stimulated. Who wants to just sit in a box all day? You can include a small roost in your brooder box, along with a small dust bath area, and even a mirror. We even give our chicks some of the country kids’ toys to spice things up, like mega clocks and matchbox cars! Be creative but keep food treats to a minimum. You want your chicks to fill up on feed that is packed with nutrition, not snacks.
If you do provide your chicks with a few snack, make sure you hand feed them. This will help assure your chicks grow up to be friendlier, running toward you instead of away from you!
If you keep these six elements in mind when setting up your homemade brooder, you will provide your chicks with the best start possible in life. Chicks grow fast, and before long, you will be making little trips outside with them, getting them ready for the big world beyond the brooder!