Chicks need a safe, protected area in which to grow for the first few weeks of their life. A brooder can provide this perfect oasis if it is set up in the correct manner.
Brooders can come in all shapes and sizes. You can either make your own or buy a pre-built brooder. No matter what shape or size a brooder is, there are a few key essentials that are good to follow:
- adequate space- allow 6 square inches of space per chick
- heat- provide a reliable and safe heat source for the chicks
- escape proof- make sure there are no holes or escape routes for little chicks to sneak through
- protection- the brooder should provide ample protection from predators (such as cats, dogs, and snakes)
- no drafts- drafts can easily chill a chick and may also indicate an entrance for predators
- good ventilation
- moisture protection- be sure that no moisture can condense or form in the brooder
- litter- proper litter is essential for raising healthy chicks
- light- chicks need light in order to be able to see their food and water
- feed and water- as with all animals, chicks require the proper food and a good source of fresh water daily
A chick that has just hatched is used to the high heat and humidity of the hatching conditions, whether it be from in an incubator or under a mother hen. A brooder should provide heat so that the chick does not get chilled upon being moved from the incubator (or from under a mother hen) to the brooder. Chicks need a temperature of 95 degrees F for the first week of their life. It can then be decreased by 5 degrees every week afterward. Chicks no longer need supplemental heat when they have grown in their first set of feathers. Watch the chicks behavior to see if they are getting over heated or are too cold. Chicks that crowd around a heat source are too cold, chicks that are spread out away from the heat source are too hot. Content chicks are evenly spaced out in a brooder.
There are two methods of providing heat for baby chicks: a heat lamp or an Ecoglow.
Heat lamps are more dangerous and also use up more electricity. Chicks can also become easily overheated with the use of heat lamps, which can cause pasty butt. Pasty butt is what happens when poop blocks the vent. This condition could eventually kill the chick. Heat lamps are cheaper though and can easily be find in many stores. If you do use a heat lamp, be sure it is securely fastened 18 inches above the chicks. A heat lamp guard can also be placed over the bulb which cuts back on the fire hazard. Make sure you use a red bulb and not a white bulb in the lamp. Red light will help prevent cannibalism and pecking.
Ecoglows are more expensive to purchase, but they do use up less electricity, which can make them a better investment in the long run. They are also not a fire hazard. The Ecoglow is similar to the mother hen in that is sits low to the ground and chicks and can run underneath it whenever they want. It can be raised to accommodate the growing chicks. I use an Ecoglow and have found that it works great! To keep the chicks from pooping on top of the Ecoglow, I cover it with cling wrap.
Proper litter and litter management is essential to keeping harmful bacteria from multiplying and causing disease. Paper towel makes for a handy litter for the first few days of raising chicks. It can not be accidently ingested (like pieces of wood shavings) and it is also easy to remove and replace. After the first week, it will be a good idea to move to a more absorbent and deeper litter, like wood shavings. There are several other types of litter that can be used after paper towel, but I prefer large flake pine wood shavings. Do not get fine wood shavings, as these could cause respiratory problems and are more easily ingested. Also do not get cedar shavings.
Food and Water
Like all baby animals, chicks need a daily supply of food and fresh water. Unlike other baby animals though, chicks do not necessarily need food for up to 2 days after they hatch. The yolk sac that they absorbed in their egg can provide them with enough nutrition to last for up to 2 days before they have to eat. This is why baby chicks can be mail shipped without food and water. Always make sure baby chicks drink before they eat. Giving them some sugar water (1 tablespoon of table sugar per 1/2 cup of water) during the first day can help give their system a good boost. You can also add electrolytes to their water for the first few days to help them develop a good immune system.
Baby chick drinkers come in many different varieties. There are metal and plastic drinkers available at many livestock supply stores or in catalogs. I like using an automatic watering system that includes water nipples. I screwed my water nipples into a PVC tube. Then I just fill the tube with water and chicks peck at the nipples to get their water. This method eliminates the possibility of small chicks falling into a drinker and drowning or getting chilled. It can also be a whole lot less messy if your nipples are installed correctly and don’t leak.
When placing your chicks into the brooder, dip each of their beaks into the water or onto the water nipple. This will ensure that they know where the water is and that they drink before they start eating.
Feeders also come in a variety of shapes. Some plastic feeders look similar to the drinkers, others are tray like, and still others are tube shaped. I use a plastic a feeder with a screw on base that has holes in it for the chicks to eat the food through. Sprinkle some food on the ground around the feeder to help the chicks know where to eat. As the chicks grow, I raise the feeder up on blocks to prevent a lot of food from being wasted. Once they are old enough to start flying up on top of the feeder or tip it over, I switch to a tube feeder. My tube feeder is made from PVC pipe that empty’s into a bucket with part of it’s side cut out. I avoid tray feeders as they can be hard to keep clean.
For the first week place your feeder and drinker no more then 2 feet away from your heat source. Make sure both your drinker and your feeder have enough space around them to accommodate the number of chicks you are raising. As a standard, a one quart drinker will be sufficient for up to 25 chicks. For feeders, make sure all the chicks can eat from it at the same time.
Cleaning your brooder often is essential to keeping your chicks healthy. When you are using paper towel, it is easy just to replace the dirty pieces with clean ones. I make it a point each morning and evening to clean out dirty paper towels and refill the drinker and feeder for my chicks. Once the litter gets switched over to wood shavings I use a small garden shovel to stir the shavings in the morning and evening. I remove any wet or really dirty shavings and put a handful of fresh shavings in if needed. Every couple of weeks I will empty out all the old, dirty wood shavings and replace them fresh shavings.
Providing a safe, clean environment to raise your chicks in will give you happy, healthy, and content birds!