Creating a safe space for your baby chicks to grow is essential for their well-being, and a brooder is the perfect route to provide this safe space. But, first things first, what exactly is a brooder? It is an artificial warm enclosure that is meant to keep chicks from the ages of 0 to 8 weeks safe and healthy until they are sufficiently feathered.
Never set up a brooder before? That’s not a problem! Go ahead and read on for more information about the ins and outs of how to create the perfect home for your chicks.
How to DIY Your Very Own Brooder
Building a brooder does not have to be an expensive or daunting task. You also don’t need to be the ultimate DIY’er for this task (whew!). Something as simple as a cardboard box can be perfect for creating your brooder, as long as it meets the basic requirements (we’ll get to that in just a little bit). Other alternatives include a plastic tub, a wooden box or even a fish tank.
The placement of your brooder is also a key factor in your chicks’ happiness and health. Ensure that your brooder is placed in a secure location that is out of reach from young children and pets. While children may be excited to watch your chicks grow (who wouldn’t be?), remember to keep them, as well as your curious pets, away from the brooder as the heat source used to keep the chicks warm is extremely hot!
Additionally, your brooder should be placed in a well-ventilated area that does not contain a draft. This will ensure that your chicks receive fresh air while still staying warm. Once you’ve settled on a brooder container and location, it’s time to make it as safe and cozy as possible to keep its new fluffy residents happy.
Is Your Brooder Ready for Your Chicks?
A chick-proof ready brooder leads to happy chicks. Whether store-bought or DIY’ed, every owner must make sure their brooder checks off these basic requirements before introducing their chicks to their new home:
- A Heat Source: You can use a 250-watt infrared heat lamp that you buy at your local hardware store. However, please note that your heat source can easily become a safety hazard if not mounted correctly. Be sure to properly mount your bulb out of reach from your chicks by using a clamp.
- The Correct Light Bulb: You should use a red or clear bulb for your heat source. Do not use shatter-resistant or safety coated light bulbs as they can be a source of toxic fumes that can be deadly to your chicks and poultry. These bulbs often have a coating made of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) (often marketed as ‘Teflon’) which makes them shatter-resistant. When heated, PTFE lets off toxic fumes that damage your chicken’s airways and can result in death by suffocation.
- A Thermometer: The height of the heat lamp will impact the temperature at the chick level. Make sure to test the temperature on the floor of the brooder with a thermometer very regularly. The easiest option is to buy a thermometer with a separate wire sensor that you can place in the shavings. You will also need to be able to adjust the height of the heat lamp as your chicks grow. The temperature should be 95 °F for week 1; then should decrease 5 °F per week to 70 ° F.
- A Water Source: Have fresh water available at all times for your growing chicks. A good starting point for a water source is using a jar and a shallow pie tin. As your chicks begin to rapidly grow, you will need to replace this water source with a larger source. But remember to always check that the base of your water source is shallow enough, to ensure no chicks drown in it. Clean and refill your water source daily.
- A Food Source: A good feeder is one that keeps the feed secure and dry. It is best to use a waterproof container to keep excess moisture out.
- A Perimeter: Your enclosure should be tall enough to keep your chicks in. Should your curious chicks manage to jump out to explore their surroundings, you run the risk of them wandering upon one of your equally curious pets or not being able to hop back into their warm brooder.
- Bedding: Keep in mind that chicks require bedding that will not only keep them warm but will also help them with their grip as their tiny feet strengthen. The wrong bedding can lead to chicks developing spraddle legs, or splayed legs. A popular and inexpensive bedding choice amongst new chick owners is pine shavings. Do not use newspaper, cedar, or sawdust.
- Backup Heat Lamp: The heat is vital to your chick’s health so have a second one in case your first fails.
- Introductions: On delivery day, make sure to show each chick where the water source is so that they can quickly adjust to their new home.
- Lots of Space: Ideally, it is best practice to keep chicks in a brooder that provides at least one square foot of space per chick. If your chicks begin to outgrow your space, move them to a bigger brooder.
- Separate Them: It is also important to keep chicks of different ages separate, as they may have varied nutritional requirements as well as different temperature requirements. Due to their immature immune systems, your chicks are very susceptible to illnesses and diseases, especially when mixed in with older chicks and chickens.
- Watch for Sickness: If you are concerned that your chicks contracted an infectious disease or suspect that they are sick, contact your local poultry vet for instructions. Be on the lookout for chicks that show no interest in their feed or water or that separate themselves from the flock, as these may be signs of illness.
With these tips, you’re now on your way to knowing how to create the perfect first home for your chicks.