The goal of the brooder is to simulate the environment that would normally be present for chicks after hatching. In other words, the brooder keeps your chicks safe, warm, fed and watered.
Big picture, your brooder should:
- Be free from drafts but have good ventilation to prevent ammonia build-up
- Prevent rodents and predators from access
- Warm and cozy
- Have access to proper feed and clean water
- Have bedding like rice hulls or wood shavings
Here are a few other handy brooder hints:
Set up your brooder space as a ring with approximately 0.5-1.0 square feet per chick. Rings are better than squares since chicks can get stuck/lost in a corner.
Temperature and Humidity
Brooder lamps are a perfect way to keep chicks warm without the warmth of momma. They can get very hot, so make sure they are securely attached and placed away from flammable materials to prevent fires and harming the chicks. Be sure to check on the lamp (and the chicks) frequently.
Bedding or Substrate Material on the Ground
To absorb the poop and its odor and help keep the chicks warm, you need to add 5-6 inches of substrate to the ground. Rice hull or absorbent wood shavings commonly used and readily available at most feed stores. The chicks are pretty good about roto-tilling the litter so the litter typically doesn’t need to be changed during the 4-6 weeks the birds are in the brooder.
Keep the waterers clean and easily accessible.
Chick feed should always be available for chicks. Chick feed has higher protein and less Calcium than layer feed. In backyard birds raised as layers, it’s best to offer chick starter feed until around 16 weeks of age or 7-10ish days before they start laying their eggs. Make sure you have enough feeding trays to allow all the birds to eat at the same time. IF there is not enough space this can lead to aggression within your flock.
Ventilation is important but chicks don’t like wind, so make sure the air circulation is above the level of the birds. If you can smell ammonia then you probably don’t have good ventilation. Ammonia is not only bad for your chicks’ lungs (and ours) but also can result in corneal ulcers in your chicks/chickens.
Making your brooder comfy and safe is essential toward raising happy and healthy chicks.