If you have been preparing for the arrival of some fluffy baby chicks, you'll need a brooder for them. A brooder is a place that will keep the chicks contained, warm, and dry. Typically, it involves some kind of walls, a bottom surface that can be covered with shavings, a brooder lamp, and possibly a top to keep them from flying out. It also needs to house their food and water.
What to Use for a Brooder
You can easily improvise here. You do not have to buy a brooder out of a hatchery catalog! But of course, that's an option. Consider the size of the brooder. You will need about 2 square feet per chick.
- a kiddie pool
- a feeding trough
- a plastic storage tub
- a cardboard box
- a wooden box
- a fish tank
If you can find a brooder that is about 12 inches deep, you won't have to worry about putting a lid on it, as the chicks won't be able to fly out. If the brooder is shallower than that, consider using a top on it so they can't escape.
If you have curious dogs or kids, or if you're using a brooder shallower than about 12 inches, a top can be very helpful. The chicks need ventilation, so it should be breathable. Hardware cloth or screen material works well. We used an old screen door over our first brooder.
You'll need a brooder lamp to keep the chicks at the right temperature. Purchase a 250-watt infrared heat lamp, preferably a red bulb instead of a white. You can find these at feed and hardware stores. You'll also need to purchase a reflector and a clamp for mounting the bulb. Don't go DIY here; you're asking for a fire hazard. Make sure you get the wire guard that goes underneath the bulb, too. When hanging this over shavings, the guard makes sure that if the lamp falls, it's less likely to start a fire.
The height of the lamp is what will determine the temperature at the level of the chicks. You'll need to experiment to find out what height works best for you. It's a really, really good idea to figure this out before the chicks arrive. And, having a way to easily adjust the height of the lamp (a piece of chain and an S hook work well) is handy, because each week you will reduce the temperature by 5 degrees F.
To check that temperature, you'll need a thermometer of some kind. I've always used one with a wire and sensor so that I can read the temperature easily from the edge of the brooder, while the sensor sits right under the lamp. The chicks will peck at the wire, but they've never done any damage, and I usually tuck it under some of the shavings.
I like to use pine shavings in my brooder, after a few days on paper towels so they chicks don't eat the shavings. Never use cedar shavings as they are toxic to poultry. Never use newspaper as the chicks can develop spraddle legs from the slipperiness of the newspaper.
One to two inches of bedding in the bottom of the brooder is sufficient for comfy and happy chicks. You should change it when it gets overwhelmed with droppings or is stinky.
Waterers, feeders, electrolytes, and the right kind of feed. Read all about it in detail.
Try out a few of these ideas, and you'll have happy, healthy baby chicks for a fraction of the price of the commercial brooders. Have fun!