Baby Chick Brooder Ideas
Baby Chick Bedding and Other Supplies for a Healthy Growing Flock
From our April/May 2017 issue of Backyard Poultry. Subscribe for more great stories like this!
Once you’ve selected your chicken breeds and figured out where to buy baby chicks, you need some chick brooder ideas. The brooder will be the baby chicks’ home for their first month or so. Setting up the brooder is one of the most important factors in learning how to raise baby chicks successfully.
Caring for baby chicks isn’t terribly complicated, but they do have particular needs. If a mother hen is brooding chicks, they stay under or very near her most of the time, providing warmth and safety. When you purchase baby chicks, you take on this role.
Chick Brooder Ideas: Essentials for Set-Up
One of the most important parts of a brooder is heat. We have always used a simple metal heat lamp that can clamp to the side of the brooder or hang from a bar above it. We purchase bulbs that give off heat but not light so they can be on all the time without disrupting sleep. You can also buy heating plates – panels that produce heat on the underside. They are adjustable to raise as the chicks grow. This method is supposed to more closely simulate nestling under a mother hen.
Whichever heat source you choose, start it off just over the heads of your chicks. Watch them closely. If they are panting or avoiding the heated area, raise it up. If they huddle together all the time under the lamp, lower it.
The other feature of a mother hen which you must provide is protection. As the manager of my local feed store, Richard Mann, put it: “The biggest issue with birds is everyone eats them. If your neighbor gets hungry enough, even he might eat them. Before you worry about getting birds or anything else, secure your coop.” The same is true of your brooder, perhaps even more so since baby chicks are particularly vulnerable. We have always kept our brooder inside a locked building. This ensures predators will not harm them.
So you’ve got a safe and warm home for your birds; what else does your brooder need? We make ours from a sheet of plywood formed into a four-foot square (for up to 60 birds). On the bottom, we staple a sheet of heavy plastic to keep the bedding in and off the cement floor in our workshop. We fill this space with medium wood chips.
We like simple plastic feeders and waterers made to accommodate a chick’s smaller size. Because the trough is narrower, there is less possibility that the babies can drown or walk in them contaminating the food and water. As the chicks begin to grow, we put scraps of wood under the feeders to raise them up so they are always at a height where the birds must raise their heads up slightly to reach in. That helps keep the feeders clean.
Your chicks will eat a special starter feed that’s higher in protein to help them grow. Chick feed is commonly medicated to combat common illnesses. If you want medicine-free chicks, ask your feed store if they carry a non-medicated food. If not, we have used a high protein crumble feed for babies in the past and it worked just fine.
After the first week, I usually add a small perch into the brooder. Ours is made from small branches screwed into scrap wood to make a ladder, which leans against the side.
As the birds grow and test out their wings, you may need to add a mesh cover to your brooder to keep them from flying out. This usually happens here at about three weeks. Also, if it is particularly cold you may wish to use sheets of insulating foam to cover your brooder at night. We only do this if we are raising babies in the dead of winter in Ohio.
Make sure to keep the bedding clean by adding fresh bedding every few days. Cleanliness in the brooder will go a long way to keeping your birds healthy.
Have a plan for what to do if a chick is getting picked on. The pecking order is real and begins to get established immediately. We always keep an extra heat lamp and feeder/waterer so we can make a small brooder for a chick that needs to be separated. A large plastic storage container works well.
Also, plan next steps as your babies grow. They can move from the brooder when they are fully feathered, usually at four to six weeks depending on the breed. Your plan will be different if these are your first chicks or if you are integrating new chicks into an established flock. We have a section of the coop where we move our chicks after the brooder so they can see and hear the rest of the flock before they mix. They spend a month or more in this area until they are closer in size to the adults. This minimizes pecking when they do finally integrate with the flock.