Thinking of getting some baby chicks? Here are 3 basic steps to setting up your own chick brooder…
If you’re raising baby chicks, there are a few important conditions that you will need to fulfill in order to have healthy, happy chicks. Clean water, food, and warmth are essential to your new chicks’ health. In order to keep them safe and warm, you will need to set up a cozy little home – or chick brooder – for the first few weeks of your baby chicks’ life.
Setting up your own chick brooder is relatively simple, and shouldn’t require spending a lot of money. You can actually make your own brooder with just a cardboard box, but you can also get creative and use just about any large bin or container that will keep them confined and allow you to adjust the temperature. (We put ours in a Rubbermaid bin for the first week, and then transferred them to an old empty aquarium that we had on hand, covered with a piece of hardware cloth to keep them from getting any escape ideas!)
Here are 3 steps for setting up your own chick brooder
Step 1: Build a Container
“Build” is a relative term here. Many people raise chicks in a cardboard box. Playpens, kiddie pools, rabbit hutches, aquariums, plastic totes, and other items likely to be found in a garage, barn or basement will suffice…
The container needs to be at least 12 inches tall for chicks in weeks one to three, but by the time they are six weeks old, the walls should be 24 inches high to keep them from hopping out. Or, you can add a lid… Chicks need fresh air, however, so the lid needs to be completely breathable – hardware cloth or window screen stapled to a wooden frame is an easy way to go.
The brooder needs to be out of the elements so the chicks are warm, dry, and safe from nighttime predators. A barn, garage, or your living room are all fine options. You can also place the brooder inside the chicks’ future home – the coop.
Step 2: Outfit the Brooder
Pine shavings are the bedding of choice for baby chicks. The essential oils in cedar shavings can cause respiratory distress and newspaper is hard for them to walk on when they’re little.
Spread an inch or two of shavings on the floor of the brooder and set up a watering and feeding station at one end. There are various DIY options for chick waterers and feeders, but the basic models only cost a few bucks at the feed store…
On the other end of the brooder, set up a heat lamp. If you have your chicks in the living room where it’s 65 degrees at night, a 100-watt incandescent bulb in a clamp-on utility light (the kind with a metal reflector) will provide enough warmth. If they’re in a barn, garage, or another location that gets chilly, a heat lamp is in order. These special bulbs can be found at feed stores or ordered online.
The height of the bulb may need to be adjusted anywhere from 12 to 36 inches above the bottom of the brooder to maintain the optimal temperature for the chicks…
Step 3: Care for Your Chicks
Chicks need to be at a constant temperature of around 95 degrees for the first week of their life… Adjust the height of the bulb and use a thermometer to measure the temperature at the bottom of the brooder to get it into the proper range before the chicks arrive.
The chicks will tell you if they are too hot or too cold: if they are huddled on top of each other directly under the bulb, move the bulb closer to warm them up; if they are pushing against the opposite wall of the brooder away from the bulb, it’s way too hot. Chicks milling about throughout the brooder is a good sign that the temperature is just right.
Lower the temperature of the brooder by about 5 degrees each week. As the chicks’ feathers fill in, they are more tolerant of cold, but they are also prone to overheating, so it’s important to keep the temperature just right.