Brooding for Beginners
A brooder is going to be your baby chick’s first home. It will be a safe, warm place for your chicks to thrive during their first weeks of life. You’ll want to get your brooder up and running a few days before your chicks arrive, that way you’ll have all of the bugs worked out prior to use and more time to enjoy your new babies when they arrive. Below you’ll find a complete list of brooder supplies and instructions on how to set it up, along with explanations of each component’s function and value to your new clutch. Of course, you can always opt to buy a commercial brooder, but it’s not economical nor efficient if you plan on raising a few, small batches of chicks, or less per year.
Brooder Supplies: Container / Building / Brooder Guard – Could be a box*, tote, kiddie pool, etc. (be creative! See what other customers have used below) with at least six square inches per chick
Brooder Guard – enough to go around your brooder if it is shallow or enough to make the brooder. Prevents escapees and a drafty environment.
Waterer(s) – with a shallow well to prevent drowning
Feeder(s) – with reel top or flip/slide top to prevent roosting over feed
Thermometer – heat regulation is a must
Pine Shavings – do not use small shavings, sawdust or cedar.
Creative Containers: We asked our Facebook Fans what creative containers they’ve used to brood chicks in. Here are their responses.
Laree Foss: Our baby chicks loved to sleep in an old dresser when I was little. We mounted a light from the top drawer and they slept in the bottom one.
Dianne Condarco: I use a portable playpen that has been in the family for over 18 years…this way they can see out. I keep it in my office.
Francine Toth Scharver: We are using an old drop-side baby crib…making modifications so they can’t escape.
Traci Danielle Phillips: My daughter had a long wooden toy box with a lid. Her and my husband cut squares in the top and placed the screen over it for air and one for the lamp to hang above. We had had up to 50 chicks in there at once with plenty of room!!!
*Warning: cardboard boxes can be a fire hazard. Use with caution. They are also hard to clean and are easily damaged. This may not be your best option.
Location, location, location. Decide where you would like to keep your chicks for at least a month. Good areas for brooders are indoors, draft free, dry, away from other pets/potential hazards, and have a means of supplying electricity. Make sure it is located in a place where it can be easily cleaned. Also, keep in mind your chicks will be “feathering out” and losing down. This makes for a dusty atmosphere so the dining room might not be the ideal brooding location! Try a garage, basement, or outbuilding. If other poultry have spent any amount of time in the area make sure to disinfect well.
Once you’ve found the perfect place it’s time to put it all together. Clean your brooder container and feeders, waterers, etc. (1 part bleach: 4 parts water makes for a nice cleaner) Set your sterilized container of choice or Brooder Guard on a stable surface or floor. Check for sharp edges or anything else that may be hazardous. Next, lay your bedding 2”-3” thick. Do not use newspaper. It is slippery and can damage your chicks’ fragile legs! Wood shavings are a good choice, but ONLY pine as other types of wood shavings can be toxic. Pine shavings are your best bet. Sand and corn cob bedding are good alternatives if you prefer something other than pine shavings.
Place your feeder(s) and waterer(s) away from where you plan to have your heat source in your newly bedded brooder. Place a thermometer a couple of inches from the bottom of the brooder; at chick height. This will give you a more accurate temperature reading of your brooder. Clamp your heat lamp to the side of the brooder or hang (no closer than 18” from bedding) above the brooder. Make sure you are leaving enough room in the brooder for your chicks to both enjoy the heat and get away from the heat. You can adjust the height of your lamp to change the temperature. A good start is 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Reduce the heat by 5-7 degrees each week until you reach 65-70 degrees. By then your weather may be warm enough that the chicks won’t require a supplemental heat source.
The very best way to gauge the temperature in the brooder is to simply watch your chicks behavior. If they huddle together under the heat source – they’re cold. If they are spread about the brooder and inactive, even panting – they’re hot. A group of chicks spread out over the brooder, chirping, and active are happy! If your brooder container is shallow, wrap Brooder Guard around it. This will eliminate any drafts which can chill your birds and cause losses. Your brooder is now ready for your chicks!
Once your chicks arrive, take the chicks out of the shipping box one by one. As you do this, keep count to make sure everyone is accounted for. Also, as you take each bird out, dips its beak into the water to show them where the water is in the brooder. We suggest using a Vital-Pack Supplement in the drinking water at a rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon of water for the first week. This will give your chicks an extra boost of vitamins and electrolytes after shipping.
Things to Watch for in Your Brooder:
- Chick behavior – Are they too hot or cold? Are they chirping excessively? Are they alert?
- Crowding around feeders and waterers – This can indicate a shortage of feeder or waterer space.
- The condition of litter – Strong ammonia odors means litter needs cleaned or ventilation is needed.
- Birds not growing at a uniform rate – May be due to crowding, insufficient feeder space, temperature too high.
- Rear-End Pasting – Sometimes the stress of shipping causes manure to build up and stick to the back of the chicks. It is important to remove this. Use warm water and wash cloth to remove. You can rub olive oil around the vent to prevent further impaction. In a few days, the problem will cease.
- Ruffled appearance or huddling may indicate ill birds.
Water: Besides heat, the next most important thing for your chicks is water. We recommend using a vitamin-electrolyte solution mixed in the new chicks water, like Meyer Hatchery’s Vital-Pack. You may need to dip the chicks’ beaks in the trough to show them where the water is. Usually, once a few birds have started drinking, the others will follow. Sometimes chicks will fall into the water trough and either drown or become chilled and die. This can be prevented by providing ample space for the birds, not putting a heat source right over the water, and using waterers with smaller troughs. You can always add clean rocks, marbles, etc to make the water more shallow. Water consumption is affected by several factors, including temperature, humidity, diet, diseases, and age of the bird. It is a good idea to fill the waterers when you set up your brooder so the water reaches room temperature. Cold water can lower your baby’s body temperature.
Feed: Use a poultry feed appropriate for the species of bird you are raising, since the protein and ingredients will vary for different birds. Starter grit can be added at 3-4 weeks of age until 10-12 weeks. Grower grit can be used from 10-12 weeks on. If chicks are slow to start eating, you can add a few shiny objects to their feed that they will want to peck at, like pocket change or even marbles.
Recommended Feed Guide for Chicks & Bantams:
- 1 day – 7 wks
- Feed: Free choice 20% Chick Starter
- Water: Free choice water mixed with Vitamins & Electrolytes Pack use daily for first 5 days, and then once weekly.
- 8 wks – 16 wks
- Feed: Free choice 15% Pullet Grower
- Water: Free choice, once weekly provide Vitamins & Electrolytes solution.
- 17 wks and up
- Feed: 15-16% layer ration. Limit ration so that chickens will consume feed by late afternoon, refill feeders in the morning. This will help prevent overfeeding, that could cause extreme egg size, and which could be hard for the hen to pass.
- Water: Free choice, fresh daily, during times of stress or extreme heat use Vitamins & Electrolytes solution.
Quick Tips on Raising Broilers:
- Meyer Hatchery recommends feeding your babies 12 hours on and 12 hours off at 3 weeks of age. This will help minimize the risk of heart attacks, that can result from their rapid growth.
- Feed: Medicated chick starter for 3 weeks
- Feed: Broiler withdrawal from 3 weeks until butcher, which is suggested at 7-9 weeks of age.
- To minimize mortality and health issues, we strongly suggest processing at 7-9 weeks of age.
Raising your flock from just one day-old is fun. Not only do you get to build a lasting relationship with your chickens, you gain knowledge in the process. At Meyer Hatchery we are committed to making your chick rearing experience successful and most of all enjoyable. Don’t ever hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns you have. We’re here to help!