Before you ever go to the feed store and feel the temptation to bring home all the fluffy cuteness, get supplies together and set up a brooder for your new additions. A brooder is just a fancy term for anything you make a home for baby chicks. They will live here for about 4-6 weeks before they outgrow it, so it needs to be spacious and comfortable for them, and also safe from other pets too. Here is my favorite way to set up a brooder for baby chicks.
Supplies You Need For Your Brooder
- large Tupperware bin
- small chicken feeder
- mason jar to hold feed in feeder
- pine shavings
- guinea pig watering bottle
- heat lamp
Setting Up The Brooder
The first thing you will want to do when setting up your brooder is make a way to attach the secret weapon for brooder happiness. The guinea pig waterer.
This little bottle will change your life from frustration to easy street, trust me. With a traditional chick waterer, the chicks can turn it over, get shavings in it and even use it for a bathroom, leaving you cleaning the brooder two and three times a day. If you take a little bit of time, cut out a small rectangle on the side of the Tupperware bin, and replace the plastic with a small piece of hardware cloth, you can attach the guinea pig waterer to your brooder in no time and keep clean up to a minimum.
You can see how it is done here. Screw the hardware cloth on from the inside to make sure that you don’t injure your babies. This system is a game changer. And is well worth the extra effort.
Next, fill your brooder with shavings about 2 inches deep.
Then add food to the feeder and place the feeder on one side of the brooder.
Finally attach the heat lamp to the top of the brooder and adjust it to a low position of about 6 inches from the shavings.
Understanding The Heat Lamp
In the first few weeks of life, chicken require temperatures of about 95-100 degrees. After about two weeks, you can reduce that temperature by five degrees each week until they are fully feathered. You may be wondering how to know the temperature inside the brooder. And the easy answer is that your chicks will tell you. If you chicks are huddled under the heat lamp, piled on top of each other, and making a lot of noise, they are probably cold and you will want to lower the lamp a bit more into the brooder for them. On the other hand if they are spread out in the far corners of the brooder with their wings open or panting, the brooder is too hot, so raise the lamp up immediately. Keeping your chicks warm, but not hot, is super important. They will signal you and tell you what they need from you, so keep a close eye on them for the first few days as you learn how to keep the lamp at a comfortable height for them.
Also remember this as you are taking them out to socialize them. About five minutes or so is all they can stand in the beginning. Love on them for a short period of time and get them back under the heat in their brooder.
Things That May Go Wrong
A few common ailments you may see in your chicks while they are at this delicate stage are pasty butt and lethargy. Here are some solutions to help if these concerns arise.
Pasty butt is pretty common and just as easy to fix. Because the babies do a lot of sitting and sleeping, they may end up with waste caked to their backside. This is very dangerous and can be deadly, so you want to watch for it right from the beginning. If you see this happening with one of your chicks, immediately place her in a shallow bowl of warm water and clean her up real good. You may even find that she loses a few feathers in the process. That is ok. It is just important to get her clean again. Her feathers will grow back. Be sure to dry her off really well when you get her clean. And place her right back in the brooder under the lamp.
Lethargy is common in chicks after they travel across the country to get to you. Then getting adjusted to their new home is just exhausting. You can help your baby chicks by adding a dose of Nutri-Drench to their water the first time you fill it. You will only need to do this one time if you use a guinea pig watering system. If you choose to go the traditional route, you will add it to the chick waterer each time you fill it, for the first week. After about a week, the chicks should be adjusted and settling in well.
Not all chicks will make the transition. It is a difficult one. Don’t beat yourself up if you lose a chick. It happens. Choosing strong and healthy chicks are one way to lessen your chances of losing one, but it may still happen, even if you do everything right.
By following these simple steps, your brooder will be a nice and clean home for your chicks’ first month or so of life until they move out to the coop.