Whether you order chicks from a hatchery, purchase from a breeder, or incubate yourself , you need to have a home for your new chicks to keep them safe , warm, and fed. In this handout you will learn the basic brooding requirements and procedures to keep your new chicks healthy.
People brood their new chicks in all kinds of containers. Old rabbit cages, altered tote bins, and purchased specialized brooders are just some of those ways. When brooding chicks, you need to determine how much space you need for the number of chicks you will have, if you want to spend money or not on the brooder, and do you have somewhere to set it up and leave it for anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks ( depending on your weather and coop space).During this handout an recycled guinea pig cage is used as the brooder. The basic requirements for the brooder itself is to have enough room for the chicks to hang out under the heat lamp to keep warm and to have enough space for the chicks to have access to no heat if they are to warm. There also needs to be room for a feeder and waterer.
The Draft Shield
If you are using a brooder with ventilation on all sides there needs to be a draft shield installed. This can be a simple as attaching a towel around one end of the brooder, using cardboard, or using a solid sided brooder. The draft shield provides a draft free place for the chicks to keep warm. Warmth is one of the top 3 needs of a chick.
figure 1: Draft Shield made out of cardboard on left side and towel added as draft shield when temp got low.
As a guideline, chicks aged 1 day to the end of 3 weeks need 6 sq inches of space. For weeks 4 through 5, 9 sq inches each. For weeks 6 through 8, 1 sq foot per chick.
Inside the brooder you will need bedding of some sort. This can be in the form of sand, pine shavings, straw, etc. The bedding needs to be kept clean and dry. Sand works great because you can sift it to remove poop and the chicks will eat the sand as grit. The downside is it gets wet easily. Wood shavings are soft for the chicks, can be spot cleaned by scooping, but some types of shavings can cause respiratory infections. The use of straw has the benefits of being composted after use but needs to be changed all at once instead of spot cleaning. Using newspaper or cardboard will result in "spraddle leg", a condition where the chicks legs spread out to its sides from lack of grip. This can be a crippling injury if not caught quickly and taped. Saw dust it best not used since the chicks like to eat it and results in pasty butt, where the poop sticks to the vent and clogs the vent. Pasty butt can result in death if not cleaned regularly.
Chicks need to be warm to survive. This is one of the most important things to remember. If they get a chill they can die. This is why a draft shield and heat lamp are so important. A good rule of thumb is to follow the actions of the chicks. If they are huddled together they are cold, if they are randomly walking about they are perfect, if they are spread out and panting they are to hot. The temperature can be adjusted by raising or lowering the heat lamp. To keep accurate temperatures have a thermometer in the cage under the heat lamp.
Temperature needed by age in Fahrenheit
Week 1 - 95
Week 2 - 90
Week 3 - 85
Week 4 - 80
Week 5 - 75
Week 6 to 8 -70 unless chicks seem chilly.
Feeders & Feed
The best kind of feeder is one that allows all the chicks to eat and keeps the feed waste to a minimum. This can be accomplished by either purchasing a feeder or making one out of recycled material. A homemade feeder can be made with a gallon vinegar bottle and a standard size mayo jar. Simply cut two holes in the mayo jar on the sides as far to the bottom as you can. They need to be about the size of a quarter. Cut off the bottom inch of the vinegar bottle. Set the mayo jar in the center of the bottom of the vinegar bottle and screw together. Unscrew the mayo jar and fill half way with chick feed. Gravity will allow the feed to come out the holes and into the tray.
figure 2: homemadefeeder
Chicks need to have access to feed at all times. Commercial chick starter is already mixed to be just the right amount of nutrients the chicks need to grow and develop. Chicks need a 18% - 20% protein feed. This is easily obtained at Tractor Supply for about $15 to $18 for a 50 pound bag .Whether you feed your chick medicated or un-medicated feed is a personal choice. Once chicks are about 20 weeks and older they will need to be switched to Layer feed with 16%-18% protein.
Chicks need water available at all times. When purchasing a waterer 1 quart is the perfect size for a small brooder and a gallon size is good for larger brooders. Wash the waterer on a regular basis to keep bacteria at bay. Some people even put a little Apple Cider Vinegar in the water, which also keeps bacteria from building up.