How to Build a Chick Brooder and Have Happy Chicks
Our dogs love watching our chicks!
How to Build a Chicken Brooder
Chick season is here! Chicks are very cute, but they are frail animals and require being exposed to correct temperatures when they are still babies. Building a brooder can be an easy task if your have the right materials, it may be also cost effective compared to purchasing brooders online. Our hatchery was selling five chicks and a tiny cheap brooder for more than 100 dollars. We wanted more space for our chicks so they could get away from the heating lamp if it was too hot and we also wanted them to avoid boredom and stress from over crowding, which could easily translate in more pecking opportunities.
The chicks we ordered consisted of 5 Jersey Giants (these are 10 pound birds when they grow up!), 5 White Plymouth Rocks, and 5 Barred Plymouth Rocks. These chicks were selected because they had the qualities we were looking for: docility, winter hardiness and good egg layers. We mainly got them to keep our yard free of bugs (we hate ticks and since we have dogs chickens should do a great job of keeping them away) but the extra eggs will be much appreciated...
Following is how we built their brooder...
All the Necessary Utensils and AccessoriesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Great Chicken Reads
Materials Needed and Instructions
Consider that this brooder is good for about 15 chicks (even though a few more should not have trouble fitting in-but we like extra space). In order to build yourself a nice chicken brooder you will need:
- 105 quart plastic transparent storage bin
- Brooding lamp
- 250 watt infrared red bulb
- Digital wireless thermometer
- Water dispenser
- Food dispenser
- Paper towels
- Puppy pads
- Metal net
- Small saw
- 8 inches cable ties
- ''L'' Brackets
- Poultry Protector (optional)
Wash the bin and allow to dry. If you are concerned about your chicks having lice, mites or fleas, now is a good time to spray the container with some ''Poultry protector''. Follow the directions on the bottle accordingly.
Get the storage bin lid and cut through half side of the plastic with the saw. Leave the border for support.
Place the net from under the lid. Cut excess net with the pliers. Use the cable ties to secure the net on the lid. Place four brackets on each side of the net. This will keep the brooding lamp elevated. It is best to use longer ''L'' brackets so you can adjust the height of the brooder lamp every week to lower the temperature. Eventually, if you are planning to keep the chicks indoors for about 6 weeks you will have to hang the brooder lamp to the ceiling or find another way to keep it higher and higher.
The brooder lamp has holes to which you can attach the ''L''brackets. You can further hold the brooder lamp in place with more cable ties.
Fill the storage bin with an even layer of newspapers. Add a layer of puppy pads on top to absorb excess moisture from dropping and spilled water. The chicks will make a mess with the water the first days.
Shred paper towels in pieces and make a nice comfy, layer with it. The paper towels will prevent your chicks from getting spraddle legs, a condition where the legs are spread apart due to slippery surfaces.
*Have the brooder lamp on for a few hours ahead on the day you expect getting the chicks at the post office. Place the thermometer inside. You want it at about 95-96 degrees.
*Fill up the water dispenser with water. Upon your chick's arrival, prepare a quart of lukewarm water. Some hatcheries suggest mixing in a tablespoon of sugar to give energy or electrolytes. When the chicks arrive dip each chick's beak as you take them out the box in the water. This way they know where it is. The most common cause of death in baby chicks is failure to drink and eat.
The brooder ready for our chicks
This is a multi-use utility lamp with polished and vented aluminum reflectors. Our unit features double universal joints. The nonmarring grips and clamp on brackets let you install this almost any ware. It has a convenient on/off push-through switch and molded plugs. Includes a convenient hanging hook for ease of portability and multi space use.
About our Choices
We looked at different sizes storage bins and found the 105 quart ones to be the perfect size. The edges are high enough to not let the chicks fly and escape while offering ample room. Transparent bins are best as you can see your chicks from a distance, without the need to hover over on top. We originally were thinking about an aquarium but could not find the right size. We eventually made two brooders so we could split the chicks into two containers as they grow.
The Heating Lamp
The lamp we chose is red since this color tends to discourage pecking when the chicks put on new feathers. It is also pleasant to see the red lamp color at night in our living room, almost feels like Christmas!
The heat lights need to be adjusted throughout the chick's growth. When you first get the chicks they should be at about 95-96 degrees for the first week, then you will decrease of five degrees as the chicks grow up until they are about 4-5 weeks, but this obviously varies depending on the outside temperature, if you live in a warm place most likely you can let them outdoors earlier than colder places.
We originally bought a regular thermometer but the temperatures shifted so much we decided then to go with a digital one. What worked best was getting a wireless one from our farm store so we did not have to get up and check the temperature often waking up our chicks. So, now we can check their temperature while dining, watching tv and even when in bed without having to get up. Of course, if we hear them chirping from getting cold we do check on them and lower the lamp a bit to make them more comfy.
We put some puppy pads and then throughout covered them with paper towels to prevent spraddle legs. Spraddle legs arises when chicks are exposed to slippery surfaces such as glass, plastic and some even reported it happened with newspapers. This is why it cannot be emphasized enough to use paper towels at least for the first week or so, this helps their legs have a grip and grow strong.
Expect to be cleaning the bedding the first few days A LOT. Chicks eat a lot and poop a lot! They also are messy drinkers and will spill a lot of water. After a week you can switch to an easier to clean bedding such as pine shavings (avoid cedar shavings as they are harmful to chicks). We like to use some pine soft pellets used for horses that are claimed to be natural and toxin free.
The feeder is made in such a way that chicks can stick their head in and eat. This helps prevent the chicks from pooping in their food which they will have no problems doing if you give a dish or other feeder that allows them to go on top. The waterer must be safe since baby chicks can drown in water. Many hatcheries recommend to add some sugar or electrolytes to the water the first couple of days to make the chicks strong. Upon getting the chicks, make sure you dip their beaks in the water one by one as you place them in the brooder. This way they know where it is and eventually one will take a sip followed by the others. Make sure all chicks eat and drink, dehydration and starvation are the most common causes of baby chick death.
We started our chicks on Manna pro which is a medicated chick feed that helps prevent coccidia, a potentially deadly protozoan known for causing bloody stools.
* We also asked our hatchery to vaccinate our chicks for Marek's disease this only was about $1.15 for each chick. Some hatcheries offer to de-beak chicks but we opted to not have this done as it is painful and we thought unnecessary since we will be monitoring our chicks and preventing them from picking on each other as best as we can.