How to Build a Chick Brooder and Raise Happy Chicks
Do-It-Yourself Chicken Brooder
Selecting Your Chicks for the Brooder
Chick season is here! Chicks are very cute, but they are frail and require the correct environmental temperatures when they are babies. Building a brooder is an easy task if you have the right materials, and a DIY brooder may be more cost-effective than purchasing one online. Our local hatchery was selling five chicks and a tiny, cheap brooder for more than 100 dollars, but we wanted more space for our chicks so that they could get away from the heat lamp if it was too hot. We also wanted to prevent overcrowding which could easily lead to pecking.
The chicks we ordered consisted of five Jersey Giants (these are 10-pound birds when mature), five White Plymouth Rocks, and five Barred Plymouth Rocks. These chicks were selected because they had the qualities we were looking for: they are docile, hardy through the winter, and good egg layers.
We wanted chickens to keep our yard free of bugs (we hate finding ticks in our yard because of our dogs). The extra eggs, of course, are a bonus.
Recommended Materials for Building a Brooder
This brooder is good for about 15 chicks. Here are the supplies that we used:
DIY Brooder SuppliesClick thumbnail to view full-size
How to Build a Chick Brooder
- Wash the bin and allow it 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.
- Cut a square out of 1/2 of the plastic storage bin lid with the saw; leave the border for support.
- Place the wire net under the lid. Cut the excess portions of the wire net with the wire cutters.
- 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. (If you are planning to keep the chicks indoors for about 6 weeks, you will have to hang the brooder lamp on the ceiling or find another way to move it higher and higher.)
- The brooder lamp has holes to which you can attach the ''L'' brackets. You can 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 droppings 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.
The Finished Brooder
Tips for Bringing Your Chicks Home
- Have the brooder lamp on for a few hours before you bring your chicks home. Place the thermometer inside. You want the brooder to be around 95-96 degrees F.
- Upon your chick's arrival, prepare a quart of lukewarm water and add it to the water dispenser. Some hatcheries suggest mixing in a tablespoon of sugar to give the chicks energy.
- When the chicks arrive, carefully touch their beaks to the water as you take them out of the box. This way, they will know where the water is. The most common cause of death in baby chicks is the failure to eat and drink.
Habitant Requirements for Your Brooder
- Storage Bins: We looked at different storage bin sizes and found that the 105-quart bin is the perfect size. The edge of the 105-quart bin is high enough so that the chicks can't escape but still have ample room. Transparent bins are best because you can keep an eye on your chicks from a distance. We eventually made two brooders so that we could split the chicks into two containers as they grew.
- 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—it almost feels like Christmas! The heating lamps need to be adjusted as the chicks grow. When you first get the chicks, they should be kept at 95-96 degrees F for the first week. You will gradually decrease the temperature by five degrees until the chicks are about 4-5-weeks-old. The temperature will also vary depending on your climate.
- The Thermometer: We originally bought a regular thermometer, but the temperatures shifted so much we decided to go with a digital one. What worked best was getting a wireless thermometer from our farm store so that we did not have to bother our chicks. We could check the temperature while dining, while watching tv, and even from our bed. Of course, if we heard the chicks cheeping from being too cold, we checked on them and lowered the lamp to make them more comfortable.
- The Bedding: We put some puppy pads down and covered them with paper towels to prevent spraddle legs. Spraddle legs arise when chicks are exposed to slippery surfaces such as glass, plastic, and even newspaper. It cannot be emphasized enough to use paper towels for the first week or so; this helps their legs to develop properly.
Husbandry Requirements for Your Chicks
- Cleaning Requirements: Expect to clean the bedding often for the first few days. Chicks eat and poop a lot! They are messy drinkers and will spill a lot of water. After a week, you can switch the bedding to alternative materials such as pine shavings (avoid cedar shavings as they are harmful to chicks). We use natural and toxin-free pine soft pellets that are used for horses.
- The Feeder/Waterer: The feeder is made in such a way that chicks can stick their head in and eat. This helps prevent them from pooping in their food. The waterer must be safe since the babies can drown. Many hatcheries recommend adding some sugar or electrolytes to the water the first couple of days. 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 will know where the water is. Make sure all chicks eat and drink; dehydration and starvation are the most common causes of baby chick death.
- The Food: We started our chicks on Manna Pro which is a medicated chick feed that helps prevent coccidia, a potentially deadly protozoa known for causing bloody stool.
- Hatchery Requests: We also asked our hatchery to vaccinate our chicks for Marek's disease; this was only around $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 pecking at each other.