Are you looking to grow your chickens from chicks? Chick brooding can be fun and rewarding. However, it can also sound overwhelming if you haven’t done it before. There are so many things to remember when you are setting up the brooder and as your chicks are growing up to ensure, they develop into healthy chickens.
We want to make the process easier for you and have put together a straightforward guide on chick brooding. You will find information on how to prepare the brooder, why chicks need brooders, and the common mistakes to avoid.
What is Chick Brooding?
The period of brooding covers the time between hatching and when the chicks no longer need supplemental heating. How long that period is, depends on the breed. Chicken breeds that develop quickly may only need around three weeks, while others will need up to eight weeks before they can move out of the brooder.
There are eight key things you need to keep in mind when brooding chicks: space, temperature, light, ventilation, humidity, feed, water, and bedding. These are the same key factors whether you are raising chickens, quail, or turkeys. Only the values will need to be adjusted to suit the type of bird and the breed.
What is a Brooder?
Simply put, a brooder is a place where the offspring, or brood, spends the first weeks of their lives to ensure all their needs are met and they are protected from outside factors, including diseases and predators. Chicks are kept in a brooder when they are too young to mix with the rest of the flock. When they are old enough to look after themselves, they can leave the brooder.
Why Chicks Need a Brooder
You should have your brooder set up ready before your chicks arrive, whether you are incubating them yourself or buying from a hatchery. At that age, the chicks cannot yet regulate their body temperature or find food and drink. It is also the time when they are at their most vulnerable to diseases.
Therefore, you need to provide them with a safe brooder with the right temperature and easy access to food and drink. So start planning as soon as you know you are getting chicks to ensure the brooder is warm enough before the chicks arrive.
Setting up a Brooder
When you have decided to brood chicks, you need to set up the brooder. Below, we will guide you through all the key elements so you can make sure your chicks have all they need and that they are safe.
How Big Should Your Brooder Be?
Chicken keepers calculate the size of the brooder in many ways. However, most experienced chicken growers know the needs of their breeds and adjust the size of the breeder accordingly. A rule of thumb, if you are setting up your first brooder, is to allow six square inches for each chick when they have hatched from the eggs.
When you are setting up the brooder, you have two options: have a smaller brooder first and move the chicks to a bigger one as they grow, or use a large container from the start. Either way is acceptable and chicken keepers have their preferences.
The best thing to do is to keep an eye on your chicks’ behavior. If there is more feather pecking or any instances of bullying, this is a sign you need more space. Another sign that the brooding area is getting too small for your chicks is if the bedding becomes dirty quickly. After your first round of brooding, you will know the breed’s needs and adjust the size accordingly.
Providing the Chicks With Warmth and Light
Getting the temperature of the brooder right is one of the most critical aspects of your setup. Young chicks get cold quickly because their coats cannot keep them warm enough. Therefore, they need help to maintain a healthy body temperature until they have grown the feathers that will keep them warm.
You can provide your chicks with the warmth and light they need with a heat lamp. The other options are pan brooders or heaters, but these are more expensive and more suitable for larger flocks. Heat lamps are cheaper and easy to find. Most local stores selling feed and other supplies will have them.
To ensure you get the right brooder temperature use a thermometer. Start with 90-95°F and reduce the temperature by five degrees per week. The temperature can be adjusted by moving the bulb closer or further away. You can also tell by the chicks’ behavior if the temperature is right. When they are all warm enough, they will be moving around the brooder comfortably.
When choosing the heat sources, remember that your chicks haven’t got a developed sense of self-preservation. A heating pad can cause burns on feet and keel, while a horizontal source of heat can spread the heat unevenly. Overhead heaters are generally the best option for an even temperature across the whole brooder.
Brooder Ventilation and Humidity
You need to get the ventilation of your brooder right to ensure the correct humidity. Low ventilation may lead to the humidity becoming too high while over-ventilating will make the humidity in the brooder too low. It is easier to balance the two when you have a smaller flock.
The good news is that if you are using a brooder with an open top or a wire/mesh top, it should have enough ventilation naturally. However, if you notice the smell from their poop is getting overpowering quickly, you may have inadequate ventilation and need a fan.
Provided that there is adequate and not too high ventilation, your brooder should not get too dry or humid. However, this can depend on where you live. If you live in a hot and dry place, your brooder humidity may fall lower than preferred. Anyone worried about the humidity can get a hygrometer to measure humidity. Ideal humidity is 30-50% during the first week, then 40-60%.
Feeding and Drinking Water for Your Chicks
When your chicks are growing, they have specific nutritional needs. These needs change as your chicks grow. The easiest way to ensure your chicks get the nutrients and vitamins they need is to give them a starter feed high in protein. It is safe to give it even to day-old chicks.
For most breeds, they should stay on the starter feed until they are about eight weeks of age. The exact time depends on your breed. Slower-developing breeds will need the starter feed for longer while faster-growing ones can start transitioning to grower feed after a few weeks.
When feeding young chicks, you also need to think about how the chicks will access the food. You can get pan feeders that are designed for this period in a chick’s life or you can also place paper under the heat lamps and sprinkle their food on top of it during the first few days.
You need to ensure that you have fresh water available for your chicks all the time. Change the water twice a day to avoid it being contaminated with feces, food, or bedding. Wash the water system once per week to prevent bacteria and mold. You should never remove the water source for longer than fifteen minutes at a time.
The two main rules for brooder bedding, regardless of the material, are to change it often and to change it thoroughly. Changing the bedding is the by far the best way to prevent smells, disease, and mold. Choose absorbent litter material. Rice hulls and pine shavings work well. Hardwood shavings, newspaper, and straw and not the best, despite being commonly used.
When choosing the bedding, pick a material that will provide an easy grip for the chicks. An easy way to do this is to put a non-slip mat on the bottom of the brooder. Some people like to use white kitchen paper on top of the liner to make it easier for the chicks to spot their food. Kitchen paper towels also absorb the water from the poop very well.
If you have not grown chicks before, you may be surprised by how much they can poop. Because of this, if you are using paper towels as bedding in the first couple of days, you need to change it at least twice a day, possibly more often depending on the number he chicks.
Using paper towels in the first couple of days is optional. Some people prefer to go straight to using pine shavings or rice hulls. When using either option, start with a couple of inches of litter on top of the non-slip liner. You can add litter each day and stir it up a little. The litter will need to be changed completely at least once a week, depending on the size of your flock.
Best Places for Brooders
When deciding where the best place for your brooder is, you need to think about some key factors. You should be able to see the chicks in the brooder easily so you are aware of any issues quickly. The room should be warm, at least 50ºF.
You should not place the brooder in direct sunlight as this can cause the temperature to fluctuate too much. Have it in a place where it is safe from children and pets as they, cats especially, are likely to want to check out the newcomers.
It is not something that people want to think about but it is, sadly, something that you need to be aware of. Even with the perfect brooder setup, there can be some deaths. These can be caused by poor chick quality, starvation because of competition, or pecking. While some deaths are normal, excessive deaths mean something is wrong.
Deaths are most likely during the first week. After that, it can be a sign that your brooder is not offering the right living conditions. Check the temperature, light, humidity, and ventilation. Ensure you are keeping their water clean and giving them enough food so they don’t have to compete for it. If all seems right, but they are still dying or weak, you might like to speak to a vet.
There are some mistakes that are common among first-time chick brooders. Use the checklist below to avoid them:
- The wrong type of bedding is an extremely common mistake, with a range of litter available in the shops. While shredded paper or newspaper can be tempting as it is a cheap option, it is not absorbent and fills quickly with waste, and creates an unhealthy environment.
- Transferring from brooder to coop too soon is another common problem. You should only transfer into the coop when the chicks are fully feathered. When this happens, depends on the breed.
- Not having the heat lamp properly secured is one of the most dangerous mistakes. If a heat lamp were to fall into the brooder, it can quickly cause a fire. Some people like to put a wire lid on top of the brooder to ensure the lamp will not end up inside the brooder if it should fall.
- Having the brooder too hot, cold, or humid can cause suffering among your chicks and even result in death. Ensure you monitor the temperature and moisture levels in your brooder.
- Giving chicks treats before they are ready can be harmful to their health. It is best to wait until they are a few weeks old and have access to some grit before you give them treats so they can digest them properly.
- Not cleaning the brooder often enough is another common mistake. It is not a pleasant job but it is a vital job to stop diseases growing and spreading in the brooder.
When you begin brooding chicks, remember it is a learning experience. You also need to remember that you might not get it all perfect on your first go and that chick mortality is normal. However, by following the guidelines in this article, you have good a chance of having a successful brooding period.
If there is anything you would like to ask about chick brooding, you can write your questions in the comments box.