Monday, March 30, 2009

Making a Brooder for Chicks

While not everyone is going to raise chickens, I am amazed at how popular it has become recently. Probably because they are easy to keep and give back in return in terms of eggs and fertilizer. If you plan on getting started in this venture, you'll want to begin by getting a brooder ready before you bring home the cute little birds. Here are the basic things you will need to have on hand:

1) A large container with sides such as a kiddie swimming pool, a refrigerator box, or a large (and I mean large) plastic container. I upgraded last year and bought a small animal trough that is about two feet high and about 4 1/2 feet long. I've used this for two seasons already and I hope to get goats later on, so I'll already have that item covered. 

2) A brooder lamp with a red infrared bulb. You can use a clear bulb, but the red are suppose to keep the chicks from pecking at each other as much, because they can't see all the little things that make them so curious! I'm not sure how they compare since I've always just used the red bulb.

3) Some type of bedding material to go on the bottom. Do NOT use newspaper. Chicks will slip around and have developmental problems with their legs. Some people use wire mesh, but I like Kay-Kob. It is an all natural product made from corn cobs and I think it works well even though the chicks tend to get it in their waterer and feeder. But you'll be checking your chicks several times a day anyway and you can empty it then if necessary.  I'm sure your local feed store has some other alternatives if you ask. Just explain what you need it for and they should give you some suggestions.

4) A chick feeder and waterer that is appropriate in size.

5) A cover. I use aviary wire because it allows for ventilation and keeps the cats out. However, you'll need to attach it in some way. I used wood clamps in the photo above, but I've also used 2 x 4 boards.

6) A thermometer. You'll need to monitor the temperature closely for the first couple of weeks. Chicks must be kept at 95 degrees for the first week and then you can start to drop the temperature by 5 degrees every week. Now I have found that the chicks love to peck at the red bulb on the thermometer (they broke it one year!) so if you can't keep it away from them, just monitor their behavior. If they are cheeping loudly, like they are stressed, and they are huddled together under the light, then they are cold. If they are as far away as they can get from the light and staying there, then they are hot. If they are moving around randomly or sleeping somewhat randomly, then they are fine. We usually place our brooder in the garage, but if it is really cold and the chicks are really young I bring it inside till they are a little older. 

7) Starter feed. If you are buying your chicks at your local feed store they should have this. You really don't want to pay a shipping feed to get this to your home. Starter feed contains all the necessary nutrients and medications that your little birds will need to grow healthy. You'll feed this to them for 8 weeks, so mark your calendar! Feed usually comes in mash (which is like corn meal) or in crumbles (which is a little larger). Chickens tend to waste mash, but I like it when they are very young. I can mix in crushed oats or corn meal if they are pasting up. (Watch their bottoms closely for at least a week to make sure their poop isn't pasted to their vent and blocking it. They'll die real quick if they can't eliminate and you'll need to clean it off, very gently!)

Again, be sure that you acquire your supplies before hand because often the feed store will be out of one of the items you may need. It's crucial to have it all ready so that when your bring your chicks home, or they arrive in the mail, you can get them warm as soon as possible. We'll have more chick talk soon. In the meantime, go get your items ready!


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