Baby chicks are on the way and they need a chicken brooder!
If you’ve never seen baby chicks they are SO fun! Every homestead should have baby chicks at least once. They hop around each other, on top of each other and sleep their days away while their little fluffy butts are growing.
The first time we bought chicks and brought them home we thought they died. This is what they look like when they are happy, warm and sleeping.
Then after a few online searches, we realized they weren’t dead, just sleeping 😉 But before we get ahead of ourselves let’s talk about chicken brooders.
You can use just about anything as a chicken brooder as long as it has a stable foundation and a heat source.
Step 1: You need a container to operate as a chicken brooder
Because we hatch chicks we bought two 30 gallon Rubbermaid containers. They were $7.99 at Walmart and that was with the lid. What I love about these containers is that they retain their heat, but are firm enough they don’t melt (if your heat source isn’t directly touching them). Nor is there a risk of getting burned when touching them.
Step 2: You need a heat source
A baby chick needs to be kept warmer than we do. On average they need 95 degrees the first week of life and every week after, you drop the heat by 5 degrees. We use heat lamps to heat our chicken brooders. Many people don’t feel safe doing this as they are known for causing fires. They house a 250-watt red bulb that radiates heat. They clamp to the Rubbermaid containers and are positional so you can focus the heat in different places. We bought ours at Tractor Supply (aka Rural King) for $8 each.
Some people use a heating pad for dogs as their heat source. I’ve heard great things about it, but haven’t had time to research it. Seems definitely a safer solution as long as it provides enough heat.
Step 3: You need bedding
For the bedding, baby chicks need hay or pine shavings. While loads of people use newspaper, it is not conducive to their rubbery legs and can impede development. Also, do not use cedar shavings as cedar is poisonous to chickens. We simply fill the floor of the container with pine shavings and then spread a thin layer of paper towel down until their legs become more stable.
Step 4: You need water
Use a small chicken watering dish that holds a mason jar for their water. It is important to not use anything much larger because they are so unstable at first, they can drown. That actually happened to two of my baby chicks in this hatch. Another way I learned to prevent drowning is to place marbles in the base of the watering dish. It eats up some of the space and if the chick loses its balance it can’t fall all the way in because the marble prevents that.
Step 5: You need food
For food, you want to use chick start. There are tons of brands and varieties out there. We choose un-medicated as we want to know what our chickens are eating. We don’t use antibiotics on them unless they are sick and need them. So we do not buy medicated feed. I know some chicken owners who make a mash by adding water to the feed. It makes it easier to swallow, but I prefer my birds to learn to eat the same form of food as they’ll be eating as adults.
You must show the baby chicks where the food is. They do not instinctively know. I take each chick and dip his beak in the water bowl and he swallows the water. I do the same with the feed. Once they know where it is, they go back to it when they are thirsty and hungry. I have found they often follow each other around the brooder, so when one eats, they all do.
Our birds stay in the brooder until they are about 5 weeks. Then we move them to a much larger brooder under our carport. They are still protected from the elements and predators, yet still warmed by heat lamps until they are fully feathered. Once they are fully feathered we integrate them into the big coop. You can read about that here.
We don’t have fancy brooders, just ones we can use over and over again as we hatch more chicks. Because who doesn’t want more chicks right?
What kind of brooder do you have? I’d love to see pictures!
This post is linked up to the cape coop blog-hop this week!