Create The Best Chicken Brooders For Baby Chicks!

Create The Best Chicken Brooders For Baby Chicks!

Heard of chicken brooders, but not sure what the fuss is about? Getting chicks, and not sure which brooders are best? In this article, we’ll give you all the details so you can pick the perfect home for your newest pets!

Chicks! Little balls of down that are so adorable you just want to eat them up! Or maybe that’s the family cat, we’re talking about… So maybe eating them up is a terrible idea. A good idea, however, is bringing them into the family. Soon, these day-old fuzzy butts will grow into amazing full-sized chickens: hens of the greatest laying potential and roosters whose protective skills are without peer! 

The question, then, is how to ensure that these chicks do reach adulthood. What can we do to protect these helpless little bundles of cute? Where can we keep them until they are ready to join the flock? What tips and tricks can we utilize to ensure that the cat stays away from them long enough to get big enough to defend themselves?

The answer to the above questions is quite simple: you need to get yourself a chick brooder. 

What is a Chick Brooder?

A brooder is a safe environment where a group of baby chicks can stay warm and comfortable until they’re ready to join other chickens in the run. All told, a chick will spend about 8-10 weeks in a brooder. It is a relatively short, but incredibly important part of their lives. 

Anything can serve as a brooder, from a plastic bin to a pre-fabricated brooder sold on Amazon. I personally just use a plastic tote bin because they’re cheap and easy to clean. 

You can see my brooder set up in this video:

Why Have a Brooder?

In the wild, chicks have a very unique personal defense system that they do not have in the adoptive world of your family. That defense system is called a mother hen. The mother hen digs or builds a nest for her chicks and there, she sits on them, defending and protecting them from all manner of dangers: from predators to chill weather. When a person decides to take on chicks and raise them, that person volunteers themselves for the role of mother. It’s obviously not a good idea for you to sit on a clutch of chicks for several weeks – we don’t have quite the warm, protective tail feathers that mother hens have (in addition to being far too heavy). As a result, we need a safe place to keep our developing chicks. That is where the brooder comes into play. 

What Size Brooder Should I Have?

It goes without saying that those cute little chicks will grow. Because of this, you’ll want to consider two recommended sizes for a good brooder. The smaller brooder should be about 12 inches tall, and should be large enough so that each chick has about 6 inches of space when they’re day olds – 4 weeks old.. This smaller brooder will become obsolete, however, at or around week 4 of their lives. At this stage of their development, you’ll want to upgrade them to a 24-inch tall brooder that gives them 1 square foot each. This will keep them safe and in check until they complete their developmental phase.

 It is possible, however, to forego the smaller brooder for the larger one. Your chicks will outgrow the smaller one, after all. If your resources are limited, then there is much to be said for that option. 

Where Should I Keep My Brooder?

A brooder is a safe place for your chicks. You’ll need to keep it in a secure place that can hold heat and protect your hatchlings from any and all of those great dangers just lurking out in the wider world. You could put it in a barn, a workshop, a garage, a basement, or even right in the house. The key is to keep it very safe from predators, such as cats, raccoons, opossums, and rats. 

Because you will need to provide your chicks with heat, a reliable power source is key. You’ll also want your brooder to be easy to get to, as you’ll probably want to check on your chicks at least a couple of times per day. I would also strongly recommend putting some kind of cover over your chicks – a mesh one for warmer weather or a piece of insulation in colder weather. 

Chickens are birds, after all, and once their wing feathers start coming in, they just might succumb to the urge to test out those flight enablers. The other reason for a covering your chicks are the curious whims of the family cat. Or dog. Or child. As much as we might love the other beasts in our menageries, they might not have the best interests of your chicks at heart. 

How Many Chicks Should Be In A Brooder?

I personally only put between ten and fifteen full sized chicks into a brooder at a time. This helps to ensure that there is enough space for each one, at least 6 inches of space per chick. Ten to fifteen chicks is easy to keep track of (for example, if one gets sick, it should be easy enough to identify that one.) It is also small enough to start getting to know the chicks’ personalities. If you’re like me and hope that these chickens become family, then it’s best to start familiarizing yourself with them sooner rather than later. Why not start right from the brooder?

If you’re going to have a clutch of bantams, up to 17 chicks is a good number. This is mostly just to help them stay warm, as being smaller chickens, they could use just a touch more heat. But the clutch should be no more than that. Otherwise, your chicks might squash each other.

At farm stores, you sometimes see there might be 50 chicks in a big bin. Farm stores do that because the chicks aren’t going to be there for that long. Many stores sell out in a day! 

So most farm stores don’t need to worry about whether a chick has long term access to food and water. At home however, if you have a lot of chicks in your brooder, you can’t guarantee that everybody’s getting the food that they need. So stick to a smaller clutch size, and get more than one brooder if necessary.

It’s harder to keep track of everybody and everybody’s health when a lot of chicks are in one brooder. They’re all running everywhere, and you can’t look at everybody really closely. 

Smaller numbers in your brooder make it easier to keep track of everybody’s condition. Is everybody getting the food that they need? Is everybody developing correctly? Is everybody warm enough? Does somebody look too cold?

If you use apple cider vinegar, it’s easier to make sure that everybody gets access to that. If you have one waterer and a large number of chicks in your brooder, maybe not everybody’s getting enough water or the apple cider vinegar in the water that they need. This is all the more reason to keep numbers manageable in a brooder. 

What Do Chicks Need In A Brooder?

For a brooder to be 100% effective, it will need a few key components. The first is warmth. Newborn chicks are covered in down, which is lovely and soft, but not that great at providing your precious little ones with the warmth they need to develop strong, hale and hearty. In their first week of life, the ideal temperature is about 95 degrees F. You will want to adjust this as your chicks start to feather out, as feathers provide them with natural insulation against the cold. 

The 95 degrees that was good in the first week might be too hot in the second week. If your chicks are too hot, they might start panting or moving far away from the heat source. Having a thermometer on hand will help you identify whether or not your heating source is too close to the clutch. When you test the temperature, be sure to be on the same level as your chicks. You want the readings to be as accurate to your birds’ experience as possible. 

Next comes food and water. A chick has to eat, right? Provide your clutch with a couple automatic waterers and feeders. If you put them in the corners of the brooder, it will help to reduce how much waste your chicks will deposit into the feed or water troughs. Most will spend their time in the warmest sections of the brooder – especially on colder days – and will then have to disperse to fill their other needs. The water and feed should be changed daily. If your chicks are especially messy, then this could be upgraded to twice a day refilling. 

Countless chicken lovers will tell you that waterers could use an anti-drowning preventative. Chicks are just getting their legs, so to speak, and as such, they might have a mishap or two with regards to how they drink. Shallow as their drinking troughs are, there is still a risk of drowning. To prevent this, put a number of marbles into the trough. This will give your chicks full access to water, but it will prevent them from dunking their heads.

The final thing your brooder will need is bedding. Chickens of all ages have the potential to be terribly messy. 

The Best Options For Flooring And Bedding

It seems like the go-to for bedding across the USA is pine shavings. This is very similar to what horses get in their stalls, and it tends to be light, fluffy, and holds chick waste quite well. In the first couple of weeks, it will need cleaning and changing every couple of days, but as your chicks get bigger, they will start producing greater quantities of waste. If pine shavings are unavailable in your local farm store, other options include straw, shredded paper towels (for the first week at most), or newspaper. Of all of these options, pine bedding works best for absorbency and overall comfort. You’ll need between an inch and three inches of bedding for your chicks. 

What Types Of Heaters Are There?

There are a few varieties of heaters to use in your brooder. The most common are a heat lamp and heating pads. A simple heating lamp can be clamped right onto the side of the brooder or dangle above it. These then produce powerful localized heat that spread out quite well over a general area. This actually provides both hot zones and cooler zones within the brooder. In the event that the weather shifts in your brooder’s shelter, your chicks will have temperature escapes. However, I don’t personally use or recommend heat lamps. They’re very dangerous.

Heat lamps produce tremendous heat. That much heat concentrated over wooden bedding is a fire hazard waiting to happen. When setting up your heat source, be sure that it cannot fall – secure it thoroughly with clamps or a bungee. 

Heat plates are a solid pad that is elevated off the ground and provides a surface area of warmth. Their height is adjustable so that your chicks will not bump their heads on the pads. These pads more closely simulate the localized warmth of a hen sitting on her clutch, but they tend to be far more expensive than heat lamps. 

You can also use space heaters.

Is There a Do It Yourself Option for a Brooder?

Brooders are remarkably affordable or easy to make. They require some basic and easily accessible materials, and can be quite durable, usable season after season. The simplest ones can be made from a large plastic tub or a large wooden box or coop. 

When Should I Get a Brooder?

It is imperative to get your brooder before you bring your first clutch of chicks home. You will want to set it up and test it out for any problems that might arise before your chicks get into it. You can trouble shoot anything that might hinder your chicks’ development or cause them undue stress. You can also check that  there is enough bedding, the heat lamps are secure and safe, and their water and feed is all set up. The latter is very important because when your chicks arrive. You’ll want to orient them to their food and water by dipping the beak of each one. This will ensure that they know where their essentials are.  

Sharing your home with a clutch of chicks is a truly amazing experience, and it all starts with having a good brooder for them. It’ll ensure they’re healthy and safe from predators. You’ll also get lots of hands on experience with your new pets! 

What’s your best chicken brooder tips? Leave a comment below!

Answers To Every Question You Ever Had About Baby Chicks

Answers To Every Question You Ever Had About Baby Chicks

If you just got chicks for the first time, you probably have a million questions. Last year, I did a free YouTube series that answered the most common questions I get about raising baby chicks. Below, I’ve compiled all those videos into a single easy-to-use resource!

This page is easy to use. Just use the table of contents to scroll to the best spot, and watch the video that answers your specific question!

If you have a question that hasn’t been answered yet, please reach out to us at [email protected] and I’ll make a video especially for you!

Feeding Baby Chicks

Can My Chicks Eat…..

Giving Water To Chicks

Nutritional Supplements For Chicks

Brooders & Keeping Chicks Warm

Common Health Questions

When Can Chicks Go Outside With Adult Hens?

Are My Chicks Male Or Female?

How To Raise People-Friendly Chickens

Protecting Chickens From Predators

When Do Chicks Start Laying Eggs?

Where To Buy Baby Chicks

FAQ


What Is Piling?

What Is Piling?

As we move through the process of raising baby chicks, we want to address some potential problems you may encounter. One of these is an issue known as piling.

 

Piling occurs when baby chicks clump together for safety. For example, if it’s cold or dark, then the chicks might lay on top of each other. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. It’s not much different than mammals gathering together in a close-knit group to stay calm and keep away the chill.

 

The Downside Of Piling

Unfortunately, when 10 to 15 chicks pile together, some may get crushed or suffocate. Particularly if they are in a brooder or another enclosed area (you can learn how many chicks should be in a brooder here). The reason for this? Even though baby chicks are incredibly independent, they are still fragile. Bantams in particular.

 

These chicks are so tiny that they get lost in the melee to gather together. If a bantam is weaker or not growing as well as the others, this also leads to a greater risk of being crushed. In addition, since bantams get colder faster, there’s a likelihood of them piling up more frequently.

 

How To Minimize Piling Risks

Regardless if they’re bantams or full-size, chicks have a harder time keeping warm. And if the smaller chicks are mixed with normal sized ones, there’s a potential for greater damage. In the end, the way to minimize piling risks is to separate the chicks by size and make sure there’s no more than 10-15 chicks in the brooder. 

 

Not too long ago, we received a batch of bantams and full-size chicks from a hatchery. The first thing we did is to separate them out, so the smaller chicks didn’t get crushed by a wall of bigger ones. Overall, we were able to maintain the safety of all of them.

 

Another way to minimize piling is to keep baby ducks and chicks in different brooders. Infant ducks tend to be bigger and heavier. Even though their interactions may be cute, a baby duck sitting on a day-old chick can cause fatal injuries.

 

A third way to prevent piling is to provide different heat sources, especially in enclosed spaces. With these units added throughout the brooder, the chicks can move to another source of warmth if the first one is too crowded. Be sure the brooder doesn’t get too hot, though!

Get Your Chicks To Thrive

As you would do with babies in your care, you want to ensure your chicks are well protected. This means shielding the smaller, fragile ones from being crushed when a group decides to pile together. By separating bigger chicks from smaller ones, as well as providing multiple heat sources, you can reduce this risk. In turn, you will end up with a healthy flock of chickens in a variety of sizes.

Why Chicks Cheep Loudly

Why Chicks Cheep Loudly

When you have day-old chicks up until they’re 16 weeks, you might notice that your baby chicks make loud noises. In case you didn’t already know, we call that “cheeping.” During this very important time of your chicks’ lives, if they are cheeping very loudly, you’re might not be sure exactly what the problem is or why they seem distressed. All you know is you’re not really sure what to do about it.

 

There’s a few reasons why your chicks might be making loud noises. In this article, we’ll decode these types of cheeps, and hopefully, the next time your flock sounds distressed, you’ll remember this article, and stop worrying!

 

Why do baby chicks cheep loudly:

  1. They’re hungry
  2. They’re thirsty
  3. They’re cold
  4. They’re lonely/scared
  5. They don’t feel good

 

Main Takeaways:

  • Chicks cheep loudly usually because they hungry, thirsty, cold, lost, or not feeling well.
  • To figure out why YOUR chick is unhappy, look at how it’s acting (are they huddling? Do they look sick?)
  • To figure out what to do, check their brooder temperature, their feed, their water, and do a head count.
  • If they’re not feeling well, try to determine the cause (a qualified veterinarian can guide you).

They’re Hungry

Number one is they’re hungry. If they’re cheeping loudly, ask yourself “Do they have chick starter?” “Can they get to it?” 

 

Sometimes even I mess up and I put their bowl somewhere that’s not easy for day-olds to get to. To fix this, I look at their brooder and just double check. And if I have done that, I fix it.

 

We talk about the best chick feeders here. What really matters is that your chicks can get into the feeder and get to the food. 

 

If you’re not feeding an 18% chick starter and they’re constantly cheeping loudly, I would then look also at your food. 

 

Is your flock’s feed giving them the right diet and the nutrients that they need in order to grow? Is it giving them enough protein? 

 

I’ve found the best is a really good commercial chick starter – you can be sure your chicks are getting all the nutrients they need.

 

They’re Thirsty

Reason number two that baby chicks cheep loudly is because they’re thirsty. Do they have access to water? Is there water? Can they get to the water? If they don’t have any, then you have to get the chicken some water. But this is another common reason why chicks cheep so loudly. 

 

They’re Cold

Reason number three is that they’re cold. It is important to keep their brooder at a specific temperature (more about that here), but if the brooder is not warm enough, they’ll start cheeping. 

 

Even if you think it’s warm enough, if your chicks think it’s not warm enough, they’ll let you know. Animals don’t really lie, and young chicks certainly don’t lie about something like this. 

 

They’re Lost Or Scared

The fourth reason why you’ll hear loud cheeping is because your chicks are lost or they’re lonely and they don’t know where the rest of their flock is. 

 

While you might wonder how this can happen, truthfully, even if the rest of the flock is 6 inches away, if your chick can’t see its friends, it’ll get lonely real quick. To avoid this, just keep everyone together.

 

Chickens are prey animals. They’ve evolved to depend on a large number of flock members to keep them safe. 

 

That’s why they say you shouldn’t really just have only one or two chickens; having more than that helps chickens be happier. It’s not just a companion issue; it’s an issue of making sure that they feel safe in their environment. 

 

When baby chicks cheep loudly, it’s probably that they don’t know where everybody else in their flock is and they’re lonely and they’re scared.

 

Sometimes my baby chicks will wander off from the rest of the chicks. They may wander from the larger penned-in area and into tall grass, and they’re lost. They can’t see everybody else and it’s scary enough to start cheeping. As soon as I pick them up and I put them with the other chicks, the cheeping stops. 

 

They Don’t Feel Good

If your chick isn’t developing correctly, or maybe they came out of the shell weaker than the other ones, they might not be feeling good, and then they have a harder time keeping their body temperature up. 

 

The key here is to watch for a few different behaviors. If you hear loud cheeping AND your chicks are closing their eyes, and hunching over, it shows that it’s more than just cold – they’re not feeling well.

 

In such cases, we put them and a friend in a brooder that is warmer than what the other chicks need. If the chick just needs an extra boost, then within 24 hours they’re fine and back with a regular flock. We usually follow up with apple cider vinegar.

 

What Do These Cheeps Sound Like?

If you’re wondering what the cheeps sound like, it’s a very shrill, high, loud cheep. It’s not the same as their happy little chirps: the “Oh, I’m a chicken and I’m walking around kind of chirps.” These are very loud and insistent chirps. 

 

Regardless of the problem, in my experience, there’s not really, one cheap for each problem: no lonely cheep, no cheep for “I’m cold”, or “I’m hungry,” or “I’m thirsty.” Chicks are not like dogs or cats, who have a full call range that will tell you kind of what they are experiencing. 

 

Hopefully this article explains why your baby chicks cheep loudly!

Best Bedding For Chick Brooders

Best Bedding For Chick Brooders

The controversy around bedding for chickens and baby chicks always makes me giggle. 

 

Mostly because, to me, there are clear winners in the quest to keep your baby chicks’ pens clean. 

 

In this video, I break down pros and cons of some of the most common types of bedding and provide my own recommendations for them. 

 

 

The six types of bedding discussed are as follows:

  1. Shavings (small flake, large flake, saw dust). I personally use large flake shavings.
  2. Newsprint
  3. Paper towels
  4. Sand
  5. Straw
  6. Hay

 

While it may appear to be a random listing of bedding, to me, there is a clear order, where my strongest recommendations are at the top, and as we go down the list, we get into types that are less ideal as bedding for baby chicks. 

 

Shavings (Small Flake, Large Flake, Sawdust)

We use shavings because they’re cheap and they are easy to find. They’re also easy to clean, and they keep everything clean. 

 

You have some options: 

  • Big flake (they literally just have big flakes in them.)
  • Small flake shavings
  • Sawdust

I prefer big flake shavings because it’s really hard for the chicks to actually swallow them. Because they’re curious by nature, you’ll see chicks try and eat the shavings. 

 

They’re not going to be successful in 99.9% of cases because obviously it’s just too big. 

 

However, with smaller flake shavings and particularly sawdust, there’s a chance that they could swallow the wood shavings.

 

It’s dangerous because they’re eating something that’s not food, and it’s taking up space in their digestive system where actual food could be. 

 

Small flakes and shavings also can cause choking, or it can cause obstructions in their digestive system

 

The type of wood in the shavings is also something to consider. Pine shavings are best, because cedar shavings give off fumes that can harm the chicks. So stick with pine and you can’t go wrong. 

 

Newsprint, Paper Towels, & Cloth Towels

Something else that’s pretty popular to use is newspaper and/or towels. These are both okay, and I’ll use them in a pinch. However, the newspaper is not very absorbent.

 

For example, if they spill their water, you’re going to have a mess. And the last thing that you want is for baby chicks to get wet – because once they get wet, they get cold. And then once they get cold, they stop eating.

 

Newsprint also has ink on it, which might harm your chicks. We don’t know exactly what’s in these newsprint inks!

 

I’ve used towels before and they’re okay. But they’re not very absorbent for smells. If your chicks poop on towels (and they will), it can smell a lot more than shavings because there’s nothing to mask the smell.

 

Sand

Sand is another bedding that’s become more popular in the past few years. Sand is not my favorite for a few different reasons. 

 

The particles are pretty small, so the chicks are going to try and eat it. Additionally, you don’t really know what’s on it. Chemicals? Loads of bacteria? You get the point.

 

It also doesn’t absorb very well. Your chickens will be pooping on the sand, which means it’ll smell in the rain.

 

A lot of people like sand because it’s easy to clean. While it is a little bit like kitty litter, it doesn’t absorb the smell very well, and it gets mushy and gross.

 

Personally, I don’t use it and to the people who follow me, I don’t really recommend it for baby chicks.

 

Hay and Straw

I’ve used hay and straw in the past. Hay is not quite as good as straw. Straw tends to be more absorbent, and it is easier to get. It’s little more sterile than hay. 

 

Hay could have bugs in it. It could have seeds from who knows what weeds, which can poison your chicks.

 

They’re pretty good substitutes for shavings when you can’t get shavings. They’re not super absorbent, and they don’t really mask the smell. 

 

With straw and especially hay, I’ve found you have to clean it two or three times a day to keep the scent down. As your chicks get older, and they start eating more, and their poop starts to get stinkier, a brooder with hay or straw can turn into a gross mess very quickly. So that’s another reason why I just prefer shavings. 

 

I hope this helps you decide which bedding for chickens is best for you!