On my first Urban Chicken Keeping 101 post I wrote about looking up your city ordinances, selecting breeds and ordering chicks. I’ve since decided to make this a 3 part series to cover tending to baby chicks and hens including their brooders and coops, separately. Today, In part 2 we’ll cover taking care of baby chicks and frugal simple brooders you can make at home.
(One thing to remember, there are many different methods and ways to raise baby chicks. What I am sharing is what has worked for me. Feel free to research and experiment to find what will work best for you.)
All About Brooders
A brooder is a temporary shelter for baby chicks where the temperature can be regulated. Since they don’t have their mama hen to keep them warm by sitting on them, we must imitate those conditions until they are around 6 weeks old and can be transitioned outdoors.
Before you bring your furry balls of cuteness home, the most important thing is to create a brooder and gather a few supplies to create a warm and healthy environment for your new chicks.
Brooders can be as luxurious or as simple as a cardboard box.
People have used kiddie swimming pools, custom built boxes and plastic tubs. As long as the shelter is draft free, your chicks should stay nice and toasty.
I use one of my extra large dog kennels that I have for my German Shepherd Dogs.
In order to keep it draft free I place cardboard around the perimeter of the dog kennel.
There are only a handful of items that you’ll need to pick up for your brooder.
1. Heat Lamp
You can purchase a heat lamp from your local farming supply store, feed and garden store or online. I enjoyed using my dog kennel as I could string the heat lamp through the top bars.
With the heat lamp you’ll also need to purchase a regular 100 volt lightbulb or a red 250 volt heat lamp bulb. I have personally used a 100 volt lightbulb when raising a handful of chicks at a time, inside my house and didn’t need the excess heat. Once I started raising 10-15 chicks at a time, outdoors, I made sure to use a 250 volt red heat lamp bulb.
When you bring your day old chicks home, you’ll also need to adjust the height of the heat lamp to give them enough heat. I believe at the beginning I made sure my heat lamp was hung 6″ from the ground.
How do you know if the chicks are getting enough heat?
If your chicks sleep directly underneath the heat lamp, they are too cold. You’ll need to lower the heat lamp. If your chicks sleep way outside the perimeter of the heat lamp, they are too hot. You’ll need to raise the heat lamp. If they lay and sleep right below the circular edge of the heat lamp, they are just right.
As your chicks get older, you’ll notice their pattern. Once you start to see them move farther away from the heat source above, raise the heat lamp a couple inches. Once they are about 6 weeks, they will no longer need the heat source.
2. A waterer and feeder
Again, you can pick these up at the farming supply store, feed and garden store or purchase online. The waterer and feeder above are perfectly sized for baby chicks. You want to make sure to not get a large waterer as they can accidentally drown. As they get older, which happens quickly, you can purchase a larger waterer and feeder. Once they get to the coop, you can hang the larger ones as well.
There are a variety of different absorbent items you can use for their bedding. Pine shavings, shredded news/paper, paper towels and straw are among the most popular. Very importantly, you’ll want to make sure to avoid flat newspaper as their bedding. The slippery surface can cause a deformity called, “splayed leg.”
This can lead to the other chicks pecking on the deformed legged chick to death and if it survives you’ll need to deal with a deformed chicken. Another item to avoid is cedar shavings. The oils in the wood can irritate the lungs in the chicks leading to later respiratory issues.
One thing you’ll find out right away is that chicks poop… A LOT! Make sure to change their bedding frequently.
4. Roosting Poles
Baby chicks just like full grown chickens love to roost. It’s very simple to add a roosting bar to your brooder giving them the opportunity to roost. Is this necessary, no… but your chicks will love it!
Personally, my chicks come unvaccinated and I feed them an unmedicated feed. For others, if there chicks have not been vaccinated they sell a medicated feed said to keep your chicks healthy for the first 3-4 months of life. It’s up to you whether you want to feed your chicks a medicated feed or not.
They sell everything from medicated feed, unmedicated feed to organic starter feed. Depending on what you buy, the mix should let you know how many weeks you need to feed your chick starter feed before moving to layer or broiler feed.
You’ve picked up your furry balls of cuteness, now what?
As soon as you bring them home, one by one, place each of the chicks beak into the waterer of their brooder. This usually teaches them right away where the water is. It’s so cute to watch them realize what it is and start drinking water right away.
For the first 2-3 weeks you’ll want to keep a constant eye on them checking them at least 5 times per day. Do they look warm enough? Are they eating? Are they drinking? Also, you’ll want to keep an eye out for “pasting up.”
Pasting up is a condition in which their droppings cake up and block their vent opening, preventing them from passing any more droppings. This is a deadly condition if left “pasted up” and must be dealt with immediately. If you see signs of caked up poop, all you need to do is run warm water and gently wipe away the poop from their vent. Continually make sure to check that the chicks continue to poop on their own.
In the first 2-3 weeks I check my chicks vents every day.
Besides regularly changing their bedding, really all you need to do is make sure they’re eating, drinking and pooping.
You’ll find that the chicks grow and change quickly. After about 3-4 weeks, weather permitting, you can take them outside for a couple hours to enjoy the fresh air.
Chicks turn into chickens quickly
One thing you’ll learn right away is that chicks turn into chickens quickly. If keeping your brooder indoors, you’ll need to realize that the older they get, the more mess and smell they’ll create. Really, after 4 weeks, you’ll be anxious to have them outdoors.
Many people order their chicks early Spring. However, in my region, with colder weather, I now wait until the end of May or first of June to order my chicks. This allows me to raise my chicks in my garage and with the warmer weather, move them outdoors more quickly. If you’re raising layers, this means they’ll start laying towards the end of the year and if you’re raising broilers, they’ll be ready for harvest in the Fall.
As long as they’re outside of my house, I’m okay with that schedule.
Urban Chicken Keeping 101, Part 3 – Chickens and Coops