There are so many different ways to brood chicks.
The first time we raised chicks we used a big metal water trough to house them. Last January, however, the trough was being used by the cow so that wasn’t going to work for us. We decided to buy a “chick starter kit” at the feed store. It came with a big roll of corrugated cardboard to use as a draft shield, a small feeder, a small waterer, and a small bag of chick mash starter feed. It was reasonably priced and easy to assemble.
We started with the cardboard in a circle and the diameter was smaller than it could be since they were so little. We knew we could expand it later when they got bigger. It was about 3 feet across to start. We set up a 250 watt heat lamp with a red bulb. We put it up in a way that it could easily be raised up as the chicks got older and didn’t need so much heat.
The first week the heat was at 95 degrees Fahrenheit. We measured it the day before they arrived and kept adjusting the lamp up and down until we got it to just the right spot. We measured the temperature with a thermometer placed just outside the center of the circle of light.
The first day the chicks came we had covered the pine shavings we were using for litter with newspaper. The chicks need to realize right away where food and water is, and sometimes get confused and can eat the litter instead of their food. But it isn’t good to keep them on newspapers for long because it can cause problems with their legs.
The food and water were just along the outer edge of the heat/light circle. As we took the chicks out of their traveling box we gently dipped their beaks into the water and then put them down right next to the waterer. Some ran away and some stayed right there and started drinking right away. Within 5 minutes of us having all of them out of the box and into the brooder they were all eating and drinking like crazy. They also were spending a lot of time under the heat lamp warming themselves.
On day two we removed the newspapers, exposing the shavings. The chicks did peck at the shavings a lot, but they survived, so they must have not eaten them and continued eating their food.
The first two days we put 3 Tablespoons of sugar per quart of water into the chick water to help with the stress of travel. After that we just gave them plain water. We cleaned and replaced the water every day and refilled the food as necessary.
Here is a photo of our brooding set-up in the beginning.
As they grew, we continued to move the light up to decrease their warmth 5 degrees each week. We got a bigger feeder because they were emptying theirs in half a day. It also became time for them to have more space. And at about 2 weeks of age they began flapping around and jumping up. They were able to easily roost on the feeder and we were starting to worry one would get out of the brooder and then freeze to death. It was time for a lid.
My husband built the lid with a wood frame and put screen over it. It had a hole for the heat lamp to continue to raise up through, and so the heat lamp wouldn’t burn anything. We hinged it to the wall in the mud room. Then we put up what we call a dog x-pen that we had and put the cardboard draft shield we were using before along the inside bottom of the pen.
This set-up worked great for them from about 2 weeks on. We moved them to their new coop at 4 weeks (still using a heat lamp to keep them warm) because of the chick dust in the mud room, but they would have easily fit in this set-up until 6 weeks. If we had kept them in this longer we were planning to add a little roost across the back for them.
This most recent round of chicks started in a large Rubbermaid bin when it was just the two girls. But when we added the ten more it was clear that small of a set-up wouldn’t work. So we again set up the dog x-pen with the cardboard draft shield and the lid (which we kept) just like what we did in January. We haven’t needed the 250 watt bulb this time though, just a 100 watt blue bulb since it has been so warm.
This time I don’t want them to stay in the mud room for longer than a couple of weeks if I can help it. The chick dust is just so darn annoying and we store a lot of coats, shoes, and milking supplies in the mud room that made clean-up last time a nightmare. So we are building what we are calling a “growing out pen” in the barn. Really it is multi-purpose and can be used for many things in the future. But right now I am discussing using it specifically to grow out the chicks. If you have followed our farm long you remember the rooster getting put in an isolation pen.
So our plan from here forward with brooding chicks will be to put them in the dog x-pen set-up in the mud room for the first couple of weeks so we can keep a closer eye on them, and then move them up to the growing out pen in the barn until they are integrated into the flock. This of course also depends on how many we are brooding. We might have to come up with a different plan as things happen, which is a flexibility we are finding constantly necessary on this journey in homesteading. 🙂