Setting up a brooder for chicks is simple with only a few necessary supplies. I’ll show you our set up for our eighteen baby chicks, specifically for the first two weeks. I’ll share about our brooder container and our bedding and heat source choices. I’ll also go over basic chick care. Hopefully this post will help you as you’re preparing for your own little flock!
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What is a Brooder for Chicks?
A brooder is the place you raise your chicks indoors until they are ready to go out to their coop. It’s a place where your chicks will stay warm and protected while they grow.
We have eighteen chicks that we ordered online from Murray McMurray Hatchery. We had a wonderful experience with this hatchery. They were so helpful when we had to make changes to our order, and the chicks arrived at our post office in great condition.
We ordered a variety of friendly breeds for a colorful egg basket later. Our brooder was all set up by the time the post office called to tell us our chicks had arrived. That day will surely be the highlight of our summer!
We ordered chicks in the middle of summertime because our coop wasn’t going to be finished in the spring.
Our chicks are now over two weeks old. They have almost doubled in size already with wing and tail feathers growing in.
We enjoy handling the them daily. We are hoping for some really friendly chickens later.
There are different options for what you can use as a brooder for chicks. For the first few weeks, we are using a galvanized stock tank that we received from a neighbor. It’s not suitable for watering horses anymore because of holes in the bottom. We put duct tape over the holes and put the tank on a drop cloth to protect our floor.
We will cover the top with chicken wire soon since the chicks are almost to the point where they can fly out.
It’s roomy enough for now, but we’ll be building a bigger brooder box in a couple weeks since we have so many chicks in here.
How Big Should a Brooder for Chicks Be?
I’ve heard some conflicting information about brooder size per chick, but here is a good rule of thumb:
- Weeks 1-4 = a half square foot per chick
- Weeks 4-8 = one square foot per chick
You want enough room so they don’t peck each other or pile on each other. Make sure your brooder is set up and your heat source has been warming up for at least an hour before your baby chicks arrive.
Chick Brooder Bedding
We started out the first week using industrial hemp bedding that we purchased for our chicken coop. We’re excited to use this in our coop later for the deep litter method. It’s absorbent and composts well.
However, our chicks seemed to be eating a worrying amount of this bedding even during week two.
We switched to using pellet stove pellets, and we’ve found these work great for our chicks! The pellets are made of pine and no chemicals. They absorb moisture well and the chicks haven’t been eating it the way they were eating the hemp bedding.
The pellets break apart and become super dusty after they have absorbed a certain amount of moisture, but by then it’s time to change them out anyway.
We put in a thin branch and a piece of driftwood in the brooder for the chicks to perch on, purely for their entertainment.
Chick Brooder Heating Plate
Chick brooder temperature is one of the most important factors in the beginning when brooding chicks.
You will know if your chicks are warm and comfortable if they stay fairly quiet with soft peeps. They will peep loudly when they are scared or cold. If the heat source is too hot, they will avoid it and stay to the edges of the brooder.
When the temperature is just right, they will go back and forth between the heat source and exploring, eating, and drinking.
Chicks need to have a heat source that is 90-95°F the first week.
Each week after, the temperature needs to decrease by five degrees until the chicks are at 70°F. They can acclimate to the outdoors once they are fully feathered (around 6 weeks old).
You can use a heat lamp with a red bulb as your heat source, but we went a different route and purchased a Premier Chick Brooder Heating Plate. It’s a heating plate on four legs that we can continue to raise as the chicks grow. We got the 12’x12′ size which is recommended for up to 20 chicks. It’s only 22 watts per hour to run.
There is less risk of fire with a heat plate than with a heat lamp, and the chicks love being able to hide underneath it the way they would hide under a mother hen to get warm. They can come out once they are warm to explore and find food and water. They seem to love it.
The chicks also love sitting on top of the heat plate, which brings me to the one drawback: the chicks frequently defecate all over the top of the plate.
Once more consideration for the heat plate: you will need to provide some dim light for your chicks at night the first couple of weeks so they don’t pile on each other.
Chick Feeder and Waterer
Chicks need constant access to chick feed and clean water.
I’ve put our feeder and waterer up on a cinder block to keep the chicks from scratching bedding into their food and water, which has helped.
This setup has worked great overall while the chicks are small. We’ll switch to a bigger feeder and waterer when the need arises.
Chick Feed and Care
Now I’ll go into more detail about how we feed our chicks and care for their health.
Medicated Chick Starter/Grower Feed
We feed our chicks a medicated starter/grower feed. We had them vaccinated against Merek’s disease (a type of chicken herpes) at the hatchery. We chose not to vaccinate against coccidiosis (a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract).
We decided to go with medicated feed instead as a preventative measure against coccidiosis, but some people choose to medicate only if a problem arises. You can do your own research to determine which route is best for you as far as vaccinations and feed options go.
You won’t want to offer oyster shells or layer feed to chicks. These contain extra calcium which is essential for laying hens but harmful to chicks.
We take our chicks on an (almost) daily short field trip to our dirt outside to help them build immunity to the organisms in the soil. They love to dust bathe by rolling in the dirt and kicking it around. I’m sure it’s the highlight of their day! You could also bring some soil in to your chick brooder in a small pan.
We supplemented our chicks with McMurray Hatchery’s Quik-Chik vitamin and electrolyte powder in their water continually through day five to give them a boost. Now we add it only once a week.
We also give the chicks plain Greek yogurt here and there for a source of probiotics, through you can also purchase probiotic supplements for chicks.
It’s necessary to give chicks access to chick grit once they begin eating anything besides chick starter. Our chicks find plenty of grit in our granit-laden mountain soil when we take them outside. For this reason, we haven’t purchased grit at this time.
Chicks commonly get “pasty butt” during the first week. This is where their droppings stick to their down and plug their vent so they can’t relieve themselves. They can die if this isn’t taken care of in a timely manner. I just hold a soppy warm washcloth on the area to soften everything until I can wipe it away. You don’t want to rip the dried droppings off or you risk tearing the skin.
I apply petroleum jelly to the chick’s clean vent with a cotton swab to prevent the problem from occurring again.
Treats for Chicks
We gave our chicks their first real treat at the two week mark: scrambled eggs. The eggs were definitely a hit.
Treats should only make up about 5% of the chicks’ diet so they get enough nutrition from their feed. Here is an article with a list of treats that are good for baby chicks.
I will use treats to teach the chicks to come when I call “chick, chick, chick!” so they will come to me as grown chickens when I need them to.
Overall, chick care is fairly minimal and straightforward. Your main concerns when setting up a brooder for chicks are a properly sized container, bedding, a heat source, and a feeder and waterer.
Once you make decisions about vaccinations and feed and supplement choices, a few simple first aid supplies will keep you prepared.
Let me know if you have any questions for me after reading this post!