Of all the things we have to tend to when setting up for new chicks, brooders seem to be left for last, while poorly executed brooding accounts for a significant percentage of premature deaths in chicks all across the country. Here are some quick but important tips to help ensure successful brooding:
Brooders need to be roomy : It’s true that chicks are small and they occupy almost no significant amount of space… but they are messy, and their needs include the ability to move into and out of warm spots, get away from other chicks, and get away from dirty bedding. You also need room for feed and water. While it’s true that you can brood chicks in a tub, plastic tote, or even a cardboard box, you want to make sure you are not overcrowding the space you have.
Brooders need to be the right temperature for chicks’ age : Chicks under a week old have different temperature requirements than chicks that are 3 weeks old. Mail-order chicks generally need 100-105 degree heat for at least eight hours while they recover from travel stress. A heat lamp will accomplish this. Be sure you set it up securely and check the temp before the chicks arrive to make sure it’s ready for them! Be aware that heat plates often do not provide this extra heat required for mail-order chicks in their first crucial days.
Even week old chicks will want to get out of the hot areas once in a while. Set up your heat source so that it’s not too hot or too cold, but also so there is room for chicks to get completely out of the heat if they need to. Putting your heat source to one side of the brooder will leave them a “cool side” to retreat to if they get too hot.
Put a poultry thermometer in there!
Brooders need to be fully enclosed but ventilated : Chicks can and will jump and climb and flap their way out of an open-top brooder eventually. They will find gaps and holes and, here’s some news: they can fit through chicken wire. A day-old chicks will squeeze through most common fence or wire materials with openings larger than half an inch. If you check local feed stores or hardware stores who sell chicks in the spring, you’ll see that many of them use very deep wash tubs that are two feet or more in depth and they still put a mesh top on them. The tops might be hog panels, but there is some kind of a cover up there that will keep other animals out.
Hang your heat lamp so that chicks can escape the heat; use a mesh-type top let excess heat out and keep chicks in
Brooders, like incubators, need to be set up in advance and checked to make sure they can do the job. You wouldn’t try to hatch eggs in a incubator where you hadn’t even tested to see if it hit the right temp yet, so why would you put chicks into a brooder without knowing if it keeps the temperature where it needs to be? The brooder should be in as draft-free an area as is practical, have a heat source, and there should be a thermometer visible in the heated area down at chick level so you know what the temp is where they are. We cannot over-emphasize that too much heat can be just as deadly to chicks as too much cold.
Be sure to check our Guide To Raising Mail-Order Chicks for a quick overview of the potential differences between brooding mail-order cheeps versus those that you hatch yourself.
Do you have any must-have brooder advice that we missed with this Quick Tip list? Let us know in the comments. We look forward to hearing from you.