Friday, April 5, 2013

Making a brooder

When we started talking about getting chickens, I was initially scared about the idea of raising baby chicks. I worried that I wouldn't be able to take care of them and they would not survive the several weeks of brooding. Turns out, chicks are relatively easy to care for. They really just need a simple setup and a good heat source.

Making a brooder

A brooder is basically a nursery for your chicks. Some people use a cardboard box, an already set-up chicken coop, or a storage container. We chose a storage container - a clear one so we would be able to see our girls all the time. When they are little, they can't fly a whole lot but as they develop their wings, they will be able to "jump" pretty high. A tall container or a lid are needed to keep the girls in place. Our house has a cat and a dog, so the safest place for our chicks is inside the container. I wouldn't want a chick to fly out and unexpectedly become dinner for one of our other pets.

Our brooder is a simple storage container (I think it is 45 gallons). We figure that this might not be big enough to contain six pullets, so we will probably upgrade at some point to another storage container that we already have that is 120 gallons.

On the lid, I had my husband Mike cut a hole in the center and put in mesh wire. He used bolts to keep it in place. This is a sturdy place to put the brooder light on. 

*Warning about brooder lights* They are really hot! If you are not careful with them, you could burn things or start a fire.

We picked a 250 watt bulb not realizing that probably a 100 watt bulb would work with our small set-up. The chicks need the temperature to be about 95 degrees the first week and then reduced by about five degrees each week after that. When we started testing to see how hot the light would keep our brooder, the thermometer stopped registering. It was over 120 degrees in there! Luckily Mike is an engineer and loves to come up with inventive ways of doing things. He picked up a dimmer at the hardware store and spliced it into an extension cord. Now we can use the dimmer to control the heat on our lamp. 

Another easy fix if your bulb is getting too hot is to purchase a stand for the lamp. Then you can simply move the lamp further or closer to the chicks to keep them at the needed temperature. This is recommended, but we were not able to find one so easily. You really have to play around with this configuration to find an ideal temperature. I recommend turning it on a couple of days before bringing your chicks home to make sure it is ready to go when they arrive.

We filled the container with pine shavings and a simple outdoor thermometer. 

The other items we purchased were a waterer and a feeder. We placed both on five pound weight plates that were just sitting in our fitness room. With the waterer and feeder elevated, the chicks are less likely to kick shavings and poop into the food and water. We started our chicks on non-medicated chick crumbles. 

With this set up we were good to go! 

Supplies needed for a brooder:
A container or box to keep them in
A brooder lamp with bulb (100-250 Watts)
Thermometer to regulate temperature
Bedding (Pine shavings work nicely)
Waterer and feeder: our feed store had ones that are made for chicks that work great for our set-up

This is pretty much it. Chicks need to stay inside for about six weeks, long enough for their feathers to fluff out. After that, they should be able to handle outside temperatures.