Part 3: Keeping Chickens 101 Brooding Chicks
Part 3 is all about brooding chicks! Your backyard flock is now becoming a reality. You have picked out what type and breed of chicken you want—part 1 of this series. You have decided where to get your chicks from and how to select healthy ones - Part 2 of this series. Now you have your birds ( I will cover pullets & adults in Part 4) or chicks picked out and ready to get them home! But, WAIT!!!
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Please Don't Do What I Did!
Our next step is very critical to the success of raising healthy chicks and is where most people need to work on things. I know from personal experience. The first chicks we ever had, and I also had them mailed, which you have learned has its own set of issues, was a disaster! It is flat-out embarrassing how badly I messed up.
Not doing my research:
Thirteen years ago, I decided on a whim that I wanted chickens in my backyard. Not only did I spontaneously order some baby chicks online, but I also ordered bantam-breed chicks! Bantams are a tiny breed of chicken and are mainly used as pets because they are not meat birds or good layers. But my oldest was three then, and I just went with them because she and I thought they were so cute!
Not only did I have petite fragile chicks headed my way, but I also had no clue how to take care of them! Not doing my homework, I picked up my chicks and just brought them home. I was shocked to see how tiny they were!
Not having the right brooder equipment:
I did have enough sense to pick up food and water before they came, but the water bottle I had bought was way too big, and the food was too. I ended up putting them in my guest bathtub because that was the only safe place I had at the time that they couldn't squeeze through.
Quick google searches didn't exist then, and finding the information I needed to fix my problem seemed like an eternity. By the time I found it, all the local farm supply stores were closed (A Tractor Supply store wasn't in every midsized town, and we didn't even have a Super Walmart yet either!), so I had to wait it out until the next day.
Learning my lesson:
My daughter's joy quickly became sadness as the chicks got too cold, and one did not go "swimming" as she thought when it went inside the water bowl. Out of ten, we only had five left by the next day. Guess where I was the next morning when they opened?
I don't want that to happen to anyone else, so let's review the right things to get before your chicks come home!
When to get your brooding chick supplies:
You need to have your brooder set up the day before you pick up your chicks, or they will arrive in the mail.
*DO NOT plug in your heat lamp during this time!
Supplies needed for your chicks brooder:
- Heat Lamp
- Bedding Material
I will have a amazon link to all the supplies I love at the end!
Food & Water:
- Chicks will need small feeders and waterers initially. Bantam breeds and quail need special thin-rimmed waters. The thin rim keeps them from drowning. Then you will switch them to adult-sized feeders and waterers.
- Chicks must be on a particular medicated chick feed from the feed store. Once they are adults, switch to adult chicken feed.
Keep Them Warm:
- Chicks MUST have a heat lamp. Most chicks don't make it once they are home because the family did not know they needed a heat lamp.
- They must stay warm for several weeks before you can remove the heat lamp. Make sure your cage setup is safe for the heat lamp.
- Chicks will naturally regulate their temperature by moving under the light when cold and away from the lamp when they are too warm.
- Check it regularly to make sure they are warm enough or too hot.
- If the thought of a heat lamp scares you, a heating plate might be for you! They are a safer alternative. Heating Plates are better suited for certain brooder boxes too.
- There are a lot of options when it comes to brooders.
- We have used different types throughout the years.
- Your number of chicks will also determine your brooder's size. More chicks equal a bigger brooder.
- I like brooders with rounded sides instead of squares. Chicks will huddle together. We have found dead chicks stuck at the bottom of the huddle pile in our square brooders, not rounded ones.
- You can add cardboard to round out the sides of a square box.
- Once they get their true feathers which will keep them warm. You can move them into a chicken tractor. It is smaller and will keep them safe. I will cover chicken tractors in Part 4 of this series.
Here are some examples of brooders in the past:
- Wooden box, but it was heavy and hard to clean.
- Long tall, rectangle plastic Storage Boxes work very well! They are light and easy to clean. Just position your heat lamp so it will not fall into the brooder.
- When the chicks were out in the greenhouse, an old sandbox worked for us. Of course, the temps were cold outside, but the greenhouse and heat lamp made it perfect for the chicks. Once done, we lifted it and raked the shaving up for compost.
- Our favorite, which we have used for the past three years, is a large watering trough. It's made of thick plastic that is sturdy enough to hold the lamp securely. The trough is wide and long enough, giving the chicks plenty of room to walk around.
- Honestly hens are the best! I have hatched eggs before and then put the baby birds with a hen that has hatched her own and our hens have always taken them under as if they are theirs.
- Chicks will need plain wood shavings. Even though cedar smells better, avoid using it. It has the possibility of causing respiratory issues.
- We use a deep litter method that works well in our setup. The YouTube video below shows how we set up our brooder.
- What do I do with the soiled bedding? If you have a garden, chicken poop is an excellent fertilizer after composting it. The droppings are "HOT," so they will burn your veggies, don't put them directly on your plants. You will want to compost their bedding for about six months.
Setting Up Your Brooder:
Setting up your brooder is easy! I have an example in our FREE Keeping Chicken 101 Guide, link at the end of this post!
Set up for success:
Now you are all set up to raise chicks successfully! My story at the beginning was a warning, not a discouragement. If you follow the steps above, you will have a fun and magical time watching your baby chicks grow into beautiful birds.
Get your Brooding checklist:
If you still need to download our guide, grab your checklist here. If you have downloaded Keeping Chicken 101, no worries, you will receive an update with the latest pages, or depending on when you read this, they will already be all together!
I did a video several years ago about baby chicks a brooding. It's an old one but still packed with information! Video Link Here
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