7 Essentials for Chick Starting (brooding)

We posted a blog post last week that details how we’ve managed our chick brooders in the past and what we’re doing this year, but we just wanted to give you a quick run-down of what we think are brooder essentials. These are all things that you need to have in place BEFORE you bring home any chicks.

1. Brooder – I mean, seriously, this is important. You’re going to need a draft-free space with some side-walls and possibly a top if you don’t have a dedicated building for brooding. We do our brooding in the garage, so we screw together some 2’ tall plywood walls set over a tarp and put some kind of mesh over the top. Shoot for ½ sq. ft. per bird to allow them plenty of space to grow. We use pine shaving flakes on the floor and freshen them as they are soiled.


2. Heat lamp(s) – Baby chicks need it warm. Pretty much everything you read will say that it should be 95 degree F for the first week in the brooder. We accomplish this by hanging a ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>heat lamp or two (depending on how big the brooder is) off the wall of the brooder so that the bulb is about 18” from the floor. ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Red lights are supposed to minimize pecking and be less detrimental to their sleep cycle, so we use them, but we’ve never had a problem when we used clear bulbs in the past. We use the clamp that comes with the heat lamps, but also secure that to the wall with screws as a secondary safety. The last thing you want is your heat lamp to fall and set your house on fire. If the chicks are all piled up under the lamp and aren’t skittering about to get food and water, it’s likely not warm enough in your brooder. You can either lower your heat lamp or add another one to increase your heat. Some people put a thermometer at chick level to make sure the heat is correct, but we just observe the chicks and adjust accordingly. It’s a good idea to have your brooder set up and the heat lamp running the day before your chicks arrive to make sure it gets up to temperature and that your bulb is working. It’s also not a bad idea to have an extra bulb in case one burns out.
3. Feeder- We like to use cheap trough Feeders with a little spinner bar that keeps the chicks from standing in the feed. We have both plastic and metal versions and they both work fine. We’ve also used the little plastic Mason jar and those work fine, too, but don’t provide enough space for larger batches of birds. If you are just doing like 10 birds, they should suffice.
4. Waterer – We use plastic founts (waterer)that you just fill up with water and flip over after attaching the base. These allow water to drain down into the water pan as the birds drink it to keep a continuous supply of fresh water present in the brooder. We start with them directly on the pine shavings, but as the chicks grow we put them up on a wooden frame with some hardware cloth over it to keep chicks from kicking a bunch of pine shavings in the water. The ones we use for our bigger batches of chicks hold 5 quarts and we tend to add fresh water once or twice a day as needed. Again, the little screw on trays that attach to mason jars work really well for a small number of birds and they are certainly a much cheaper option. They aren’t as stable, so it’s a good idea to have them on a solid platform. You also will have to replenish the water more often on those, but that just means you’re forced to spend more time with baby chicks and that’s never a bad thing.

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5. Feed – Make sure you have the appropriate feed for whatever type of poultry you’re bringing home. We are currently brooding a batch of Cornish X meat birds and a batch of heritage pullets, so we had to make sure that we had appropriate feed for both, given the Cornish have a higher protein requirement. With chickens, it’s pretty easy to find feed at your local farm store, but if you’re doing turkeys or something else, make sure you have a feed source before you order those birds. We’ve been using feed from our local farm store, but we’re excitedly placing our first order of organic, custom-milled grain from a regional mill right here in Kansas this week! If you can find a local mill you will likely get a much higher quality and less processed feed product at a lower price point (depending on the feed).
6. Plastic lids/plates – We like to give the baby chicks a little bit of plain yogurt to help establish good gut health for them. We just spoon a pile of it onto an old cottage cheese or yogurt lid (or plate, or shallow bowl, or…you get the picture) and mix it together with some of their feed to encourage them to eat it. You can also give free choice grit on these, but we tend to just sprinkle some on to their feed trough when we think about it after they’re about 2 weeks of age.
7. Coop – As you know, we’ve broken this one before, but it’s a REALLY good idea to have your coop built before you bring your chicks home. Sure you’ll have several weeks to finish it while they’re in the brooder, but wouldn’t you rather not have the stress of getting it done in time? There are so many coop designs to choose from, but I would highly encourage you to go ahead and build it much bigger than you think you need. Chicken math is real.

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Well, there you have it. As you can see, you don’t need much to get started with chickens. If you keep them fed, watered, clean, warm, and dry, you should be set up for success with your new flock!

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