Before you bring your new chicks home from the post office or the feed store, you should have a few things in place. Assuming you will be getting only a few birds to raise up to be layers, this plan works well for around 10 birds. Once you get the gist of it, you can set up additional brooders for larger amounts of chicks!!! You will need:
- heat lamp
- heat bulb
- large cardboard box
- wood 2x4
- wood shavings (not sawdust!)
- chick waterer
- chick feeder
- chick feed
- small size grit
Cardboard Box - get a clean refrigerator box from an appliance store. These have worked great for me, and you can cut it to the height you need, so as the chicks grow and attempt to pop up into the air, they won't pop over the top and outside the box! Yep - they are kinda like popcorn!
Feeder/Waterer - these can be purchased at the feed store or online.
Grit - because chickens don't have teeth, food goes directly into their crop, so they need to grind the food in order to utilize it properly. Small grit is the size you need for chicks, and as they grow into large birds you can increase the size they will need to medium grit.
A word on Chick Feed - there are plain feeds and medicated feeds on the market today. I have always purchased medicated feed to prevent such diseases as coccidiosis. Most poultry suppliers will vaccinate chicks for around fifty cents a bird, and that is well worth it. Medicated feed for the first month, in my opinion, is worth feeding as a preventative, and it costs the same amount per sack. Some folks, because of the popularity of organic farming, don't want vaccinations or medicated feed anywhere near their chicks. That is their choice, and there's nothing wrong with that. They may or may not have troubles with the health of their birds during the early stages of "chick-hood". I prefer as much certainty as possible, myself, and prevention is the best medicine!
Of course you can buy a brooder from a poultry supplier or from the feed store. But, this is what I do, and it's easy, inexpensive, and you can send it to the landfill when you are through and not have to store much at all!
Cut the cardboard box down to about a 3 ft. height, and fill with pine wood shavings. (Sawdust is too fine, and the chicks might ingest it, causing blockage and illness.) Fill the feeder and waterer, placing them in the box. Then, grab each chick, dip their beaks into the water so they will start to drink. Don't dip so far as to let water enter their nostrils! Just wet the beak! Then, take the long 2x4 (it should be long enough to cross the top of the box and stay put, without falling into the box) and clamp the heat lamp onto it and plug it in. That's all there is to it!
Watch the chicks, and if they huddle together near the heat, you may have to lower the lamp an inch or so. If they try to go way to the sides of the box away from the lamp, they are too warm, so raise the lamp a bit higher. If they are walking around all over the box, napping and eating and drinking, they are ju-u-u-ust RIGHT!
You will have to keep an eye on how they are positioning themselves if you have them in an outbuilding and the weather is changing daily, like in early spring. As they grow larger and the down is replaced by feathers, you may not need to use the lamp during the day - only at night if it turns cold. But that's it for brooding in the brooder - pretty simple, and nothing to be afraid of. If I can do it, you can too!
Keep it Simple!