How do I set up a brooder for my baby chicks?

So you're going to be a chick parent and need to get their living space set up. I can help with that. 

First it's important to understand there are many different styles of brooders one can choose from and it would be impossible to explain them all. So, I will stick to the basics and you can use this information to help narrow down the best brooder options for your needs. 

Brooder Set Up:

  • Heat Lamp -- Choose a red bulb heat lamp light or a ceramic heat lamp bulb. I personally recommend a ceramic heat lamp bulb over the red bulb. The red bulb is more of a fire hazard and even though the chicks can't see red, they obviously still see because my chicks are still active at night with a red heat lamp as opposed to a ceramic lamp with no light at all. I believe they likely see the way we see infrared.

    ** When installing heat lamp do not have it cover the whole brooder. Only heat one half with lamp and the other end is the shady or cool spot. Chicks need to be able to regulate body temperature by going away from heat source to cool down or they can overheat and die.

    You can also consider any style heat plates for even safer option. They are costly but you don't deal with the heat lamp safety issues.
  • Brooder Temperature -- Start off a 95°F and go down 5 degrees each week until chicks are 6 weeks. Learn the right way and help avoid mistakes here. At 6 weeks and fully feathered they can go outside. Learn more about when chicks can go outside.
  • Bedding -- Do not use cedar or newspaper; I advise against sand too. Options: Pine shavings, straw, puppy pads (until they start to scratch and shred it), clean chemical free hay.
  • Adequate ventilation -- Chickens are sensitive to respiratory sensitivity and illnesses. It’s important to keep chicks in a location where there is adequate ventilation and clean, fresh air safe away from fumes or dusty air.
  • Brooder box -- can be made from storage totes or built from chicken safe wood. If you use storage totes I highly recommend getting a clear one so you can see them at all times. This helps to reduce unnecessary deaths because you didn't see an issue before it was too late. With a solid floor it can be easily cleaned and filled with bedding.

    If you build from wood be sure to use hardware cloth to wrap around 3 out of 4, or all 4 sides. This improves ventilation and visibility. If you are going to use straw, hay, or pine straw make sure to not have the hardware cloth go to the bottom or else that bedding can be kicked out and make a mess. Instead put a floor board type catch there. Or, build a hardware cloth flooring and put a tray underneath the catch the waste.

    For the lid, a lid crafted with chicken wire helps to keep baby chicks in brooder when they start to want to fly. If somehow they escape, they usually chirp for help to return to brooder when they realize how vulnerable they are after escaping. So if you hear loud chirps. Go check on them.
  • Clean and sterilize brooder before use. Using white vinegar and warm water mixture, purple organic cleaner, peroxide, or any chicken safe cleaner that can also disinfect bacteria. Be sure to do a final rinse to be safe. Just make sure there is no vinegar or chemical smell after dry and before use.
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