While there are some important aspects of brooding to ensure a healthy chick, setting up a homemade brooder does not have to be complicated, or expensive.
In fact, setting up a homemade brooder can be quite simple and affordable.
A brooder basically contains five components: A container to keep the chicks contained and secure, bedding for the bottom of the brooder container, feeder, waterer, and a heat source. If you want to include a sixth item, it would be some wire or netting to prevent the chicks from trying to fly out when they get a little older.
Some creative-yet-functional brooders I have seen over the years include old cast iron claw bathtubs, old non-functional refrigerators that have been laid on their backs with the doors removed, large metal and/or rubber water troughs, large plastic storage bins, round plastic kiddie pools, and even old non-functioning hot tubs! As you can see, people can get quite creative with a homemade brooder.
People with wood-working skills often make custom brooders, but these can be hard to clean and disinfect unless you use some kind of liner to protect the floor under the bedding. I’ve seen a few folks use large cardboard boxes, but these get soggy from both the waterer spilling, and from the chicken waste, not to mention the increased fire risk depending on the heat source you use.
Now, lets briefly talk about each component that completes a brooder.
The brooder container
Ideally, you want a brooder container that has high sides to make it more difficult for the chicks to escape when they get older. You want to brooder to be somewhat elongated so the chicks have room to move away from the heat source of they get too hot.
It’s in your best interest (and the chicks’ also) for the material to be easy to clean and disinfect.
There are several types of bedding you can use. You want bedding to be soft and absorbent. The most common and recommended is pine wood shavings. They are for the most part inexpensive and plentiful. Aspen shavings are also acceptable, but they are more expensive, and seem to be finer/smaller than pine wood shavings.
Straw and hay are not personally my favorite, but can be used when chopped into smaller pieces.
While cedar shavings are often frowned upon, I have yet in over s decade not found a study that actually proves they are harmful to chicks in a brooder. That said, there are studies that show cedar shavings can be harmful to other small animals that spend a lot of time in and around it. So, most just end up using one of the other types of bedding in their brooders.
You want about two to three inches of bedding in the bottom of your brooder, and your nose and eyes will tell you when it’s time to change the bedding.
There are several watering systems available for brooders today. The most common are the small plastic quart or one-gallon waterers you set right on top of the bedding. Most come with a red base to attract the chicks to it. You will want to raise this type of waterer as the chicks grow. Setting it on a concrete paver or bricks will do the trick.
Adding some shiny marbles into the base will not only attract chicks to the waterer, but prevent the chicks from walking, laying, and falling asleep in the water trough.
They also make this size of plastic waterer that hangs by a chain. This helps with waste and prevents a lot of bedding from being scratched into the waterer, but many brooder designs don’t have any way to allow a hanging waterer.
Nipple waterers have become very popular lately. I like them because you will never have to clean out bedding from accumulating in the water trough. This saves you a lot of time, and ensures the chicks always have access to a water source that’s not filled with bedding.
Make sure you place the waterer as far away from the heat source as possible because you want the chicks to have access to cool, fresh water 24/7.
There are several types of feeders available for brooders. Most look similar to the plastic waterers described above, and come with some of the same challenges.
The common plastic feeders sit directly on the bedding. Raising the feeder up on pavers or bricks as the chicks grow will reduce waste and limit bedding from filling the trough. Some plastic feeders are also designed to hang, but again, most brooders don’t have an easy way to hang feeders and waterers from above.
Be sure to keep feed available for your chicks 24/7. You always want to keep those feeders and waterers full!
Yes, new baby chicks raised in brooders need a heat source. The most common heat source is a $12.00 heat lamp. I despise these because they seem to be the cause of a large number of fires each year. In fact, a couple of years ago, a woman in Maine was killed in a house fire due to a blaze caused by a heat lamp used in a chick brooder.
I understand they are economical, but if you choose to use one I can’t stress enough to make sure you secure the heat lamp using several methods.
A safer heat source for your brooder would be either the Brinsea Eco Glow brooder heater, or the Sweeter Heater. Yes, they are more expensive, but they will save you energy costs versus a heat lamp, and they may save your home, and even your life!
I mentioned a possible sixth item that—depending on the type of brooder you use—may come in handy.
You will find that between seven to fourteen days, the chicks will try to fly on top of the waterer, feeder, and even heat source depending on which kind you use. From there, they will fly over to the edge of the brooder, and then from there, out all over your floor!
Simple chicken wire or poultry netting will do the trick to eliminate this inconvenience. Otherwise, happy brooding!
Until next time,
Power to the Poultry!
Written by Andy Schneider, aka The Chicken Whisperer
Published : 02/05/2018 - 8:00am
- Chicken Brooding
- Chicken Wire
- Heat Lamps