If you plan on your hens laying fertile eggs and then hatching more chickens, you’re going to need to know how to brood baby chicks. Luckily, with a little background information and some basic tools or supplies, just about anybody can get started brooding baby chicks.
The Basics of Brooding
While there are incredible options for just about any size or type of brooder that’s fully equipped with god knows what, many of these options are more or less meant for serious flock owners and farmers. For example, an average backyard farm with only a few chickens isn’t going to require you to spend thousands of dollars on a stack of brooders that’s almost as tall as you are. Most backyard farmers and/or novice flock owners can get by brooding newborn baby chicks in something as simple as your bathtub. As long as you have food and water as well as a dry and warm environment, you can brood baby chicks just about anywhere. Though where and how you brood your birds isn’t going to be extremely difficult, it is extremely important. Developing baby chicks are fragile little birds who need your help in growing up to be healthy and happy mature chickens.
Brooding your chicks in your bathtub or any type of enclosed space inside your home eliminates the problem of fluctuating temperatures and other climate concerns that come with brooding outside. You want to maintain a temperature of at least 95°F throughout the first week your chicks spend in the brooder, which needless to say can be quite difficult outside, especially if you’re in a colder climate or are deeper into fall or winter.
The Keys to Successful Brooding
To make your chicks happy and ensure they develop healthily, you need to provide them ample space, food, water, and heat. Overcrowding can be an issue in your brooder for a number of reasons. First of all, your chicks grow very fast. Be careful when sizing your brooder for your chicks because they get very large, very fast. In only a week or two they’ll be much bigger than when they hatched which makes it extremely important to account for that growth when devising a brooder. Overcrowding can also be a problem because of temperature disparity. If the brooder is too hot, the chicks may crowd around the edges of the brooder. If it is too cold they will all crowd under the heat source. A comfortable temperature will allow your birds to move freely and comfortably about the brooder. This also raises the concern of having corners in your brooder. If your chickens want to crowd into the corner because it is too hot or for other reasons, having corners will make it too easy for your birds to potentially smother another chick in the corner. Rounded corners help small and trapped birds squeeze out from under their friends.
As we mentioned earlier, your brooder should be between 95°F and 100°F during the first week your chicks spend inside the brooder. A good way to achieve this is by using a 60-100 watt light bulb that is raised 18-20 off the ground. These bulbs can typically give off enough heat to satisfy 12-24 chicks in your brooder. You should decrease the temperature by about 5°F every week until it’s at about 70°F. Then you can remove the chicks from the brooder. One way flock owners decrease the temperature effectively is by raising the light bulb away from the brooder around 3 every week. While these guidelines tend to work, there’s no better way to gauge the well-being of your chicks than by just looking into the brooder. Don’t follow the guideline if it is causing your chicks to crowd around the edges of the brooder out of heat exhaustion. You must adjust accordingly using your own eyes as the final judge.
Feed and water are obviously extremely important as well. In just 14 days your chicks will need twice as much water as they did upon hatching. 14 days after that they’ll double their intake again! We’ll say it again, chickens grow fast! Mason jar waterers and feeders are popular choices for feeding and watering chicks. They are usually very cheap and feature metal or plastic bases that prevent your chicks from either drowning or getting wet, cold, and potentially perishing. Vitamin and electrolyte-enhanced water and feed is also a popular option to stimulate growth and development. There are also specific feeds designed for chicks that are often called chick starter rations or something similar to that. It’s imperative to keep the feeders and waterers no more than two feet from the heat source. If it’s farther than that your chicks might get lost looking for it or won’t associate the heat source with being close to their feed and water. More so than feed, it’s always important to ensure your birds have access to water and their water source is never empty. You’ll quickly find out that you’ll need to upgrade the size of your waterer quite often in order to quench the ever growing thirst of your baby chicks.
Brooding chicks is as fun as it is fulfilling. Nurturing your own hatch of birds will change the way you see your flock and poultry raising in general!