Now that most of the chicks have hatched out, they’re ready for the next leg of their journey. Here at our home they’re going straight from the incubator to the Brooder Spa. The brooder is a warm, comfortable place where the chicks feel safe and have all of their physical needs met. They get to sleep, scratch, drink and eat.
I made a simple brooder from a cardboard box. I used one of the tall moving boxes that are used for hanging clothing. I taped it up on both ends and laid it on its side, so that the long part could be used as a spacious floor. Then I used a utility knife to cut the new top open. I cut down the middle and then on the sides, making two long flaps that could open and close. Inside the box I put a few layers of newsprint, then about 3 inches of pine shavings. I did not use cedar shavings, because I have been told that the smell is bad for the chicks. Shavings are an important layer – they are not too slippery for walking, which can result in deformed feet, and they also give the chicks something to scratch, which they do instinctively. On top of the pine shavings I put down a layer of paper towels, following the advice in my handy book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. The idea is that the chicks will make the effort to find their feeder more easily if they aren’t put directly on shavings, because they won’t be able to scratch and peck at the paper towel, thinking it’s food, the way they would scratch and peck at the shavings. I’ll tell you one thing, no one shared that secret with my chicks because a few hours after they entered the Brooder Spa, they had scratched and pecked through the paper towel layer and were sleeping on the shavings. So out the paper towel went, and I won’t bother laying it down again.
Water and food
In the brooder I have a chick waterer, which is a small 1-gallon plastic jug with a saucer attached. The chicks can dip their beaks in the water and can even stand in it if they try, but they can’t get stuck in it. Getting stuck in water is bad for the chicks and would result in sickness and possibly death. Remember, chicks fall asleep suddenly and it is entirely possible that they would fall asleep in their water dish if the urge struck. Best to keep the water dish chick-proof.
A note on introducing chicks to the brooder: dip their beaks in the water dish right away so that they will know to drink. Then show them the food. And then watch them fall asleep in the food (they are so cute!)
I am using a chick feeder that has a cover with holes just the right size for individual feeding. For the first few days I am also using a shallow cardboard box filled with food so that the chicks will be able to easily access the food they need.
Chicks, like the rest of us, need some fresh air. Not knowing how in the world I was going to provide this, I decided to drill small holes around the entire base of the brooder. It allows fresh air to come in the bottom and rise up to the top.
Providing the right amount of warmth is the key to success. The chicks can’t regulate their body temperature until they feather out, and that takes a few weeks. The first week of life they should be kept in a brooder at 95 degrees. Each week the temperature in the brooder should drop 5 degrees, until finally the temperature in the box is similar to the outdoor temperature. I hung a red heat lamp over the Brooder Spa. The bulb is a 250 watt, red heat bulb. The lamp has a ceramic base, to prevent melting and fires. It looks like the painting lamps we use when we do projects around the house. The red light is soothing, and it prevents unnecessary pecking of other chicks.
When I set up the brooder earlier in the week I put a thermometer in the bottom of the box and turned the heat lamp on. I couldn’t get it to the right temperature – it was either too hot or too cold depending on how high or low the lamp was hanging. I went back and read the chapters on taking care of chicks again, and was reminded that the chicks will tell me if it’s too hot or too cold. If they huddle together under the lamp, they’re too cold. If they try to escape the heat by plastering their bodies to the wall of the brooder, they’re too warm. Raise and lower the lamp accordingly. Sure enough, that advice works just fine. The chicks will tell you what they need. You know it’s the right temperature when you see a carpet of relaxed, flat, sleeping chicks.