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How To Set Up A Brooder For Your Baby Chicks

So you like the sound idea of raising some baby chicks but have no idea what's involved?

You''ll be relieved to know that bringing home day old chicks isn't as scary , difficult or costly as it sounds. Essentially all they need is warmth, safety, feed and water. You may even find some useful items around your home to get you started in setting up the chick nursery.

We had initially planned on purchasing six adult chickens (it sounded easier than raising fragile baby chicks). However, apparently toilet paper wasn't the only hot item running out the stores since the COVID-19 lock-down. Backyard chickens were seemingly impossible to find and the waiting lists at our local produce stores were months long.


Plan B


There were however plenty of baby chicks! We did some research and once we realised the process was much more simple than we thought we were excited to bring home our six baby girls.


Because chicks grow so fast we didn't want to invest much money in our set up knowing that it would be deserted in a matter of weeks. We got creative and made use of what we already had at home and sourced out some supplies from second hand markets and dollar stores. Our setup still looks impressive, clean and was done on the cheap. We'll show you how!

Brooder Box

This is where your chicks will be housed and kept warm and safe for those first few weeks of life. It will be kept inside your house (ours went in the laundry). The brooder box is where you'll keep their heat lamp as well as their feed and water. Depending on the size of your initial brooder you may need to upgrade them into something bigger before they are old enough to move outside.


What you can use

There are so many items which can be converted into a brooder. You may already have something you can use at home.

  • Cardboard box (although it will get soggy and needs to be changed regularly)

  • Plastic storage container

  • Dog crate

  • Puppy play pen

  • Metal tub

  • Wooden box

What we used:

Whilst I was initially going to use a large plastic storage container, we happened to come across this old wooden storage box (below) the weekend before our chicks were arriving. Flea markets are great for that! We also used the top of an old bird cage we retrieved from the dump which happened to be the perfect fit for our box. We drilled some small holes in the box and attached the lid with wire. The wiring on top of the box is necessary to keep the chicks from jumping out as their little wings grow, allows fresh air to circulate and protects them from other curious household pets.


Cost

Box: $10

Wire lid : FREE



Heat Lamp (Socket & Bulb)

It is essential to keep your new babies snug and warm for the first 6-8 weeks of their life while they are developing their big girl feathers. You'll want to hang your heat lamp down one end of your brooder and their feed and water down the other. This gives them the opportunity to move away from the heat if they need to. You may want to keep a backup bulb in case one burns out.


What we used

We simply purchased what our local pet and produce store had in stock. It is called an

infrared heat lamp by Kerbl (picture below). You can also purchase heat lamps online or at your local hardware store.


Cost

Bulb: $24

Socket: $30



Bedding

The brooder bedding (litter) will need to be changed out every day. Chicks are messy and you'll want to keep it from becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and prevent it from smelling.


What you can use

  • Newspaper covered with a rubber shelf liner (Never use newspaper on its own as the surface is too slippery and can cause the chicks to develop a condition called spradle leg)

  • Shredded paper

  • Pine shavings

What we used:

We went with with newspaper covered over with a rubber shelf liner. The newspaper soaks up any mess whilst the rubber liner gives the chicks feet something to grip to.


Rubber shelf liners can be found in dollar stores, grocery stores or online and are super cheap. It comes in a roll which can simply be cut to size. I suggest cutting out two liners to fit. That way when you clean out the brooder you've got a dry clean liner ready to go whilst the used one is being washed and hung to dry ready for the next change over.


Cost Rubber lining: $4

Newspaper: FREE



Feeder + Waterer


What you can use

  • Small enamel/glass bowls (feed/water)

  • Egg cartons (feed)

  • Small terra-cotta planter base (feed)

  • Plastic take away containers (feed/water)

  • Mason jar lids (water)

  • Small ceramic bowls (feed/water)

  • Store bought chick feeders/waterer

What we used:

Empty egg cartons make wonderful baby chick feed containers (how ironic). When they get a little grungy simple replace them. For the chicks water we simply used a shallow mason jar lid. Young chicks are top heavy and prone to drowning so keeping their water in a shallow dish with a few small stones is important to prevent any accidents. Make sure your chicks have access to clean water and feed around the clock.


We found that after the first two weeks we needed to upgrade their drinking bowl to something a little larger as we were having to refill it too often. We used a small ceramic dish.

Cost

Egg cartons: FREE

Mason jar lid: FREE


Feed

When raising chicks you have the option of medicated or unmedicated feed. Chicks are prone to an infectious parasite called coccidiosis and although this condition is the number one killer of baby chicks don't let this scare you. There are natural ways of building up your chicks immune system that doesn't involve medication (no different to us humans).


What you can use

  • Medicated feed

  • Unmedicated feed

What we used

We chose unmedicated as we wanted to feed our girls a diet as natural as possible. To boost the chicks immune system naturally we would add crushed garlic or apple cider vinegar to their water daily as well as a mixture of immune boosting herbs and spices to their feed. We used dried oregano and thyme plus cinnamon, ginger and turmeric powder. You'll probably already have these in your pantry.


We also gave them fresh herbs and allowed them supervised outdoor sessions to free range and peck in nature. Exercise, sunlight and time outdoors are all essential for happy healthy chicks (if it's not too cold in your area). We are fortunate to be able to do this even in our winter here in Australia.


Cost

Unmedicated feed: $36 for 20kg


You'll also need an old towel to cover or partially cover the brooder for extra warmth and cosiness (depending on how cold it is) and an extra box or container to hold the chicks makes much easier when your cleaning out their brooder.

Special extras

Whilst the following items are not essential we would highly recommend you think about including them in your brooder. They are special extras that we included for our chicks and I'm sure if the girls could talk they would thank us!


Perch

Our chicks love to sit up off the ground on their perch plus it's great balancing practice for them. We used one we found in an old bird cage but you could simply use a branch or piece of scrap wood.


Imitation mother hen

Another special extra our chicks love is their feather bower "mother hen". I'll often find them all snuggled up underneath her. It also provides darkness from the constant light coming from the heat lamp. You could also use a feather duster (we couldn't find one) but we found a feather bower at our local dollar shop. Roll it into ball, hold it together with an elastic band and simply suspend it a few inches above their bedding.


Word of caution: make sure you keep mother hen away from the heat lamp or you may end up with smoked chicks (OMG hand on head). Yes I learnt this lesson real quick!


Dirt/dust bath

Chickens love to bath in dirt and dust. Providing your chicks with a dirt bath early on makes for great practice plus it doubles as the grit they need to digest their fresh herbs and grass. If you are feeding your chicks special treats other than their feed you'll need to provide them with some grit/dirt. We simply grabbed a handful of earth and popped it in a small bowl.


Fresh herbs

Get your chicks use to the flavour of different herbs early on. They are a wonderful nutritious treats plus it's a great way to keep them busy. We simply placed a few fresh sprigs of herb in their brooder each day.


Grass patch

This is especially wonderful if it's too cold or wet for your chicks to go outside. Solution: bring the outdoors to them. Your chicks will love to scratch around in the dirt and nibble on the grass. Also great for their immune systems. On the rare days when the chicks didn't go outside we would dig up a tiny patch of grass for our chicks to play with.



CHECK LIST


Essentials For Your Chicks


Brooder box

Heat lamp

Newspaper

Rubber shelf liners x 2

Water container

Feed container

Feed


Small stones

Old towel

Cardboard box


Special Extras


Perch

Imitation mother hen

Dirt bath

Fresh herbs

Grass patch


If you've got any questions we would love to help you out with your chicken experience.

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