Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Prepare for Successful Chick Brooding - Part One

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by Jennifer Burcke

Brooding a batch of chicks is akin to bringing home a newborn child. No matter how many books you have read or people you have talked to, the best experience you gather will come firsthand. Caring for a tiny living being that counts their lifetime in hours or days instead or years can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Being prepared for brooding success can allow you to focus on the wonder and enjoyment of caring for baby chicks.

There are as many philosophies and types of brooding practices and equipment as there are chicken keepers. Everyone has their own method and style of caring for chicks. Again, it is a process a lot like parenting. Your own experiences will inevitably lead to the development of your own technique for brooding baby chicks.

While it would be impossible for me, or any single chicken keeper, to share with you the “best” way to brood chicks, I can share what we have done in the past. Our first batch of chicks are now fast approaching their second birthday. They were our first foray into chicken keeping. When we welcomed them to our farm, we were armed only with the knowledge provided by hours of online research and reading.

This spring, we returned to the brooding experience as more seasoned chicken keepers. We felt a little more confident when preparing to welcome them to our farm. This year, we chose to use many of the supplies from our first brooding experience. We did make a few changes and, in the end, had another successful brooding experience. Our chicks are now two months old and have left the brooder and taken up residence in their small coop in the garden.

To begin with, you’ll need to have supplies on hand to effectively brood a batch of baby chicks. Here at 1840 Farm, we gather the following supplies at brooding time: 

  1.  Brooding pen with a breathable cover 
  2.  Supplemental heat source 
  3. Absorbent bedding 
  4. Thermometer
  5. Chick feeder 
  6. Chick waterer 
  7. Small bowl for grit 
  8. Chick starter feed 
  9. Apple cider vinegar  
  10. Parakeet/small bird grit 
  11. Small branches for perching 
  12. Hand sanitizer 
  13. Camera
In this post, I’ll discuss the first two items on the list: the brooding pen and heat source. Both items are essential for successful brooding. In both cases, you can use items that are already on hand or readily available at your local feed store. If you prefer, professionally manufactured brooding pens and heat sources with additional features can be used.

First, you’ll need to have a safe place to house your chicks. Specialized brooding pens can be purchased and include a variety of convenient and useful added features. You can also repurpose a container that you already have on hand. For our first batch of chicks, we successfully utilized a simple plastic storage tub as our brooding pen. 

When outfitting the storage container to be used as a brooding pen, we realized that we needed some way to cover the top. Baby chicks are very capable flyers. Without a top, we were sure to find the chicks exploring the garage one morning. 

We had a framed window screen that was large enough to span the distance between the walls of the container. It was lightweight enough not to endanger the chicks if it fell, but could be secured to the tub using spring clamps in order to keep them safely contained. It was a serviceable cover and also allowed fresh air to flow freely. 

In my recent post Two Essential Chicken Keeping Tools: Necessity and Invention, I shared the experience of brooding our most recent batch of chicks this spring. The previously used storage container was unavailable. For over a year, it has been used as our feed storage container to keep our chicken and goat feed safe and dry. Instead of purchasing a new container, we got creative and used an empty leaf sweeper as our brooding pen. It worked effectively and will be called into duty the next time we add baby chicks to our farm.

Before your chicks arrive, you’ll also need to decide how to provide them with the supplemental heat they need during their first several weeks. If they were hatched in a coop, a broody mother hen would keep them at the desired temperature by allowing them to huddle beneath her. If you’re raising chicks in a brooding pen, you will need to provide them with another source of heat.

When our first chicks arrived at 1840 Farm, it was the last week of September. Our brooding pen was placed in an unheated garage next to a workbench. The location provided a safe place to keep our chicks away from predators and ample natural sunlight from a nearby window during daylight hours. 

Given the time of year, we didn’t have to be overly concerned about extremely cold temperatures. I knew that our chicks would still require supplemental heat, so I began researching our options. We were new to the world of chickens and while I hoped that we would become lifelong chicken keepers, I didn’t want to make that assumption before they had arrived and made our farm their home.

I made the decision to acquire the necessary equipment without purchasing items that were intended for career chicken keepers. I knew that there were more advanced options for providing heat to baby chicks, but I wasn’t ready to make that leap. Instead, I chose to use a simple heat lamp.

Once I made that decision, it was time to choose which type of bulb to use. I had read several recommendations from experienced chicken keepers that the red heat lamp bulb provided a calmer environment for the baby chicks. The chicks cannot detect the light spectrum emitted from a red bulb, which allows them to have a natural sleep pattern in spite of the light being on 24 hours each day. With this information in hand, I chose to use a red spectrum heat lamp to provide warmth to our baby chicks.

The nearby workbench made an excellent place to anchor the heat lamp assembly we used. In order to allow the light’s proximity to the chicks to be adjusted, I attached a pistol grip woodworking clamp to the bench. Using the bar of the clamp, I could easily move the heat lamp up or down depending on the needs of the chicks.

I found that the spring clamp on the heat lamp was weaker than I would have liked. I worried that it might fall and either injure the chicks or overheat them during the night. I had read accounts of fires caused by heat lamps that had come in direct contact with dry bedding. I had also read stories about brooder lamp failures in the middle of the night that left a batch of chicks huddling together for warmth. 

If you have used a heat lamp in the past, you know that the amount of heat produced is incredible. In fact, the hood on our heat lamp assembly gets so incredibly hot that I wore a pot holder to adjust its position. My children were warned not to touch it. I had no doubt that it had the capability to ignite a fire if allowed to rest on the pine shavings lining our brooder. Suddenly, it became very clear why chicken keepers who have the ability to keep roosters simply allowed mother hens to do the brooding for them.

I was certain that none of my neighbors would tolerate the sound of roosters crowing early in the morning. I also knew that as a family of chicken keepers who raise chickens but don’t eat them, we didn’t have any need for inviting roosters to live on our farm. I was simply going to have to do the best I could to secure the lamp and hope that we didn’t run into any lamp failures. To increase my odds of success, I bought two red lamps: one to use immediately and one to have on hand just in case I found a burnt out bulb on one of my nighttime chick checks.

I solved the weak clamp issue by attached a carabiner clip to the top of the lamp and then running a piece of twine between it and the top of the clamp. While the light assembly could still fall from its position, I could at least feel confident that it would remain on the clamp safely above the brooding pen. 

The light provided ample heat. In fact, it was a lot like having the sun nearby. The entire garage was warming from the lamp. We used a thermometer in the brooding pen to monitor the temperature, moving the light further up the bar on the clamp as needed to reduce the temperature of the brooding pen. 

When we decided to add new chicks to our farm this spring, I began looking at other options for warming up the brooding pen. I was fairly certain that we were now lifelong chicken keepers. I couldn’t imagine not having a coop full of hens, or even more unimaginable: buying eggs at the grocery store. My children couldn’t imagine it either, so it was time to see if there was a more effective way for us to provide heat to the baby chicks that would be calling 1840 Farm home for many years to come.

I am happy to say that I found a brooder that worked efficiently and safely for our chicks this spring. The BrinseaEcoGlow 50 exceeded my expectations in every way. In fact, it worked so well that I can guarantee that it will be used the next time we brood chicks in our makeshift leaf sweeper brooding pen. In my next post, I’ll review the BrinseaEcoGlow 50 and share my experience using it to raise our latest batch of heritage breed chicks.



What do you use when brooding baby chicks? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for ensuring brooding success!

You're always welcome at 1840 Farm. To make sure that you don't miss any of the excitement, giveaways or unending supply of cute photos of baby chicks during the A Year in the Life at 1840 Farm Series, follow us on Facebook to read the daily news from the coop at 1840 Farm.

4 comments:

  1. mine were in a banana box w/ wood chips and a small heat lamp in the living room from May to whenever they got older! Then they went to an old back room until I got the coop built out of pallets last summer - use a heat lamp w/ 100W red light in it, a Folger's coffee can w/ a fish tank heater in it, in MT

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  2. so much of the stuff they claim you gotta have is overpriced plastic garbage! I have a feeder that's not worth a darned - I wind up throwing food on the ground (they free range in the yard) and will have to deal w/ a feeder come winter again in the coop. I'm on a fixed income and I resent some guy's feeder from scrap metal over $200!!

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  3. I made my brooder out of 1/4" used plywood, it was 4' X 2' and 2' tall. I used a metal side from a clothing store fixture and covered that with chicken wire so there would be no escapees during the night and put a 25W bulb on top of that for external heat. As the chicks grew older I raised the height of the lamp to maintain the temp. When they were all feathered out, they were moved out to the new coop I had built so the brooder could be used again for the next batch of ten. Two batches of ten, and only one chick lost gave me 19 chickens this past March and May, and the brooder is all ready for this next years two more batches of chicks, my goal is to have 50 chickens free ranging in the back yard (2.5 acres) by the summer of 2013. The eggs are delicious, and I sell their eggs to pay for their feed, with a little left over for other "goodies."

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  4. Akpotue, january 14.2013. 12:39pm.
    I made my brooder out of metals and woods box 8x4, 4ft tall, with a wired bedding so that their droppings would be able to pass the tinny openings,and all round the box was covered with tick leather material and in side you find 2(two) 100w bulb with one switch and a 100w bulb with a seperate switch. This is to say when it's too cold they come for the heat,and I switch on the three bulbs and when it is too hot they run from the heat and I swith off 2(two) bulbs And they will b left with one bulb to keep them going and to locate their feeds.

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