I’ve been brooding chicks on and off for the past 19 years. And it is a wonderful experience! One that I look forward to every year. I’ve been known to sit cross legged for hours watching our sweet little birds gently poke around, nod off to sleep in a hilarious instant and discover their new world in the brooder box. It’s purely precious!
Then the 4th week rolls around they start getting in their wing feathers, scratching, trying to jump out of the box, fill their waterer with bedding and taking dust baths in their food dish. Oh, and speaking of dusting…dusting for humans becomes a daily chore to the surrounding room, as well as vacuuming. It’s about this 4th week that I start anxiously watching the temperatures to see when these babies can go outside.
Ideally, I wish we had a warm garage or some sort of isolated outbuilding that I could put the brooder in. But we don’t have a garage, and I don’t like heat lamps in the barn. Even with a heat source, our spring nights get bitter cold, and I’m not sure if it would be enough for baby chicks to keep warm.
So like many of you reading this with a box of chicks in the spare bathroom or basement or in our case, our sun room, our chicks reside in the house till they feather out and the weather warms up.
Now in all fairness, raising chicks in the house is relatively easy especially when compared to other animals that are commonly raised indoors. There is a small mess factor, but all animals make messes. Dogs shed, cats have liter boxes, aquariums need water changes…and though a dirty brooder box may emit an odor, in my opinion, it doesn’t hold a candle to a dirty hamster cage.
Here are 5 ways that I’ve discovered to make your chick’s indoor stay less messy, less stinky, and easier for us as chicken keepers. (Also check out my post Raising Chicks to learn the basic needs of chick brooding.)
1. Air Purifier
Ok, so this might be an expensive investment for the soul purpose of brooding chicks for a few weeks out of the year, but we already have one that we use in our bedroom at night. I have terrible allergies and as luck would have it, I’m also allergic to pine. I’ve tried alternative bedding options, but as far as the absorbancy, ease to clean and over all effectiveness, I like pine shavings the best. So I choose to suffer through my allergies until the chicks go outside.
It dawned on me one day to move the air purifier into the sun room and see if it helped with the air quality of the chick room. I was really, really surprised at how effective it was. Not only do I see a difference with my sinuses as far as the pine is concerned, but there is significantly less “chick” dust in the room and barely an odor, even when the box needs cleaning. So depending on your budget, it might be worth the investment.
A word about using it in the same rooms as chicks. Make sure that the fan isn’t blowing directly on chicks. A draft can cause a chill in chicks and make them sick. I feel like it would work best with brooder boxes with solid sides to help block any draft that might be created.
2. Air Diffuser and Tea Tree Oil
I got a diffuser for my birthday this year. It’s a very simple contraption that you plug in, fill with water and then drop in a few drops of essential oil. I love to use lavender in our bedroom to help relax and sleep, and citrus oils like lemon and orange to revitalize the house, especially after a nice deep clean.
This spring I tried the diffuser in our sun room with the chicks and added a few drops of tea tree oil. The nice thing about tea tree is that it’s a very purifying and cleansing oil. It also has antibacterial properties. So unlike an artificial room spray, it actually has air cleansing properties and doesn’t just mask odors.
My mom came to visit and she’s somewhat of a critic when it comes to keeping chicks in the house. But she told me that she couldn’t smell the chicks at all and the brooder hadn’t been cleaned in several days.
If you aren’t familiar with tea tree oil, it has a strong herb-y smell that reminds me of pine or mint. It can be mixed with other oils like grapefruit to make your home smell wonderful.
3. Use The Biggest Container You Can Manage
It might sound counter-intuitive, like a bigger box might seem like a bigger mess. But for those of you who have ever set up a fish tank, you know that a larger aquarium stays cleaner than a small one. Same goes for chicks. The more room you can give them, the cleaner your brooder will be and the less often you will have to clean it.
4. Tablecloth Liner
I got this idea from the brooder boxes at one of our local feed stores. Like us, they also use a large galvanized water trough for a brooder. I was at the feed store early in chick season and I happened to see one of the employees cleaning out one of the troughs. Each trough was lined in white plastic and pinched to the edges with simple squeeze clamps. In three quick movements, the clamps were taken off, the edges of the plastic were gathered, and the whole mess was removed and bagged up and could easily have been carried to a compost pile. Amazed…I quickly asked the employee if they sold the plastic liners. Sadly she said no, that they order them from a company. It dawned on me that a plastic table cloth from the Dollar Store would work perfect.
Now you’d have to take into consideration how many times you clean your brooder and how thoroughly you like to clean it each time. I like to freshen things up each day by adding a new layer of chips over the old ones. Sort of a mini deep liter method. Then once a week I scoop everything out and replace completely.
If I use the table cloth method, This would give me 5 complete cleans for $5. For me, that’s not a bad deal.
You have to be careful when removing the table cloth because the ones I found were not made from the best quality of plastic. I’ve had a couple small tears but I was able to contain the mess until I got outside. The ease was definitely worth it in the end.
For a more earth friendly option you could use a re-useable tarp. Just dump the contents on the compost, hose it off and let it dry in the sun. You’re still doing a fair bit of cleaning, but at least the mess can be brought outside. We’ve done this in the past with our ducklings. (For more about brooding duckings read my post 6 Easy Tips For Duck Brooding Success.)
5. Nipple Water System
This tip is one I’m most excited about. One of my least favorite things about brooding chicks is the constant battle of providing fresh, clean water.
Chicks love to scratch, and in confined quarters like a brooder box, they can easily fill up a clean waterer with bedding material. And let’s face it, it’s a pain in the neck to clean in the house. The soggy wood chips have to be scooped out and if you scoop them into the brooder it gets everything soggy. And if you don’t get them all out of the waterer, they clog your drain when you re-fill the water. It’s just yucky!
This year we received these fabulous nipples from Solway Feeders. (Now located in the US!) They’re easy to install into a bucket and the whole system is closed so the water stays super clean which is healthier for chicks and easy for you as their keeper.