Blogger Michele Cook writes a three-part series on caring for new chickens. This is Part 1: Housing Chicks.
It’s that time of year again. The sun is shining, the daffodils are blooming, and there is a distinct peeping noise at every farm store across the country. It’s time for chicks. If you’ve been wooed by those little fluffy yellow balls of cuteness you are in for a treat. Chickens are a joy to have around. If you are new to the chicken game, fear not. In this post I am going to take you through the ins and outs of caring for your new chicks.
Housing for Your New Chicks
The first step in caring for your new chicks is setting up a brooder. Your little fluffballs need to be kept warm and dry for their first few months of life. To set up your brooder you will need a draft proof container, a heat source, and some sort of bedding for your brooder. A lid comes in handy after about two weeks. As your chicks grow, they will want to test their wings.
The most important thing about your container is that is draft free. You can use a large cardboard box, a large tote, or a self-made wooden box. Anything that is large and sturdy will work. You want to have enough room for your chicks and a food and water dish. It’s also important to have enough room so the chicks can get away from the heat source if they need to. Personally, I use a retired 100-gallon water tub for my brooder. After a hard freeze created a crack in the bottom it didn’t hold water any more, but it works great as a chick brooder.
The lid for your container shouldn’t be air tight. Your chicks need to breathe. Netting, a fireproof blanket, or a screen will work great. You just need something to discourage the little darlings from flying the coop
The Heat Source
There are two main heat sources available for your chicks; a heat lamp and a heat plate. Both work well to keep your chicks warm. A heat lamp is similar to a construction lamp but uses a red, 250-watt bulb to keep your chicks warm. Use the clamp of the heat lamp to attach it to the side of your brooder and shine the light down into the brooder.
A heating plate is a flat plate that sits in the bottom of your brooder and warms the floor of the brooder. There is space underneath of the plate for your chicks to nestle under the same way they would nestle under a hen. The legs are adjustable so you can raise the plate as your chicks get bigger.
You will find pros and cons to each type of heater and the topic is hotly debated on chicken boards everywhere. The biggest lesson here is to monitor whatever type of heat source you choose for electrical issues and overheating.
Another hotly debated topic in the chicken world is bedding for your brooder. There are some definite no-no’s but the rest will depend on what materials are available to you at a reasonable cost. One of the biggest no-no’s is cedar shavings. The cedar may smell great but the cedar oil can be toxic to chickens. Wet bagged mulch is another no-no when it comes to bedding. The dampness can easily cause your chicks to get cold and the bacteria in the mulch can make a young chick sick.
Here is a great list of bedding options for your new chicks:
- Pine shavings
- Clean hay
- Pine straw
- Shredded paper
Any of these beddings will work great for your little chicks. Choose one that is readily available in your area and make sure the bedding is a few inches thick to keep your little ones comfortable.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author, and communications specialist for the National Federation of Press Women. She raises chickens, goats, and vegetables on her small farm in the beautiful Allegheny mountains of Virginia. If she is not outside caring for her farm you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book.