Brooding Chicks, What You Need
You’ve decided to add some chickens to your backyard family, and you’re about to choose your day old chicks. Until they feather out, probably around 5-6 weeks of age, they’re going to need to be kept under a heat lamp in warm, dry, draft-free conditions. There’s a few things you’ll need to raise your young birds to adulthood, but it’s an investment well made.
Firstly, you’ll need a brooder. A Rubbermaid tub is an ideal brooder, because they have high sides, come in a variety of sizes to suit your number of chicks, and are easily cleaned and sanitized.
Most sources recommend brooder space of 7-10 sq inch per chick, to ensure cleanliness and minimize the risk of disease and other problems associated with overcrowding – including cannibalism and injury.
Line your brooder box with a generous layer of pine wood shavings – not cedar, they are reputed to cause respiratory problems in chicks. Be sure to scoop out and replace the shavings whenever they get damp or soiled as these are ideal conditions for an outbreak of coccidia, a potentially fatal parasite.
Second, you need a heat source. Feed stores sell heat lamps specifically designed for birds. They have large round reflectors which disperse the light and heat from the bulb, and should be securely suspended above the brooder. Some have clamps on them, but always double secure this clamp with rope, chain or a bungee, but never in a position where the rope or bungee could melt. The lamps give off a huge amount of heat and will melt whatever touches it. These lamps are a huge fire hazard, so treat them with caution and be sure to secure them well where they cannot be knocked or fall.
Heat needs to remain at around 95F – measured at floor level of the brooder – for the first week, then after that the temperature can be reduced by 5F per week. By the time the chicks are around 6 weeks old, they should be feathered sufficiently to manage without heat. In the event of an unseasonal cold snap, keepers should use their discretion regarding offering heat at night, or the timing of putting the juveniles outside in their coop.
Thirdly, good quality medicated food should be offered, free choice. The medicated food contains a coccidiostat, which helps to prevent the outbreak of coccidia. You can either keep your chicks on this food until they reach laying age, approximately 18-20 weeks, or at 6 weeks, you can switch them to an unmedicated grower feed.
Finally, your chicks need water. They must have a constant supply of fresh, clean water in order to grow up healthy. You’ll find that chicks are messy, poopy creatures, and it will be a constant battle to keep their water clean! It will help you immeasurably if you raise the waterer above the level of the bedding, so that the chicks cannot fill it with shavings and feed as they are scratching around. When the chicks are very small, you might also find it beneficial to add a few small pebbles to the dish of the waterer to prevent the chicks accidentally falling in and drowning. It is possible for them to drown in a very small amount of water.
Raising chicks is very rewarding for the whole family, not to mention a huge learning experience for children. What could be better than collecting eggs from birds which you raised? Bring your family closer to the food on your table!
Hoegger Farmyard Contributor
Happily returning to her farming roots, Katy raises Nigerian Dwarf and Angora goats, chickens and Dutch rabbits in North Georgia – alongside an ever-expanding four season garden. The goal of sustainability and complete self-sufficiency is never far from her mind, and she seeks to share the love and inspire others to get closer to their food and provide for their families from their own back yard.