A chicken brooder can come in many various styles. They are a necessity if you’re going to be raising chicks yourself without the use of a hen, for keeping them secure, contained, warm, and dry. A commercial type chicken brooder can certainly be bought. But it’s also quite simple to construct your own homemade brooders. All you really need for raising chicks is some type of container, bedding/litter, a heat source, a chick feeder, and a water source.
How to make a brooder and set it up -
The container can be as simple as large cardboard boxes, plastic totes/storage boxes or plastic kiddie swimming pools for your homemade brooders. If you’re handy and would like to construct a wooden box, that also works well for a chicken brooder. The size you need will depend on how many chicks you will have. Generally, around 1 – 1.5 sq. ft. per chick is considered adequate. If you’re using a container with low sides (like the swimming pool), it’s best to make a taller “wall” by wrapping chicken wire, mesh, or even a cardboard wall around your container to keep in the chicks. When raising chicks, a lot of people also like to put a chicken wire or mesh cover over the top of their chicken brooder for as the chicks get older and start becoming more mobile.
The bedding for your homemade brooders should be an absorbent litter like untreated pine wood shavings, ground up corn cob, shredded paper towels, straw, or other similar materials. Do not use cedar or treated wood shavings. Also be sure NOT to use a slick surface like flat newspapers when raising chicks, as the baby chicks will have a difficult time getting their footing, which leads to a permanent leg deformity called splayed legs. Once you’ve decided on your bedding type, fill the bottom of your container with it about 2”-3” deep.
The heat source:
A chicken brooder needs a good heat source for raising chicks. The best to use is a standard heat lamp with a 250 watt bulb. Some people have found a simple clip-on desk lamp with a 100 watt bulb works too. But with a lower watt bulb, your heat source will need to be much closer to your chicks to keep them warm enough. The temperature for the first week needs to be around 95 degrees and lowered by about 5 degrees each week. To accomplish this, hang your heat lamp centrally over your homemade brooders starting at approximately 18” above the floor of the box (if you’re using the 250 watt bulb). You can adjust the temperature by raising and lowering the heat lamp as needed. Your chicks will let you know if they are too hot or too cold. If they are all huddled directly under the lamp, they are too cold. Lower the lamp. If they are spread out at the edges of your homemade brooder, they are too hot. Raise the lamp.
The feeder for your homemade brooders can be just about any shallow dish. However, the chicks will be quite messy. They will climb in it, scratch in it, poop in it, and possibly tip it over. If you don’t want to deal with the mess, there are a number of commercially made chick feeders – from types to screw onto a mason jar, to circular “fountain” types, to trough types. They are made to give access to the chicks to eat but to prevent them from getting into their feed to make a mess. They come in various sizes. The size you choose will depend on how many baby chicks you have. You want to approximately give enough space that all chicks can eat at the same time if they want. If you have a lot of chicks and a large brooder box, you may want to have 2 or 3 feeders spread around.
The water source:
Your chicken brooder water source can also be a simple shallow dish. However, aside from the mess, baby chicks can die from getting wet and too chilled or can even drown. So if you use a shallow dish when raising chicks, you will want to fill it with marbles, which will prevent the chicks from drowning or getting too wet. But this will not prevent them from pooping in the water. So you may rather buy a chick waterer. Like the feeders, these come in a variety of styles and sizes. Again, you want to pick a size that allows most of your chicks to be able to drink water at the same time. The placement of the waterer within the chicken brooder is also important. Chicks do not like to drink warm water, so you do not want to place it directly under the heat source. However, you don’t want to place it too far away either. If the chicks are chilly, they may not want to leave the heat to go drink. So place the water source close to the heat source but not too close that the water gets warmed up.