A clean and dry chick brooder is the first step to giving your baby hens a good start. For a small flock, a cardboard box is an inexpensive starter space. For larger flocks, you will want to set up a place in your barn or shed that is separate from your older birds. The brooding area should be secure from predators, and 3 to 4 square feet of room should be allotted for each chick.
Here is a very informative video from Purina Mills TV that will get you started with your baby chicks:
Two days before the chicks arrive, clean and disinfect the brooding area, as well as their feeders and waterers. Spread litter 3 to 4 inches deep in the brooding area. In the video, Dr. Ballam recommends using Eagle Valley bedding material. It is an all-natural, absorbent, pelleted wood product from Canada.
A heat lamp should be set up 20 inches above the litter, with the brooder guard within a radius of 2-1/2 to 3 feet from the heat lamp. This way the chicks can huddle under the lamp for warmth, but there is also room for them to move away and get exercise. During their first week, the comfort zone should be 90 - 95 degrees. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature.
In his video, Dr. Ballam uses a 1 quart waterer from Little Giant. The waterer should be placed on the outside perimeter of the comfort zone, so that water is easily accessible to the chicks, but not too warm. The waterer should be filled and placed in the brooder 24 hours before your baby birds arrive, so that it has time to get to room temperature. It if is too cold, the chicks may not drink it.
It's important to get your chicks rehydrated upon their arrival. For the first couple of hours, place them in the brooding area without any feed. After a couple of hours, add the feed. Dr. Ballam recommends using Purina Start & Grow Sun Fresh recipe. This feed is all-natural and contains no chemical, fillers, nor animal by-products.
There should be plenty of feeders placed around the brooding area. Low-lying, trough style feeders are ideal for chicks. Allow four linear inches of feeding room for each chick. As chicks grow, the feeders and waterers should be raised to avoid contamination. The feeders and waterers should also be cleaned and refilled each day, and any wet litter from around the waterers should be removed and replaced with clean, dry litter.
If you have older birds, make sure to work with the younger birds first, and then move to the older birds. You do not want to track diseases, infections, and parasites from the older birds to the chicks.
The chicks will also need a well-lit area. Two 40 watt bulbs should be enough. For the first couple of days, leave the lights on 24 hours. Then, for the next two to three weeks, leave them on for 18 hours each day. Finally, from 3 weeks until they move to your chicken coop, leave the lights on 16 hours each day.
As the chicks grow older, the brooding ring can be expanded to provide them with more room to move around, and the heat lamp should be raised on a weekly basis, so that the temperature of the area is reduced by five degrees each week, until a minimum temperature of 55 degrees is reached.
You should monitor the baby chicks several times a day. In the beginning, they may have a tendency to get bunched up, so pick them up and evenly distribute them around the brooder a few times each day. It's also a good idea to play with them, so they get used to being around you and your family.
I hope you enjoyed the video! Of course, if you have any other suggestions for setting up a chick brooder, feel free to leave them in the comments below.