Tips for setting up a safe chick brooder


Newly Hatched
Before bringing home or hatching your little chicks, you should make sure you have a brooder that is properly set up and is safe for the little ones. Chicks have a habit of getting themselves into bad situations and there are some common brooder and health problems that can be avoided with proper care and management.

The Brooder
When choosing a brooder for your chicks, you should make this choice carefully and be well informed. Some of the most important things that you should consider when looking for a brooder are:
  • Safety​
  • Longevity​
  • Ventilation​
  • Space​
Try to avoid brooders that have gaps at the chicks' level. They could get stuck in them, fall into them or find their way out of the brooder and get lost. Another reason to avoid gaps near the base of the brooder is to decrease the number of drafts that the chicks are exposed to. Drafts can chill a chick, and that in turn could kill the animal.
When you are setting up waterers for your chicks, safety should be paramount. Oftentimes, you will see people using the standard waterer bases for their chicks. In my experience, this has lead to drowning. For that reason, I strongly discourage the use of standard water fount bases and instead recommend using a quail waterer base like the one pictured below
1583596439429.pngQuail bases are too small for chicks to get anything but their beaks into. This reduces the risk of drowning to next to none. Another benefit of using a quail waterer base is that the water tends to stay cleaner for longer. With a narrower base, bedding is less likely to fall into the water and the chicks are less likely to poop in their water. This reduces the number of times daily that you have to clean out their waterer and in turn, this ensures that your chicks will (or should) have access to clean water 24/7.
If you can't find a quail waterer base and don't want to order one online, you could place marbles or small stones in the base of the standard waterer. The idea here is to leave enough room between the rocks/marbles for the chicks to dip their beaks in, but not enough room that they could somehow submerge their entire beak.
Additionally, the rocks allow the chicks a way to climb out of the waterer if they were to somehow fall in.

When it comes to safety, heating is the biggest concern. It has been common practice for generations to use red heat lamps to brood chicks. This is NOT a safe option. Heat lamps are prone to starting fires and they are tricky to manage correctly. Usually, heat lamps overheat the chicks. The red light from the lamp also has a negative effect; it doesn't allow chicks to acclimate to the day/night light cycle that most creatures rely on. The lamps make more work for you, too. When a chick is not warmed properly, they become prone to pasty butt.
1583597434405.pngInstead of a heat lamp, I recommend the use of a heating plate. There are many options available in the market however, I recommend using a name brand item such as a Brinsea EcoGlow 20. It is a pricey initial investment but will save you lots of money in the long run when you consider the cost of a replacement heat lamp bulb.
Heating plates are adjustable as the chick grows and mimics a mother hen. The chicks are able to regulate their own body temperature, coming and going as they please. Heat plates also reduce the rate of pasty butt and allow the chicks to naturally wean themselves from the heat.

This is the area of concern that all of your other decisions should be based off. A cardboard box brooder will only be useable once. A playpen may be useable for a few years, but eventually, it will become worn down. A metal stock tank will last generations. If you are building your own brooder, it is recommended to make it out of material that can be cleaned easily and to make it mobile so it can be moved if necessary.
There is no surefire way to ensure the longevity of a brooder, but there are some considerations you can make when looking for a brooder. Consider the following:
  • How easy is it to fully disinfect?
  • How mobile is it?
  • Can it be modified easily in the future?
Ventilation is a bit of a tricky thing to manage, but don't be intimidated by it. When it comes to ventilation, it just takes a little planning. Too much, and the chicks may chill. Too little, and the retained dust and dander could cause respiratory distress. Open top brooders are good, but it's better if there is also ventilation along the sides to allow for some cross breezes. The sides could be totally open, or they could be solid on the bottom halves.
If you have an open-air brooder, you should provide the chicks a protected place to go if they need to. A tissue box or another small cardboard box with an entrance works well.
One thing to consider if you have ground to ceiling ventilation is that the holes should be much smaller than the chicks. Chicks can fit through tiny openings, so make sure they can't fit through the bars/grates of their brooder.

A larger brooder is always better than a smaller brooder. While it may seem like too much space when the chicks are very young, you'll find that they quickly grow to take up much more space and you'll appreciate the extra room you have for them when they need it.
While the exact amount of space each chick needs varies depending on age, size and breed the list below should give you some general ideas of how many chicks can fit per brooder:
  • Galvanized Stock Tank, 2 ft. W x 4 ft. L x 2 ft. H, 100 gal - Could fit 12 large fowl chicks up to 6 weeks or 10 large fowl chicks up to 8 weeks old
  • 45in Plastic Kiddie Wading Pool- Could fit 10 large fowl chicks up to 4 weeks or 8 large fowl chicks up to 6 weeks old
  • 48in Canvas Puppy Play Pen- Could fit 12 large fowl chicks up to 6 weeks or 10 large fowl chicks up to 8 weeks old
Generally speaking, chicks need 1/4sqft up to 4 weeks old and 1/2sqft when they are 4-8 weeks old. I recommend doubling those space requirements to allow room for feeders, waterers, heating elements and to avoid overcrowding.
I do not recommend using a dog kennel for a brooder, due to its average size and the fact that most chicks can fit between the bars.

But above all else, have a wonderful experience raising your chicks :)