Hen Up® Articles

Puffball Pointers, Part 1: Get your brooder ready for new chicks

By Hen Up™

In just 18 weeks, chicks go from freshly hatched chirpers to egg-layin’ ladies. But what happens in that time (and even before they arrive) makes all the difference in the world. Having a healthy and productive backyard flock starts with giving your new arrivals complete care and good nutrition from the moment they arrive and making sure you’re ready for them before they do.

Get your brooder ready before your chicks arrive
Some of the most important work you’ll do in caring for your new backyard flock happens before your birds show up. It starts with setting up a brooder. A brooder is just space where your chicks will be safe and warm and have ready access to food and water. It doesn’t have to be big or ambitious, but it should be ready at least 48 hours before your birds arrive to make sure that the bedding and equipment are completely dry, and the temperature reaches the right level.

Here’s a quick checklist of what you’ll need to have and do: 

A Safe, Secure Space
Make sure there’s enough room in your brooder for every chick to have 3-4 square feet of room. As you’ll soon learn, those little puffballs are masters of escape and mighty quick, too, so make sure your brooder has walls or boundaries to contain them. As chicks get bigger and their feathers grow in, they’ll practice flapping and perching. So you’ll want to be able to cover the top of the brooder, especially at night. Pets and young kids are notoriously curious, so you’ll need to take precautions to keep the chicks safe whether they’re indoors or out. 

A Heat Source
Chicks need warmth, especially when they’re newly hatched. You have a couple options for providing heat. The traditional option is a heat lamp: a 250-watt bulb hung at the center of your brooder at least 20 inches above the bedding and 3 feet away from walls. The temperature in the area under the heat lamp should be 95 degrees Fahrenheit. You can move the lamp up or down to regulate the temperature. Make sure there’s room in the brooder for the chicks to move away from the heat lamp if they get too warm.

Heat lamps are relatively inexpensive, but they do come with a risk of fire. A 250-W bulb gets very hot, and if it falls into the shavings on the floor of your brooder there is a chance it could start a fire that would be disastrous on multiple levels — especially if your brooder is located close to your house or other structures. With that in mind, another option is electric radiant heart from a platform heater that birds can gather under to stay warm. Radiant heaters come with a lower risk of fire, but also a much higher price tag. Consider your options and risk factors and pick the heat source that best suits your set-up.

For both heat lamps and radiant heaters, after one week you can start lowering the temperature in 5-degree increments each week. Just make sure it never gets below 55 degrees F.

Chicks need a soft surface that gives them a little traction, and a bed of absorbent wood shavings 3-4 inches deep is perfect for this. Pine shavings are the ideal bedding material. Don’t use cedar shavings or other types of wood with especially strong odors, as these can have a negative effect on your chicks’ health. Remove and replace wet or soiled bedding every day.

In addition to heat, chicks need A LOT of light: 18-22 hours of it in their first week after hatching. (This is one of the many reasons you should never set up your brooder in your bedroom.) The long day gives your birds the chance to find food and water as often as possible. They’ll grow fast and you want to be sure that they get off to a great start. After the first week, you can reduce the light to 12 hours a day throughout the rest of their growing period — 18 weeks in all. The amount of light you’ll need works out to one 40-watt bulb for every 100 square feet of space.

Your chicks will develop quite an appetite as they grow into hens, so plan to have about 4 linear inches of feeder space for each bird in your flock. If you can, put out extra feeders and waterers during the first few days. Clean egg cartons or even small pieces of cardboard make great temporary feeders. After a couple of days, you can remove the extra feeders and continue with low-lying trough feeders that are harder to tip over. Be sure you have a food especially formulated for the dietary needs of growing chicks, like Hen Up™ Starter Grower Crumbles.

Like the rest of us, chicks need to stay hydrated to stay healthy. A single one-quart waterer will provide enough for up to a dozen chicks but check it often and keep it full to make sure they’re getting plenty to drink. Make sure the water stays at room temperature by keeping it out of the heat lamp coverage area and have it in place 24 hours before your chicks arrive.

Whew! Now that you’ve got your brooder ready for your fluffy new flock, come back tomorrow for Part 2, where we’ll talk about what you need to do after your chicks arrive!

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