The Babies’ First Home
If you’ve researched the topic, creating a brooder for the babies can be as simple as retrofitting a plastic tote or a cardboard box. I was looking to use something a little more structural, that was easy to clean, could be added to as the babies grew, or broken down easily for post-chick storage. What I decided on was 18′ x 24″ white plastic yard sale signs… connected by small zip-ties. I ordered these through Amazon for less than $30 total.
Lil’ baby chicks need to be kept warm, like 95 degrees warm in the beginning, with gradual decreasing of temperature as their feathers mature. From everything I’ve read, the chicks will let you know what they need. Example: huddled together with a lot of peeping means they’re too cold… if they’re panting or splaying their wings away from the heat source they are too hot.
I’ve opted to use a chick brooder heating plate, and here’s why: heat bulbs by their very nature are a fire hazard. Heat bulbs also need to be on 24/7 with no night/down time for the chicks… and this seems really unnatural to me. If hatched by their mama, the babies would gather under the hen for warmth and protection… as a surrogate, the heating plate radiates downward, so the chicks gather underneath the plate. The height of which can be adjusted as they grow. And, of course, I took it a little further by attaching feathers around the base so when the babies scoot underneath, it feels a bit like mom. The brooder heating plate… with the add ons of feathers and a no-roost roof for the top (to keep it poop-free) can be found on Amazon.
I have hung a full-spectrum, LED light above the brooder that will be on a timer. The LED throws off no heat so would not be suitable for keeping the chicks warm.
For the waterer I am using automatic chicken watering cups attached to a tall, clear, plastic, food storage container. I will let you know how that goes. The feeder is a small, round, metal chick feeder base with a mason jar to hold the feed. Again – not sure how well this will work, so I will have to let you know.
This is a far more complicated topic than I was expecting. It has always been advised to stay away from cedar shavings as they emit gasses that can cause respiratory harm to the chicks. It is now coming to light that pine shavings, previously thought to be benign, also contribute to respiratory issues in chicks. If you think about it – pine shavings aren’t naturally occurring… unless you have a beaver dam in the neighborhood, which we do btw… just not in the vicinity of our flock. More on what I’ve chosen to use later.
Baby chicks arrive needing to build their strength as well as their immunity. Their teeny legs are very fragile at this stage, so for the first few days I’ll keep the bedding soft and non-slippery. Newspaper, especially with glossy ads, is too slick a surface for the babies. Some people put layers of paper towel down for the first week, I am lucky enough to have kept some old, unused puppy pads which will work beautifully.
When the chicks graduate from the puppy pads I will be using chopped straw. To the chopped straw I will be adding some crushed leaves and dried, chick-friendly herbs I collected from last summer… and, when the snow melts and the ground thaws a bit, some clumps of dirt from the yard (in addition to chick grit.) This is all in an effort to expose the chicks to new things as wells as build their immunity. Turns out, ingesting a little dirt is good for them. “Just like kids,” my husband says.
I have also started a patch of grass for them to explore after their first week or so.
Which leads me to the next topic… exposure and boredom busters.
I believe that we humans do not give nearly enough credit to the intellect and sentience of animals. To think of animals, any animal, as unworthy of our best effort is lazy. Chickens, it turns out, are much smarter than we had previously given them credit. And as a their human, I want to give them an experientially rich environment. Hence the grass patch, and the herbs, and the mirror I’ve already placed in the brooder. Once they acclimate, I will build them a teeny roost on which to practice. I will bring them watercress, and alfalfa sprouts to explore in small amounts. I may even play them music… and I may or may not have already started a baby chick playlist. Don’t judge me.
In the end – this is my approach to chicken raising… you come to the table with different experiences so your approach will likely be different and that’s beautiful! I’d love to hear from you about your methods and theories.