Brooding chicks doesn’t need to be complicated, difficult, or costly. There are a lot of products on the market geared toward chicken keepers, but most of them are unnecessary in the first few weeks of a chicks life. Over many years of trial and error, we’ve found the perfect brooder setup. This setup is so simple and easy you could use items you already have in your home!
Here are the five essential supplies you need for brooding chicks!
1. Brooder Box:
There are so many inexpensive options for brooding chicks, and it’s very likely you already have the perfect brooder box stashed somewhere in your home. Any large bin or box will work perfectly well for a brooder. Some people even use their bathtub to brood chicks!
Our favorite brooder is a repurposed rabbit cage. It’s ideal because it keeps the chicks contained and gives them some entertainment throughout the day as well. It’s great for the wee ones to be able to see through the bars so they aren’t startled when we approach the brooder. The ability to see outside the brooder also cuts down on boredom for the birds, so they spend less time picking on each other. Using a rabbit cage eliminates the need for any sort of cover on the brooder, since it has one built in. This comes in really handy when the birds start learning to fly.
For many years we used a big plastic bin for brooding chicks, and it worked well while they were little, but as soon as they found their wings they would start roosting on the edge of the brooder. We would find a ring of poop on the floor around the brooder and would frequently find chicks wandering around on the floor when they discovered they could escape. We used makeshift lids for the bins after that. All of this was more trouble than it was worth, and once we found the ease of using a rabbit cage we haven’t looked back!
2. Heat Source
One of the most important things about brooding chicks is keeping them sufficiently warm and comfortable. You’ll need some sort of heat source to keep the brooder at around 95 degrees for the first week of the chicks life. Most people use a heat lamp because it’s inexpensive and easy to find, any hardware store or Amazon will be sure to carry what you need.
The heat lamp itself is not as important as the clamp that may or may not come with it. Having a sturdy clamp on your heat lamp is absolutely essential. The clamps that come with almost every heat lamp on the market are not reliable and can not be trusted on their own.
If you choose to use a heat lamp to heat your brooder, it’s important to secure the lamp in at least three ways. When we set up our brooder we use wire to securely connect the lamp to the clamp, to ensure it won’t loosen or fall off. We also use extra clamps for added support. Third, we anchor the cord to something so that should the clamps fail, the cord will catch the heat lamp before it touches anything flammable.
If the idea of a heat lamp scares you, there is another option for heating the brooder called the Brinsea EcoGlow . The ecoglow is known for being safer than a heat lamp and more comfortable for the chicks because it doesn’t light up their environment at night. The ecoglow emits heat and the chicks gather underneath it when they need to warm up. This is very similar to how chicks behave with their mother hen, making for a more natural brooder setup than a heat lamp.
We’ve tried everything imaginable to use as bedding/litter for the brooder. The best option we found over the years is pine shavings. These can be found at any feed store, pet store, or big box grocery store. Pine shavings are ideal because they’re absorbent, cheap, readily available, and healthy for your birds.
If you want cheap pine shavings don’t buy them in the pet section of your grocery store, or even at a pet store. If you have a feed or farm store in your area, be sure to go there instead. The feed store can supply you with a huge bag of pine shavings for around $5, and depending on how many chicks you have, that bag will probably last you through the whole brooding period.
Things not to use for litter/bedding:
- Flat newspaper (too slippery for their feet)
- Shredded newspaper (not absorbent enough)
- Clay cat litter (produces dust, bad for chicks if eaten)
- Cedar shavings (too aromatic, bad for respiratory systems)
4. Water fount:
We use a shallow bowl for a water fount, it works great and best of all, it’s free! When the chicks are under a week old, we invert another smaller bowl in the center. This keeps the chicks from falling into the bowl of water, and when chicks are really young they do indeed need a lot of protection from accidents. As the chicks grow, around two weeks of age and older, we remove the smaller bowl.
There are plenty of fancy feeders on the market geared toward new chicken keepers. Over the years we’ve found that you truly don’t need something fancy to feed your chicks. This is a supply that you will only use for a few weeks, once per year, so save some money and use something you already have on hand!
Our feeder is just as simple as the water fount. We use any small ceramic bowl we have laying around the house. The only real advantage to commercial chick feeders is that they help to prevent food spillage. The chicks do kick a little of the feed out of their ceramic bowl, but not enough to make us want to spend money on a specialty feeder. It also helps if you fill the bowl only halfway.
Setting up a chick brooder truly doesn’t need to be expensive or difficult. If you have these five essential supplies your chicks will grow up happy and healthy!