Brothers M. Mondays is our way of sharing our excitement about our chickens.
I’ve recently received a couple questions about starting chicks, so this year for Brother M. Monday’s in May I’m doing a Brooder series
Starting out, here’s some general brooder basics I use:
- Length – In general, the chicks can leave the brooder as soon as they are feathered out. Anecdotal wisdom is that the sooner the chicks eat pasture grass, the sooner they build immunities.
Starting in early spring, mine usually go out near the end of 3 weeks. After that they start crowding the brooder. When raising them in the summer, I like to get them out around the end of the 2nd week, assuming we’re having warm weather, during a cold spell, I’d still wait another week.
- Heat – I subscribe to a “normalizing” heat method using heat lamps. This means I supply the heat and rely on the chicks to self-regulate their temperature by moving closer if they’re cold and further away if they are hot. This method means you have to be observant to what the chickens are doing.
In the spring I use 250w bulbs and switch to 120w in the summer. When the temperature drops low enough that the chickens are crowding the light, I use foam insulation and some blankets to cover the tops of the brooder, leaving appropriate space around the lights to prevent fire and allow air flow.
- Bedding – I use the deep bedding method of bedding the chicks. This means I layer in bedding as it gets soiled. This method results in several inches of bedding, which gets sent to the compost pile when the chicks are done.
I use medium wood chips for bedding, don’t use cedar. Fine chips will work, but you use a lot more in this method and there’s more dust which isn’t great for the chickens.
- Water – I started out with plastic 1gal waterers, then switch to metal 3 gallon, well actually I started out with a couple quart waterers, but we outgrew them really quick. I used the one gallon waterers because I initially sectioned off my big brooder into 4 sections and the 1gal worked well in that space. I removed the dividers so I had 2 larger 3×8 brooders and switched to using the same 3gal metal waterers I use in the chicken tractor.
In the future I plan to switch to a nipple water system.
- Feed – I started out with chick feeder troughs and quart feeders, but they didn’t hold enough food and were too cumbersome to keep up with. I switched to using the same 7lb feeders that I hang in the chicken tractors, just sitting on the bedding. I also set them on a piece of scrap deck board to help prevent wood chips from getting into them.
- Space/segregation – I’ll mention the capacity of each brooder as I post them. Initially I subscribed to more separation, 50 per brooder, but today feel that 100 per brooder works well. The reason for separation is to prevent crowding, as chicks will trample each other. However, my problem with separation is the lack of redundancy and the loss of brooder space for the equipment.
In my personal experience, with the brooder divided, I could only have one heat lamp per brooder. When a bulb failed one night, I lost almost a dozen chicks due to cold and crowding for warmth. After removing the divider, there are two lamps offering redundancy in a failure, I experience a similar failure, but only lost a couple chickens due to the redundant light. FYI, I think I got a bad batch of bulbs that year as I had several new bulbs fail.
Plus, using the one 3 Gallon waterer in the center instead of the two 1gal waterers gives the chicks more room. It’s not necessarily about the actual space the waterer takes up, but the placement in the center. In the divided brooder, the waterer always ended up near a corner which uses up more space.
I hope some of this info on how I do things is useful. Stay tuned for the rest of the posts on the various brooders I’ve tried.