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Expert tips and tricks for backyard chicken keeping

Setting up a brooder box

How to.., Raising chicks

Setting up a brooder box is actually really easy! I’ll show you how.

My son breeds two breeds of chickens – Pekins and Polish. At this time of year we have a lot of babies around the house!

I have a lot of people inquiring after brooder set-ups so I thought I would share how we do ours here.

Step One: The Brooder Box

There are many options here. Some people use a large box or plastic container they have available. We have used a cage that was previously used to house guinea pigs. You can also buy brooder cages which are specific for raising chicks. This can be more expensive but does make things very easy. Basically, the size you require depends on the number of chicks you have, and how old they get. As they get older, they will need more space – you could even have an outdoor cage setup for daytime use? As long as they have a warm area, with food and water they are fine.

Step Two: Liners

I highly recommend using something to line your box/cage. This makes clean-up a lot easier and does stay more hygienic, plus they are non-slip. For this, I use puppy pads. We sell these in a pack of 30 liners. It is important to make sure the surface is not slippery for young chicks. They need to be able to grip easily to strengthen their hips and legs.

Brooder box lined with puppy pads.

Brooder lining

You can use just puppy pads/liners for the first few days, but then I recommend adding some bedding. I use our premium bedding chilled chick, but you can also use pine shavings. I find these the least dusty, most easily available, and cost-effective. Around 1cm deep is about right. The chicks love practicing being a chicken and playing in this. I also add some of our chick blend for them to forage for and peck at.

Brooder box with pine shavings and chick blend.

Brooder Bedding

Step Four: Heating

Chicks require artificial heating for at least the first six weeks of their lives (usually until they feather up fully). Around 35 degrees is a good start. Remember, they would usually have a Mumma chook to keep them warm! You can slowly reduce the heat as they get older by moving the heat source further and further away; until they are ready to live outside. The diagram below shows you what the good placement of chicks whilst sleeping looks like. If they are too hot, move the lamp away a bit, too cool, move it closer.

We have heat lamps available, or you could use an old-fashioned desk lamp with a halogen bulb. The easiest brooder heating is heat plates, these mimic the mother hen and are temperature controlled to ensure you have the correct heat.

Approximate guide to heat lamp position.

Heat lamp location

How to be sure your chicks are receiving the right amount of heat.Chick temperature

Step Five: Feeding and Watering

I recommend using a medicated chick starter. Chick starter crumbles are a complete feed and no supplementary feeding is necessary. Chicks should have unlimited access to the feed.

You will notice that the chicks will kick around their bedding and poop into the food. I do two things to help with this. Firstly, I use a long 16- hole tray feeder. This means more chicks can feed at once, but also, it is hard for them to get the bedding and poop into the holes.

Secondly, I put the feeder up off the shavings. I use an old wire baking tray. This also means poop falls through and it is much cleaner. Just make sure for the first couple of days, the chooks are able to get up onto the tray. You may need to keep it a bit lower and then raise it after a few days.

For the waterer, if you go for an upright drinker you will need to have this up on the rack also. These will get clogged with bedding and poop otherwise! We also do a hanging nipple drinker. This means absolutely no mess, and you just raise it as they get older.


Step Six: Chicks

Once you have bedding, heating, food, and water, you are ready to add the chicks! Please make sure you have a minimum of two, I would recommend at least four. Chicks are flocking birds and get very lonely on their own! Also, having a couple of extras can account for any boys or unforeseen deaths you may have.

Most of all – enjoy. Raising chicks is a wonderful experience.

Ros x

p.s. if you have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will try help out!

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