Before brooders, chicks would hatch under a broody hen and would stay beneath their mom for warmth. Nowadays, most chicken owners use brooders to raise their chicks because broody hens can be difficult to find. Chicks require a brooder during their first few weeks of life because they cannot regulate their temperature. Without a brooder, they will get too cold and either starve to death because they refuse to eat or will die of hypothermia. You can build a brooder out of low-cost materials.
Heating it Up
People who build their own brooders often use reflector lamps as a heat source. The reflector lamp or heat lamp will hang down over the chicks in the brooder box to keep them warm. Use a reflector lamp rated for a minimum 150 watts. The bulb should be a heat bulb for best warmth. These lamps get very hot and can be a fire hazard, so be sure the lamp doesn't touch anything flammable, nor does it make the surrounding litter or brooder box too hot. Choose a red bulb to discourage the chicks from picking on each other. Chicks naturally pick at red, so red light tricks them to see everything as red, thus making it normal.
Think Inside the Box
The brooder's main body is a container that will house the chicks. Plastic storage boxes, stock tanks, hard plastic kiddie pools and other high-walled containers can make excellent brooder boxes. You will need a covering over the top to prevent chicks from escaping and predators from eating the chicks. Field fencing and hardware cloth make good tops as they will be heat resistant.
Taking Their Temperatures
You should have a thermometer at the bottom of the brooder box to be certain that the temperatures are correct for your chicks. Adjust the temperature by adjusting the position of the heat lamp. At the beginning, the brooder should be 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Every week, reduce the temperature 5 degrees by raising the heat lamp a little until the temperature is reduced. Once the brooder is at 70 degrees, the chicks are ready to leave the brooder, if the ambient temperature is close to 70 degrees. If it is colder, you may have to reduce the temperature further until they are acclimated.
Keep Them Dry
Add pine shavings, sawdust or clean sand to line the brooder and act as bedding. This bedding is called litter. It will absorb urine and feces and keep the chicks clean and dry. You need to change the litter when it gets dirty or smelly.
Add a chick feeder and waterer so that the chicks may get food and water as required. Be sure water and food is always available.
- Raising Chickens for Dummies; Kimberly Willis and Rob Ludlow, pp 274-284