Brooders Ready for Fall Chicks

It’s that time again! 🙂 Today is the first day of fall and that means it’s time to prepare the brooders for baby chicks. They will be our fourth flock and ready to produce eggs in late spring of 2012.

Wasting no time, yesterday I cleaned the garage, evicted the mice, and sprayed for anything that crawls. That took five hours, but I’m fairly assured I won’t have to look over my shoulder while tending to the hatchlings over the next  5-6 weeks.

So what’s next? The brooders of course! I keep them set-up all year, so all that had to be done was a thorough cleaning and a few repairs. I have two brooders, one large enough to accommodate 30+ chicks, and a much smaller one in case of a problem or emergency. Next, there are some decisions to make… what kind of chicks to buy, and from where? Mail order, feed store, or from a local poultry keeper? I know what you’re thinking…  yes, day old chicks are indeed ordered from a catalog and shipped directly to a nearby post office.

Go To Murray McMurray

So many to choose from! What I usually do is shop the catalog to decide what breeds I want, then look for them local. However, fancy and ornamental birds are difficult to locate and usually have be ordered.

This young pullet is a Polish Top Hat variety, I still have her, she’s from the 2010 hatch. They aren’t the best layers though, she is a white egg layer and only about one every three days. But she’s pretty to look at!


There are many breeds I like, but over the years I found that some definitely do better in the extreme heat than others. This season I’ll be staying away from the heavy or meat birds and keeping only hens under 5 pounds. Last season was my most successful season, only losing one hen and it was an 8.5 Orphington. I only have one left and she had two close calls in July and August.

Small Brooder

The Chicken yard has been all stripped down and cleaned, the hen house and nests are all filled with fresh clean Bermuda hay. Water buckets all been scrubbed clean and winter feed is neatly stored in the feed shed. Another summer in ovenland has passed, that means paradise is right around the corner! Flowers will bloom, windows can be opened, and maybe, just maybe….. RAIN?

Picked On, Pecked On Chicks. Why and What To Do?

Let’s start at the beginning with chicks in the brooder. Chicks don’t just peck each other for lack of something to do. There is an underlying problem causing them stress and/or aggravation. As any living creature, the first and foremost necessity for well being is comfort.

Providing chick starter crumbles and fresh water is a given, so we can certainly rule out hunger as the stress factor. It is my opinion there are two other very important factors to consider. Living environment and lighting, with significant emphasis on the latter. Overcrowding may or may not be the culprit in their acquired pecking behavior. However, if ample space is not provided away from a heat source, comfort is indeed compromised.

Always provide more than one feeder so weaker birds are not bullied. It only takes one drop of blood for the pecking disaster to begin, remember chickens are in fact cannibals. Also, by week 3, keep them busy with offerings of green grass, especially when you witness aggression.


Now let’s get to the nitty gritty of the pecking problem. Lighting, lighting, lighting! A brooder lamp is necessary for warmth but it shouldn’t be a blast of blinding light. Especially if you have the chicks in a small brooder and there’s no way to escape the annoyance.

I’m not at all a fan of the clear white bulbs and switched a long time ago to RED. They provide a calming environment, and as a bonus any minor pecking that’s caused an injury is better disguised under a red lamp.

You may want to make the switch from heat lamps altogether and switch to radiant heat from a Brinsea brooder. This will solve your fluctuating temperature problem, and providing you have a good number of chicks, it will be sufficient in keeping them warm.

Note: If it’s brutal cold… you can supplement with a low wattage red heat lamp. Low wattage heat bulbs are sold for reptiles, I usually use a 50, 100, or 250 watt, depending on how cold it is.

For injuries, no matter how slight, I use a product called Blu-Kote. It has healing agents and the purple dye in the treatment hides the battle wounds. You’ll find this product at your local feed store.

I’m convinced that happy and content chickens start in the brooder. It’s easy to tell if the brooder has comfort zones. You should see some birds huddled together under the heat source, some resting alone, some scratching in the litter, and some eating. Watch your chicks, their behavior says it all!

A Nifty Thrifty Brooder

A Brooder Doesn’t Need To Be Fancy – Just Functional

My brooder is nothing more than a cardboard box, 10ft long 3ft. wide, and 16′ high. If your box isn’t high enough you can easily attach additional cardboard to the sides using zip ties.

Duct tape and zip ties are my friend, be creative, you’ll be amazed what you can build with what was once considered junk in the garage or shed.

I found some leftover ceramic floor tiles in the garage and used them to line the bottom of the brooder. Newspaper on top of any flooring will help make cleanup easier.  Pine shaving are expensive so as an alternative I use shredded paper saved from my home shredder. However, for the first week I use only paper towels on the bottom so food sources are not confusing to the chicks.

I use a few bricks to build a platform in the center of the brooder where their feeder sets, and the same for the drinker in one corner of the brooder. Day old chicks will have no problem accessing their food and water sources if both are raised, this limits feed waste and helps keep the water clean.

Chicken wire simply laid over the top of the brooder will be sufficient in confining them. They have little interest in escaping, but can spook easily when disturbed by basic brooder chores, so better safe than sorry.

The heat lamp is best situated at one end of the brooder, it’s important to have sufficient space for your chicks to find their comfort zone. It’s a good idea to have a thermometer at both ends of the brooder, but if you watch your chicks behavior it’s quite obvious when they are cold or hot.

When they’re cold they will all huddle together under the heat lamp, when hot they’ll lie down holding their wings away from their body. Somewhere in between is where you want to keep your babies, just watch them, they’ll be quick to inform you of a problem.