Flock Management
raising chicks using a brooder

A brooder is an enclosed area that has an artificial heat source to warm the chicks, as well as bedding material and access to food and water.  It is used to raise day old chicks until they are big enough to be integrated into an existing flock. 

The main advantage is that it is cheaper than buying point of lay chickens.  The main disadvantage is that day old chicks can often be difficult to source.

This is a good method for people wishing to expand their flock quickly or want to raise a regular batch of chickens for meat production.

advantages/disadvantages summary

  • Cheaper than buying point of lay hens, even when you take into the account the cost of raising day old chicks to adult chickens. 

  • There is generally a higher survival rate than for chicks raised by their natural mothers, particularly for breeds that have flighty hens.
  • A relatively large number of chicks can be raised at once.
  • There is a start up cost in building or buying a brooder.
  • A reasonable amount of work is required to care for the growing chicks.
  • The young chickens still have to be integrated into your existing flock and all the associated problems that involves.
  • Once the growing chicks have outgrown the brooder you will usually need a separate nursery pen to hold them until they are big enough to be integrated into your existing flock.
  • They require extra protection from cats, rats and predatory birds as there is no adult chickens there to protect them.
brooder designs
 The internet is full of designs for brooders, ranging from simple converted boxes through to quite elaborate structures.  Just type "homemade chicken brooder design" into Google and you will get  links to heaps of designs. There are also commercial brooders on the market, though they are considerably more expensive.

the brooder I used.
I made my own brooder using a low plastic tub.  There was no top to it  but it was high enough to prevent rats getting in and as it was set up in my garage it was cat and predatory bird proof. 

For heating I wired a  forty watt globe into the side of the box about fifteen centimetres above the bottom of the tub and I fashioned a crude lamp shade for the globe to reflect the heat of the bulb downwards.  I did not use a thermostat to control the temperature or even a thermometer to monitor it.  I simply watched what the chicks were doing.  If they were staying well away from the heat of the globe I switched it off or replaced the 40 watt globe with a 25 watt one. 

Using this brooder I raised two batches of twelve chicks without losing a single one.  In hindsight I think I could have come up with a better design.  If I was to build this structure again I would have the globe suspended over the brooder box so I could adjust the temperature by raising and lowering the globe rather than switching it on and off.  I would also use a coloured rather than a plain incandescent globe, though the chicks did not seem to mind the amount of light emitted by a plain globe.

But despite these shortcomings my brooder was relatively cheap to build and worked remarkably well.  Unfortunately I used this brooder in the era before digital cameras and neglected to take any photos of it, so I can't show you any photos of it.

brooder equipment  for a small brooder
This is a list of materials required to build a small brooder suitable for 12 chicks.
  • Indoor space with access to power to set up your brooder.  Part of a garage or garden shed is ideal.
  • Photo of a small chicken waterer.
    Small chicken waterer suitable for use in a brooder.  Image courtesy of the internet.

    Photo of a small chicken feeder
    Small chicken feeder suitable for use in a brooder.  This feeder is just 18 centimetres across.  Small waterers and feeders such as these are readily available at produce supply stores.  Image courtesy of the internet.

    A low open topped box or plastic tub that is big enough so at least half of the area is not subject to the radiant heat from the heat source, a floor space of  around 3/4 of a square metre.  If cats can access the shed then the box will need a wire mesh top, but whatever you use to cover the top must have plenty of ventilation.
  • A 40 watt incandescent plain or coloured globe suspended about 15cm above the floor of the box.  There is no need to us a reptile or brooder heat lamp.  They are several times the price of a standard globe and put out too much heat for such a small brooder.  These lamps are more suitable for larger brooders.
  • Some sawdust or wood shavings on the floor of the box.  This gives the chicks a comfortable surface for them to rest on as well as material for them to scratch in.  This material also absorbs the  liquid manure excreted by the chicks.  Newspaper can also be used.
  • Small water container that can't be easily tipped.  A small chicken waterer is ideal but a pet bowl is also OK.
  • Small bowl to put the chicks' food in.  Either a small chicken feeder or a pet bowl, just as long as it can't be turned over easily.