How To Raise Baby Chicks: Equipment

Since we're getting into hatching season, we thought it would be worthwhile covering a variety of topics related to raising baby chicks.  In this first installment, we'll cover the equipment you need and your options and costs. For this series, we are going to assume that customers are buying baby chicks from on online supplier or a local store, rather than incubating fertile eggs.

Here's A checklist of equipment you'll need:

Brooder - A brooder is a temporary shelter for you chicks used till they reach a mature enough age (4 weeks) that they can be placed into a growing pen or traditional chicken coop. The complexity and cost of your brooder really depends on how many chicks you plan to raise and your budget. Whatever size or complexity of brooder it needs to meet a few requirements: 

  • It should be large enough to accommodate the number of birds you purchase including food, water and heating equipment. (1/2 to 1 square foot per bird when they are under 2 weeks old and 2 square feet when they are 3-4 weeks old)
  • It needs to be free from drafts.
  • It needs to be ventilated
  • It should provide protection and also be escape proof.
The simplest brooders are barrier walls made of cardboard or plastic keep the chicks confined to a small area. These are used in an environment that is already warm such as a basement or heated garage. Brooders of this type generally enclose a space large enough to accommodate a dozen or more chicks.

Plastic Barrier Brooder

Metal battery style brooders offer lots of convenience (built in heater, removal floor tray for easier cleaning etc.) and can be stacked if you plan to keep many birds. These are large enough to keep birds till they are 2 weeks old at which point the chicks will need to be moved to a larger space. These are a bit pricey (+$200) 

Battery Brooder

An alternative for just a few chicks, is to re-purpose a plastic container by cutting ventilation holes in the top. These containers work well for a few chicks but you will need to move the chicks to a larger container as the chicks increase in age. (see next option)

If you own a large dog, you may already have a dog crate that can also function as a brooder. Other less fancy alternatives might include a large cardboard box, a re-purposed baby crib etc.

Heat Source:
Baby chicks need a very warm environment. Place newborn chicks in an environment that's 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) and reduce the heat 5 degrees per week until the temperature of the brooder is that of the ambient environment or 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  

For a small number of chicks, a 60 watt incandescent light bulb may be all that's required. More powerful options include infrared heat lamps and/or ceramic light bulbs. The latter are heat units that screw into light bulb sockets but produce no heat.  These ceramic bulbs can be purchased in pet shops as ceramic heaters are sold for reptiles.  

A Ceramic Bulb

Infrared and ceramic heat sources get very hot and so it's extremely important to make sure these are set up in a way that is safe.  Make sure to purchase a high quality fixture that has a porcelain bulb socket. Plastic sockets can't take the heat thrown off by the heat lamps and will melt. The fixture should also include a protective cage to cover the bulb and be hung in a way that the bulb doesn't come into close proximity to the brooder wall, bedding or other materials that can be set aflame.

Ceramic Socket & Wire Cage Brooder Heat Fixture

Finally, there are now panel style heaters sold that provide a more even distribution of heat (no hot spots) and operate at safer temperatures. These radiant style panel heaters are safe and energy efficient. There only downside is that they are more expensive -- generally over $120.

Thermometer - Get an outdoor thermometer so you can determine the temperature in your brooder. We like and recommend buying the new digital kind. You place a sensor in the brooder and it transmits the information to a display unit you can place anywhere where it's convenient for you. Digital thermometers cost about $ and can be purchased at the hardware store.

Panel Heater

Food & Water EquipmentInexpensive plastic and metal food dishes for chicks are readily available. However these are unsanitary because it's easy for chicks to stand on the feed tray and poop into their food. They also are hard to fill and waste feed. The same problems exist with standard chick waters -- they are easily contaminated and chick can tip them over and get their bedding wet.

Below is a video showing baby chicks using a valve based watering system. The water stays covered and chicks drink from the metal valves located on the bottom of the waterer.
A valve based system keeps the water free of dropping and the brooder dryer.  

Also below is an improved feeder that we sell on our web site. The feeder blocks chicks from standing on the feed tray. As a result, it keeps the food clean and reduces the need to clean the tray each day. The feeder is designed with a shield that prevents rain from getting into the feed tray so it can be used outdoors when the chicks grow up and leave the brooder.

Baby Chicks Drinking BriteTap Chicken Waterer from ChickenWaterer on Vimeo.

Bedding Material - Baby chicks eat lots of food when they are growing and so there's also lots of poop to deal with. You'll need to place clean bedding into your brooder to absorb the droppings and you'll also need to change it frequently.

There are lots of options including: dry leaves, chopped straw and peat moss but we feel the options that are probably going to be the best are as follows:

  • Shredded Newspaper - many folks already have this on hand and so it's cost free bedding. Whole sheets are very absorbent but can be used to line the bottom of the brooder. However, shredded newspaper is fairly absorbent. Just run the paper through an office paper shredder and you have an unlimited supply of bedding.
  • Wood Shavings - Kiln dry wood shavings can be purchased at pet and feed stores. Pine and cedar shavings have strong smells that are not very good for baby chicks so we recommend buying shavings made from aspen wood. 
  • Pellet Bedding - Sold in pet stores, these pellets are highly absorbent and dust free. From the perspective of effectiveness, they work the best. The only downside is that they are the most costly of the three recommended options.
Next Installment - In our next installment we'll cover selecting the right breed of chicken for your family.


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