October 2015
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The Chicks Move to a Bigger Brooder

Our 15 baby chicks spent their first 2 weeks in the small brooder I built from a 12 gallon plastic storage container. They grow so fast that it wasn’t long before that brooder started to get a little crowded. The brooder in the garage would be their home for the next 6 weeks. It was very warm in Georgia in late August, so they wouldn’t need a lot of auxiliary heat. I still provided a light bulb in the garage so they could self-regulate but I saw them use it less. Once they lose their chick fuzz and get feathers, they can tolerate temperature variations much more easily. That doesn’t happen until more like 6+ weeks so we weren’t there yet.

The garage brooder was a very simple and frugal design. I obtained a scrap cardboard box made of extremely heavy gauge cardboard. I cut it into 2 long pieces about 24” high and bent them in a curved shape. By eliminating corners, we eliminate places where the chicks can pile on top of each other to keep warm which can lead to suffocation. I connected the 2 pieces together with wooden splices of 1”x4” boards sandwiching the joint and held together with wood screws. The resulting brooder was a circular shape about 4’ in diameter. I placed it on top of a large piece of cardboard to keep the poop off the garage floor. The bottom was covered with a thick layer of pine shavings. A light bulb was suspended from above for heat. I used a basic floodlight fixture for this.

Chick Brooder in Garage

Chick Brooder in Garage

Chicks in Garage Brooder

Chicks in Garage Brooder

If you don’t like working with electric fixtures, you can buy a heat lamp fixture on-line. I made a support out of coat hanger wire so I could adjust the height of the bulb as needed. The feeder and waterer were placed on bricks to keep them up off the floor so they would stay somewhat cleaner. I also added an elongated metal feeder to give them more room to spread out since they were getting bigger.

A lot of people ask about what kind of feed to give them and when. I’ll cover feed more in later posts but below is a short list. The BackyardChickens.com website is a great source of information on feeds. I read all the resources and went with this approximate timeline:
• 0-18 weeks: Countryside Organics soy-free, GMO-free starter/grower feed
• 6 weeks: introduce grit, insects, black soldier fly larvae (BSF)
• 18+ weeks: Countryside Organics soy-free, GMO-free layer feed
• When they start laying, provide supplemental calcium
Organic feed is more expensive but we realized that whatever they eat –we eat. If we wanted cheap low-quality eggs, we wouldn’t have gotten chickens. We supplement their feed with other food sources as much as possible, but commercial feed is their primary food source. Where we live, there are too many predators to let them free range.

On moving day, I transferred the chicks to their new spacious home. Not surprisingly, they all ran to the far edge and huddled around each other. They didn’t know what to do with all the space. I left them alone and came back about an hour later. Sure enough they were roaming around eating, drinking, and scratching. This is when I started to see just how busy they always are. I didn’t know it at the time, but much later I would better understand the benefits of these tireless little workers and their scratching.

For water, I was still using the same small chick waterer with the Ball jar. Even with it up on the bricks, the chicks found ways to get shavings and manure into the water. During their 2nd week in the larger brooder, I introduced the chicks to poultry nipple waterers. They are a really cool way to give them access to water so it stays clean.

poultry water nipple

They come with instructions and there are also good web pages showing how to use them. Basically you drill a hole in the bottom of the bucket and thread the nipple in. It’s that simple. I put 6 of them around the edge of the bottom of the bucket. I suspended the bucket above the brooder with wire, and adjusted the height gradually as the chickens got bigger. They seem to learn fast how to get the water from them. Every time they peck one, a drop of water comes out. And chickens are always pecking things.

Bucket Waterer Hanging

Bucket Waterer Hanging

Chicks Learning to Drink from the Nipples

Chicks Learning to Drink from the Nipples

The chicks stayed in the garage brooder for 6 weeks. During that time they ate a lot and grew fast. They also poop a lot. I only had to change the pine shavings once during the 6 weeks. In between, I picked out the dried poop whenever I noticed it. The poop and shavings went into the compost pile.

This is a fun time. They are getting their feathers. They run around more. They start trying to fly. I can tell you that at 8 weeks they can’t fly 24” to get over the side – UNLESS you don’t plan well and give them something to hop up on. At one point I had the Ball jar waterer too close to the side. One of them figure out how to fly up and perch on top of the waterer, then fly up and over the side of the cardboard. I came out one morning to check on them and one was missing. I thought for sure she had gotten out the door when I opened it. After a while, I found her crouched in the back behind the brooder wall. She probably got out and spent the rest of the time trying to get back in. They really are creatures of habit and want to get closer together at night.

One cool thing about this brooder is that it is truly temporary. When it was no longer needed, I removed the screws from one side of the splices to separate the 2 pieces and stored them in my shed. They took up very little space when stacked up and are ready for the next batch of chicks. The piece of cardboard on the floor was scrap and got reused in the garden for sheet-mulching. The pine shavings and manure were composted.

At around 6 weeks of age, I started introducing insects when I could catch them. I also added some grit in a feeder. You should give them access to grit when you give them anything other than chick starter feed if they don’t have access to bare dirt. They especially like crickets and grasshoppers. I gave them a big fat green grasshopper once and a free-for-all ensued that was hilarious. One of them would capture it in her beak and the rest of them would chase her around the brooder until she makes a wrong turn and someone would steal it from her. And if you want to see chickens lose their minds, give them a pile of black soldier fly larvae. It looks like the after-Thanksgiving sale at Walmart!

At 8 weeks of age, they were ready to move outside. I had decided that their next home would be a chicken tractor. While they were in the garage brooder, I designed and built the chicken tractor. I’ll cover that in detail in the next post about chickens. See you next time.

Resource for this post:
Backyard Chickens: http://www.backyardchickens.com
Chick Feeder
Chick Waterer
Poultry Water Nipples

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