20 March 2009

Chick Crazy - Brooding over Brooders

We have a baby on the way in a few short weeks and I've promised to make my daughter her very own sandbox this spring with a little digger in it but all she seems to care about is raising chicks. My husband was really worried when he found out I'd ordered six Rhode Island Red pullets (just one day old!) arriving April 17th. This is right after my due date and we haven't built the hen house yet and he was worried that the chicks would need their coop by April. He didn't realize that the chicks won't be ready for the coop until at least 8 weeks when their feathers come in and the weather is warmer. They will need a brooder until then but I tackled that project today with a little help from my eager-to-hold-and-feed-chicks daughter.

I started with a 90 quart plastic storage bin with lid and clear sides ($9) Apparently chicks don't like to be surprised and they prefer it when they can see you coming since their sense of sight and hearing are their strong points. The clear plastic sides take care of that.

On a workbench, I used an exacto knife to cut out half of the lid (approx 11"x 15" opening). For only six chicks, this should provide them with enough ventilation and a spot to place the warming light they'll need in the first few weeks of life. But it took me four tries on each side to get the exacto knife to cut through all the way. Using a jigsaw though seemed like too much for this project.

The opening cut from the lid.

Then I cut some 1/4" hardware cloth (with my little jewelry metal wire clippers) that was 1" larger on all sides than the opening, or 13" x 17" ($6 for a roll). I folded the sides over neatly to avoid the cut edges and tried to use my staple gun to staple the wire mesh to the lid opening but it didn't work. Plan B was to make a wood frame of 1"x1" wood to staple the wire to and that worked out much better ($0.65 for 8' strip of 1"x1" oak). My plan was to bolt this down to the plastic lid with little washers on the inside but the wood seems to hold the hardware cloth in place very well and it would be nice to be able to lift this section up to reach in quickly rather than undoing the whole lid for access.

Here's the opening with the mesh frame on top and the flood light ($10 and will be reused for the greenhouse later) sitting over the opening. I've read in a few different books on raising chickens that red bulbs are considered best for the chicks. They are attracted to red things and it is believed that the red light prevents them from pecking at each other. The flood light bulb I chose was a 100 watt (no 85 watt available) so I most likely will have to suspend it over the opening to prevent it from getting too hot inside the brooder. It is nice to be able to raise the lamp up and down to monitor the temperature and adjust it weekly as they grow.

Here it is with the lid snapped in place. The chicks should be happy enough in here with a towel or paper towels for litter beneath them for the first few weeks. It will also be easy to clean, transport, and to keep inside the house while they're really young (all messes contained). Plus, it cost me only $26 in materials and I still have lots of hardware cloth left for other uses. I've heard of people happily raising their chicks in whatever they have on hand including cardboard boxes (although these have to be changed frequently as they get soiled), bathtubs, aquariums, and large feed or water troughs. I like being able to see the chicks all the time through the plastic sides and being able to easily transport them in and out of the house (or around the house) to let them experience a sunny day outdoors with some grass clippings or other items of interest in their brooder.

Here's the inspiration brooder for this project with instructions and photos.

I'm so excited to pick up our fuzzy little flock of chicks! I think it will be a great project for Savannah (and for me to oversee) as the chicks will be a great distraction from baby in the early weeks as she gets to play "Mommy". She's been reading almost exclusively about chicks for a week now and can already tell you how to cure pasty butt and spraddle legs. Who knew that farm life could be so educational!

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