What is a brooder: A brooder is any type of escape proof container to house chicks in until they have grown enough to be moved into their chicken coop. It will include a heat source, bedding, food and water.
What you need:
First you need a container. A big box will do or you can use a plastic Tupperware type container, a feed tub, stock tank, aquarium, a baby pool etc. Anything the chicks cant get out of. If you're brooding ducks you'll probably be better off going with plastic as you'll spend a whole lot more time cleaning up wet litter. You can get large boxes from the grocery store or save one next time you get something big in the mail or from the store. I get crate style boxes free from the farm equipment dealer. I've also used large bird cages, or guinea pig cages...even small dog crates. (dog crates might need to be lined with cardboard at first until the chicks are too big to fit through the bars. See picture below.)
Second is a heat source. Cheapest to buy is a heat lamp. Safest is a Brinsea Ecoglow, but it is a little more expensive then a heat lamp. However, if you are planning on brooding chicks several times or every year....then the Ecoglow will actually save you money in the long run as it costs less per day to run then a heat lamp. If you decide to use a heat lamp, you'll want to get a red heat bulb to discourage pecking. You'll also want to secure it. Never EVER trust just the clamp on a heat lamp!!!! We zip tie them to a hook in the wall, a table leg...anything secure. Safety first! A heat lamp touching a cardboard box or bedding can catch fire! When using a heat bulb, we prefer the ceramic heat bulbs. More expensive, but definitely safer. (sold in the reptile dept of the pet store or online, Amazon has them) Whatever you choose you'll want it to be 95 degrees at bedding level for the first week. Use a thermometer to check and make sure the chicks have enough room to get away from the heat if they get too warm.
Third you'll need some bedding. We buy pine shavings by the bag from Tractor Supply Center. Use pine, NOT ceder. Some people prefer hay, straw, recycled paper pellets, a layer of paper towels etc. We prefer the pine shavings. They run about $5 a bag and 1 bag will last you over a month for a average sized chick brooder.
Fourth is feed and water bowls. Preferably tip proof and not very deep. These guys are little after all. You wouldn't want them to get into a deep water bowl and drown! I bought the special chick sized ones for the first few weeks. I also buy dollar store cat food bowls that work just fine for chicks. (and much cheaper) Over the years we've used everything from jar lids to microwave containers though. As long as their clean and shallow they should do the job.
Of course you'll need feed and clean water but were just talking equipment here. Now lets talk expense....you can do the whole deal for under $15 bucks on a budget or $200 if you're my husband. Ready to hear this one?
You're looking at a 10 gallon aquarium, reptile heat lamp, 2 small red heat bulbs and a mesh tank topper. What you can't see is a reptile heat pad attached to the underside of the tank. No kidding, over $200...however, it does look nice inside the house (although they outgrow it quick and chick dust is now in the house! *sigh*)
Expense aside you will need to plan for growth. Many people like to use different sized boxes as the chicks grow, or move them to a larger cage when they get to be a few weeks old. Once they can fly you'll need to reevaluate their brooder. You wouldn't want them flying out and not being able to get back in!
Heat and feed needs differ as they grow....but that's another post entirely! I hope this has helped you figure out exactly what you need to bring chicks home and start you chicken keeping adventure!
As always when trying a new product I suggest you do some research of your own to make sure the product is a good fit for you and your flock before using.
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