Raising chickens from newly hatched chicks can be fun and relatively inexpensive. Because the chicks need a brooder only for the first six weeks of their lives, it's best to make a brooder that's quick and easy. A cardboard box brooder is disposable, so there's no chance of transferring disease from one group of chicks to the next. If this is the first time that you'll be raising chicks, it's probably best to use the most inexpensive or free materials available. Because the chicks grow so quickly and will be in their permanent housing by the time they are 6 to 8 weeks old, free cardboard boxes can make a satisfactory brooder for your chicks.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Appliance or other large shipping box
- Duct tape
- Roll plastic
- Box cutter or utility knife
- Utility light with reflector
- Red heat lamp
- Chain to hang lamp
Determine the size of the brooder you'll need by the number of chicks you'll be raising. You need 1/2 square foot of floor space minimum for every chick for the first two weeks. As the chicks grow bigger, they will need more space until they are about six weeks old and fully feathered. If you are in a cold climate, the chicks may need a heat source until the weather warms. If you plan to leave the chicks in this brooder until they are ready for permanent housing, allow 1 square foot of floor space for each chick.
Cut through one long corner and two short corners of box with the box cutter. This will give you a hinged lid to open to clean the cardboard box brooder. Cut part of the hinged lid away for the heat lamp. Allow at least 24 inches of height so the chicks can jump and fly around as they grow.
Cover the bottom of the box with plastic to catch water spills and excess waste. Attach with duct tape. If you have had to join two boxes together to get the right size, use duct tape to secure the bottom and sides and top together.
Place the thermometer on the floor of the brooder. Hang the heat lamp over the opening in the hinged lid and turn it on. After an hour, check the temperature on the thermometer. Newly hatched chicks need a temperature of 35.0 to 37.7 degrees Cor their first week of life. Make sure the lamp at least 6 inches from the cardboard to avoid a fire. Raise or lower the lamp until the desired temperature is reached. The temperature in the chick brooder should be reduced five degrees each week as the chicks' feathers grow.
Tips and warnings
- Be sure to provide bedding that provides a non-slippery surface for the chicks to walk on to prevent spraddle legs---a condition when a chick's legs spread out, and it can't walk. Paper towels work well, are easily changed and should be used over any other bedding for the first four to five days until the chicks are walking and eating well. Newspaper is too slippery for baby chicks.
- Unless the pieces are very big, don't use shavings for bedding until the chicks are 2 weeks old. The tiny chicks will sometimes eat the shavings with disastrous results.
- Cardboard is flammable, so be sure to keep the heat lamp away from the box.
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