A brood is a group of chicks that are hatched or cared for at one time such as a hen with her brood of chicks. A brooder is a place where a young chick can be kept safe and warm. It takes the place of the mother hen but still can provide warmth and protection. Even if you always use a broody hen for your hatches, it is good idea to have one available for emergencies.
This article is going to concentrate on the brooder box itself. The box is an important starting point. The dishes, food, bedding and heat lamp are all added after the box is chosen. There is an abundance of options out there for brooders.
The basic brooder can be made out of many different kinds of materials such as plastic, metal, wood or cardboard. You can buy a ready made brooder or you can make one yourself out of a cardboard box or plastic tote. I prefer plastic because it is easy to clean and you can use it for multiple hatches. Cardboard falls apart when it gets wet and damp conditions are not healthy for the chicks. Heat lamp use with cardboard and pine shavings can be a fire hazard unless you are extremely careful with mounting the heat lamp.
There are some wonderful brooders available. A brooder box or a rabbit hutch can make a very sturdy brooder. Some people use a wading pool or even a dog carrier. This hand crafted upcycled chick starter box looks interesting. I also like the Urban chicken brooder because it has a sliding bottom for easier cleaning. Whatever works for you. Your choice will have to do with what time of year it is and whether the chicks will be inside or outside. If outside, you will need to protect both the brooder and the chicks from the elements.
Folding play pens also can make great brooders. Remember that protection from the outside world is very important. The sides should be high enough so that the chicks do not jump out and that other pets cannot get in. Twelve inches high is a nice height. You will also need some kind of a top. I just place a window screen on top that can be easily removed and can allow for maximum ventilation. A larger screen can be used with larger brooders.
The size of your brooder will depend on how many chicks you are brooding. Newborns up to 4 weeks old need around 1/4 square foot per chick. Five weeks and up will need around 1/2 square foot per chick. Bantam breeds will not need as much space as they are smaller. It is better to buy a larger brooder and then use dividers to make it smaller for newborns. Brinsea has some interlocking panels that can tighten up a space. A smaller space allows for a warmer area for newborns.
Chicks stay in their brooder until they are feathered out (have lost their baby down and now have actual feathers). I brood mine until they are ready to move outside at about 10 weeks. Ten week old birds will not fit into their baby chick brooders. As your chicks grow, you will need to find larger brooders or set up a brooder situation inside of their outdoor coop.
If you plan on brooding chicks every year then I would suggest something that is going to last and is easy to clean. I have had the most success with plastic tote brooders or brooders made from large plastic dog carriers. I use the plastic totes for the newborns and the dog carriers for larger chicks. The clean up very easily. Ventilation is important but brooders should not be drafty especially for newborns. If you need advice about how to heat your brooder check out “How to choose a heat source for your Brooder“. For information on taking care of newborn chicks check out “Silkie Chick Management“.