Poultry > Hatching & Embryology
A Brooding Unit for a Small Number of Birds
Rearing chicks in a classroom has serious limitations. However, if for some reason the chicks are to be kept for a few days, they should be placed in a brooding unit that will provide warmth and protection and sufficient room for them to move about some and eat and drink. Here is a plan for a simple brooding unit in which 10 to 12 chicks could be kept for 7 to 10 days or 10 to 12 quail for about 3 weeks.
Equipment needed includes the following:
Cardboard box approximately 28 inches long, 25 inches wide, and 14 inches high
Gooseneck lamp with 40, 60, or 75-watt bulb or an extension cord with socket for a bulb and a wooden rod or stick to place across the cardboard box
Pebbles, marbles, or ¼ inch screen
Welded-wire cover for the box
Litter for floor of box – wood shavings, sawdust, peat moss, sand, or other appropriate material
The principles of brooding are the same regardless of the number of chicks in the flock. Whether there is one chick or 1,000, they have to be kept warm, well fed and watered, protected from predators and dampness, and provided with plenty of fresh air without being exposed to drafts. This unit, when used in a warm place such as the home or school, will do the job.
The gooseneck lamp provides the heat. A 60 or 75-watt bulb normally provides enough warmth. The neck of the lamp can be bent to move the bulb – the source of heat – closer to or away from the chicks to adjust the heat. If the side of the box is very high, a slit can be made in it so that the neck of the lamp and the lamp shade can be bent into the box.
An even simpler way to provide heat is to use an extension cord with a socket for a light bulb. Put a 40, 60, or 75-watt bulb, depending on the depth of the box, in the socket. A light-weight aluminum pie pan can be put on the extension cord just above the light bulb to reflect the heat downward. Close to the light bulb, loop the extension cord a couple of times loosely around a wooden rod or stick – DO NOT USE A METAL ROD. Place the stick across and somewhat toward one end of the box, leaving the other end of the box free for the feeding and watering equipment. Heat can be adjusted by raising or lowering the light bulb and by using different size bulbs.
When chicks are cold, they huddle together and “cheep” plaintively. When they are too warm, they stand with wings partially outspread, beak open, throat rapidly pulsating, and in essence pant like a dog. The walls of the box keep drafts off the chicks and confine the chicks, too.
Two to three inches of litter are needed on the floor of the box. This serves as insulation and as an absorptive material. Materials such as peat moss, sawdust, shavings, straw, or sand can be used. Never place birds, especially young ones, on a smooth surface. They cannot grip a slippery surface, and their legs tend to go out to the side. This disjoints the legs and cripples the chicks. This condition is commonly called “spraddle leg.”
The brooding unit should contain at least one waterer and one feeder. Place the waterer on a wooden block or stand to help keep the litter out of the water. IMPORTANT: Place pebbles or marbles in or a screen on the water dish so that quail cannot get wet. They should be able to get their beaks in the water, and that’s all. Feeding and watering equipment can be obtained from feed stores, hatcheries, and farm supply stores. Feed can be obtained at feed or farm supply stores. Chickens should be fed chick starter; quail should be fed gamebird starter or turkey mash. If these are not available, some of the newer high-protein, vitamin, and minerals cereals for human consumption may be satisfactory. Feed and water chicks as soon as they are transferred from the incubator to the brooder.
Finally, after the chicks have been put in the brooding unit, cover it with a welded-wire screen. This will keep the chicks in and predators, such as cats and dogs, out.
If you do all these things, you will have a comfortable home for the baby chicks. Then, you must follow through to be sure that they are kept warm and well fed. This means checking the feeders, waterers, and the heat every morning, noon, and before you leave the school.
For more information on how to brood and care for baby chicks, refer to Illinois 4-H Poultry Manual – Unit 1.
This information was taken in part from material prepared by E.A. Schano, Cornell University.
Ken Koelkebeck Extension Specialist, Poultry
« Back to Poultry