Don’t be afraid to improvise! This doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise and you’ll probably be able to recycle materials you have laying around the house. Old drawers work well, as do slightly modified kitchen cupboards, small bookshelves or similar. Garage sales, curb-side collection or Waste Transfer Stations (check you’re allowed to collect items from these before hand) are often abundant with this type of furniture.
If you’re handy with the tools and want to build something, you can use a variety of materials including laminex, chipboard/mdf, old floorboards, melamine, etc. Your local carpenter or hardware place might be able to give you a discount on some offcuts.
Alternatives boxes could include large plastic storage containers, large acrylic or glass fish tanks, cardboard boxes or even a kiddies swimming pool could be turned in to a suitable home for chicks. If you choose to use a basic cardboard box be prepared to either put a plastic liner in it (to prevent it from rotting or the chicks from pecking a hole through it) or it will need to be replaced every few days. Large furniture shops will usually give you as many large boxes as you need.
Whatever you use ensure you thoroughly clean and disinfect it before you add any chicks, and make sure you rinse off all disinfectant or risk the residue poisoning your chicks.
The box needs to be a minimum of 30cm high, but around 60cm is preferable. A cover is recommended to stop any chicks from trying to jump out and to stop any drafts, however ensure you have adequate ventilation at all times. You could use almost anything for a cover, perhaps an old bed sheet, tablecloth or shade cloth would work. (Do not put flammable items close to the heat lamp in case of fire). A small sheet of plywood cut to size or other light material works well too. If you have other pets or you’re in an area where there could be other predators such as birds or foxes, you’ll need something more substantial. Chicken netting, wood offcuts like plywood, even an old flywire door could be used depending on the size and location of your box. It is vital you position the box in a warm area and minimise drafts as much as possible, as a cold draft will significantly reduce the temperature inside a brooder box which can prove fatal to young chicks who can’t regulate and control their own body temperature.
The size of your box will depend on how many chicks you wish to keep. Keep in mind that chicks will need to be in the Brooder Box for around 6 weeks, and they will need more room as they grow. It is advisable you make something bigger to begin with, rather than having to upgrade it later.
As a guide you need (minimum):
15cm2 per day old / very young chick
40cm2 per chick at 6 weeks of age.
Heating / Lighting:
When it comes to our chicks health, biosecurity, safety and general wellbeing, Bollith Poultry follow various “Code of Conducts” relevant to our farming and breeding environment; in fact our Shire demand an even higher standard from us at all times.
But did you know, it is very damaging to chicks (not to mention very unethical) to raise your chicks under a heat LIGHT?! We all know how horrendous Caged Egg and Poultry Meat farms are – try to think of their life briefly ... caged, over crowded, forced to grow so rapidly their legs can’t bear their weight anymore, or made to produce eggs even though their own health suffers for it. Light is one factor these farmers can manipulate to make these birds grow faster and produce even more eggs. But as cruel as these farms may be, at least these birds get a MINIMUM OF ONE HOUR OF DARKNESS or "NIGHT TIME”. It is agreed by all WA & Australian Government and independent departments that having a forced light on the birds 24/7 is NOT ON and in doing so can be very detrimental to the long term health of the birds.
So, what heat lamp do you intend on using? Make sure you’re better than these farms and choose your heat emitter carefully.
From now on, Bollith Poultry will not sell our valuable chicks to ANY person who intends on using a white light or infra-red light. We can supply you with a quality and safe heat emitter and fixture for just $60 – if you cannot afford this than maybe chickens are not the pet for you – perhaps consider a Hermit Crab instead.
I also challenge you to ask questions of any other “breeder” who uses, sells or recommends any heater which projects ANY LIGHT. Are they BETTER than some of the worse poultry farms in Australia???
Heating During Transportation
If you’re purchasing day old chicks in Winter or the cooler months and have a long drive home, a hot (warm!) water bottles or heat packs are a good idea to help minimise stress. Only put the heat pack on half of the base so if the chicks get too hot they’ll be able to walk away from the heat source to cool down. Don’t forget to cover the heat pack with an old towel so it doesn’t get too dirty and it'll prevent burning the chicks.
Heating their Brooder Box
Once you get your chicks home you’ll need another way to keep them warm. (It’s preferable to have something set up before you get the chicks home, and turn on the heat the day before to make sure everything has reached correct temperature, allowing enough time to make adjustments as necessary).
Setting up a Heat Emitter is the correct way of providing a heat source.
What's the difference between a HEAT EMITTER and a HEAT LIGHT?
A Heat Emitter is best described as a funny-looking heater. That’s it – it is designed to give off heat, and NOT light. Most heat emitters are screw-in style which will fit is any standard E27 fixture. ALWAYS use a Ceramic fixture, ensuring there is no plastic anywhere.
A Heat Light is designed to produce heat and light. Great for during the day, but not good for poultry at night time.
What Not To Use, and Why
~DO NOT use an energy efficient light globe as these do not provide the heat which is essential for the growth and survival of your baby chicks.
~A ‘White Light” (such as the lights we use in our house) or a Spotlight projects too much light and will damage the chicks eyes.
~Infra red globe is far better than any white light, they project far better heat but having ANY light on 24/7 will affect their internal clock and is against the recommended Code of Conduct for the Welfare of Animals. So turn off all lights at night time and find a better heat emitter for night time use.
Exposing young chicks to a light (of any sort) 24/7 can be damaging in the following ways:
Inner Eye Damage. Even if you have used these previously and you're not aware of eye damage, that doesn't mean your chicks don't have poor vision or inner eye damage.
No Day/Night time cycle. So what? Like any poultry, they need to fill their crop during the day, and empty it at night time. If it's "day time" for them all the time, they wont be able to empty their crop fully and will grow too fast, affecting their growth development.
Growth Development: Chicks are awake all the time and therefore eating all the time. Why do you think Poultry farms use Light to their advantage? It makes for BIG birds. Whats the Problem? Bone and joint problems, and kidney problems later in life.
Skittish Chicks: Sleep deprived and exposed to light ALL the time – it's enough to make anyone crazy!
How well would you cope with a bright light on ALL THE TIME?
How well do you sleep with the light on?
What to use?
Something designed to give off a consistent heat, which can be easily absorbed by the chicks.
Something which doesn’t project light.
Something cheap, strong, safe and long lasting.
A heat EMITTER. Ours are designed for 10,000 hours of constant use. That’s over 400 days if used consistently. Seriously, these things last forever.
These Heat Emitters must be used in conjunction with a ceramic fixture. Using a heat emitter which is specifically designed to get very hot is not something you want to pair up to a plastic fixture. I’ve known countless brooder boxes and entire sheds burnt to the ground due to dodgy, plastic fixtures and cheap heat lights.
How far away you position it will depend on what temperature you need to maintain, and how big your box is. It’s essential you position the heat light at one end of the box so the chicks can escape the heat if they become too hot, or get closer to it if they need to warm up. Food and water must be position at the far end away from the heat lamp. Generally you will need to position the heat emitter between 30cm-60cm away from chick-height. This height will need to be adjusted accordingly depending on your specific environmental conditions (extra drafts, winter/summer months, wattage of your emitter, large/small quantity of chicks, etc)
Initially, aim to set up the brooder box at around 35oC for Day old chicks. This can be reduced to around 30oC over the first week or two. You can then reduce the temperature 2oC every week thereafter, until the chicks are at least six weeks old and you have maintained the temperature to be comparative to your current outside temperatures.
Please remember these temperatures are only a guide and watchful monitoring of your chicks will soon tell if they’re happy and comfortable in their environment. If you find your chicks under the light and all huddled together, they’re trying to get warmer so you need to raise the temperature a couple of degrees. On the other hand if the chicks are at the far end away from the heat, trying to find shade behind the water or feed containers, have their wings outspread and/or are panting it means they’re too hot and you need to reduce the heat immediately. Once you have altered the temperature accordingly, keep a close eye on the chicks for the next couple of hours to ensure the correct changes have been made.
Chaff, chopped straw (not hay), shredded paper, clean sand, untreated pine shaving or untreated wood shavings (if not too sharp) are all safe to use on the base of your brooder box. You can line newspaper flat underneath this bedding to help keep the box keep clean, but do not just line the box with newspaper or magazines alone as these options are not very absorbent and they are quite slippery which can cause serious leg injuries. Shredded paper is okay though. Some wood shavings are toxic to poultry and ensure the wood or pine has not been treated, and whatever you use ensure it is fresh, clean and not dusty. Saw Dust is not suitable as it is very dusty and may cause respiratory issues. Dust extracted Pine Shavings is often used quite successfully, in fact pine shavings actually neutralise ammonia odour so this is the preferred option. Dust Extracted Pine Shavings can be purchased from us at Bollith Poultry, when in stock.
We recommend feeding your chicks Starter Crumbles which contain Coccidiostat until they’re 6-8 weeks old. Please read the list of ingredients on the bag before buying your crumbles as not all brands contain this, and it is an essential ingredient which inoculates poultry against Coccidiosis, a very deadly and contagious disease. We use and recommend Medicated Chick Starter Crumble; Pullet Grower Crumble and Showbird Breeder MP produced by Laucke Mills.
Ensure they always have fresh water available to them. You can purchase small water feeders relatively cheaply (we sell feeders and waterers from just $8ea), or you can supply them with a shallow bowl with water in, making sure it is not too deep which can result in drowning.
**NB: Heat lamps are a potential fire hazard if they’re not set up correctly. Position the globe away from anything flammable and maintain close supervision. These globes get very hot so be mindful not to burn yourself and ensure the chicks cannot brush or jump against it as this will have devastating results.
If making your own box doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can purchase brooder boxes from poultry suppliers, but these can be quite expensive so shop around first. Perhaps try to hire or borrow one rather than purchasing one outright, especially if it’s just for occasional use.