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Brooder setup questions

 
pollinator
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My partner and I are excitedly planning to get our first chickens this May! Having never raised chicks or had much interaction with chickens, I find myself with tons of questions and have been reading lots. Most things I read suggest that brooding chickens indoors is a crazy dusty affair. I'm a little worried about this, as our cat has asthma. Most of the time, she is fine, but there was a flare that sent her to the emergency room once. Our house is basically just one big room (22' by 24'), so alas, there's no putting the brooder in a different room or anything like that. What could I do to help reduce the dust factor?
I'm thinking that the pine shavings that most people seem to use aren't my best option for bedding in light of the asthma issue. Have folks had success with other bedding types that might be less dusty?
Any ideas about how to control the spread of the dust from the chickens themselves? I've had pet birds and know from that how much dust new feathers coming in generate.

Our current plan for the brooder is to piece together a couple of cardboard boxes to create a box with a 3' by 5' footprint. Not sure how high the sides need to be. Then build a frame and cover with either chicken wire or hardware cloth to keep the cat out. I'd like to set the brooder up on a table to limit cat access, particularly making it harder for her to jump on top. Also contemplating adding a window to their brooder box and setting the brooder in front of a window, so they can observe the outdoors. Any suggestions for modifications that might help with the dust would be appreciated.
 
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Yes, the dust...

The first week perhaps isn't bad, but quickly the dust seems to increase exponentially. I am currently testing out wood pellets instead of shavings, and at first they do seem less dusty. Essentially they break apart only when they become wet. Eventually they do become a big dust affair though. Changing out often helps, but this will not eliminate the dust completely, partly because some of the dust is coming from the chicks themselves, and also because as they get older they become quite active and scratch and attempt to dust bathe in pretty much whatever medium they have available, and thus kick up lots of dust.


Recently I covered one brooder with plastic sheeting/vapor barrier and fitted a furnace filter to an opening (it's what I had access to, but lots of other filters might work, charcoal filter would be nice to help with any odors). I then attached a small fan to the furnace filter to essentially pull air from the brooder through the filter and out into the room. Since you're aiming for May, you won't have winter to contend with. You could connect ducting to the fan and exhaust the whole thing outside (maybe through a window). The set up does not need to be complicated or expensive. Vapor barrier tape, vapor barrier, fan, furnace filter, a knife to cut the plastic, and maybe 10 mins of work! It may not be pretty, but it is worthwhile!


As for the window to outside - they may benefit from seeing outside, but maybe not. I'm not sure exactly how far into the distance they would be focusing and whether outside would really be any more stimulating for them than a window into your house. I would build perches into the brooder as soon as you can. It's amazing how they will take to perches not long after finding their footing. Again, it doesn't need to be complicated. Branches fastened or laid in the brooder are great. Even if it is a bit of a mess to our eye it may not be so to the chicks - if they have to duck and squeeze to navigate some parts of the brooder I think it is probably helpful to them in the long-run.

Be prepared for them to outgrow your brooder fairly quickly, depending on how many you have.


 
John Rosseau
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Oh, and I once used clumps of long dried grass as brooder material and did not experience any negatives with this. I suspect it was less dusty as well.
 
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Good luck on your chicken adventure, Heather!

1. I'm assuming you're planning on layer chicks - you will need the cover to keep them in as they can helicopter straight up at a surprisingly early age. Meat chicks are less of a risk, but not no risk.
2. You haven't mentioned how you plan on keeping them warm. We originally used heat lamps, but shifted to under-floor heating so they had a natural "dark" period.
3. We've used a number of systems for bedding and are currently using burlap sacks. We've got a local Fair-trade Coffee company that sells their used organic sacks cheaply and my compost tends to be high in nitrogen, so having some "browns" in it are a good thing. One of the issue with chicks is that they tend to peck at *anything* and a tummy full of shavings isn't the best for them.
4. Where are they going once they need exercise? Chicks with actual moms, don't spend that much time during the day tucked under mom. They're up and active and then tucked under mom for nap-time and bedtime. They need to start off at about 90F, and getting chilled in the first week seems to lead to long term issues, so if you're relying on electricity, try to have a back up plan (lots of jugs full of hot water - been there, done that!) However, at least day-time temps should drop fairly quickly so that depending on the weather, you can have them outside by 4 weeks at least during the heat of the day if they're protected from wind and rain. Meat chicks get big so quickly, I try to at least be sending the bigger ones out into a run area for a few hours each day by 2 weeks of age.
5. As J. Rosseau says, "but quickly the dust seems to increase exponentially". The dust is definitely coming from the chicks themselves, and the more they're loosing and growing new feathers, the more dust will be present. Filtering may work, a filter than exits outside would be a help, but when I'm cleaning our brooder, I have a long hose for our shop vac and the vac is outside and I bring the hose in. If the birds end up in the brooder longer than intended (talk to Hubby about that one!!!) I make Hubby use the air-compressor to spray down the walls and ledges and everything up high, let is settle over night, and them go in to clean up.

Hopefully some of that info is helpful! They do make up for the mess factor by being cute and fun to watch - way better than the crap on TV!
 
Heather Sharpe
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J. Rosseau wrote:Recently I covered one brooder with plastic sheeting/vapor barrier and fitted a furnace filter to an opening (it's what I had access to, but lots of other filters might work, charcoal filter would be nice to help with any odors). I then attached a small fan to the furnace filter to essentially pull air from the brooder through the filter and out into the room. Since you're aiming for May, you won't have winter to contend with. You could connect ducting to the fan and exhaust the whole thing outside (maybe through a window). The set up does not need to be complicated or expensive. Vapor barrier tape, vapor barrier, fan, furnace filter, a knife to cut the plastic, and maybe 10 mins of work! It may not be pretty, but it is worthwhile!

As for the window to outside - they may benefit from seeing outside, but maybe not. I'm not sure exactly how far into the distance they would be focusing and whether outside would really be any more stimulating for them than a window into your house. I would build perches into the brooder as soon as you can.


Thank you for the suggestions! That is a fantastic idea! Would love to hear any updates on how that is working for you as time goes on.
Will do with the perches!

Jay Angler wrote:Good luck on your chicken adventure, Heather!

1. I'm assuming you're planning on layer chicks - you will need the cover to keep them in as they can helicopter straight up at a surprisingly early age. Meat chicks are less of a risk, but not no risk.
2. You haven't mentioned how you plan on keeping them warm. We originally used heat lamps, but shifted to under-floor heating so they had a natural "dark" period.
3. We've used a number of systems for bedding and are currently using burlap sacks. We've got a local Fair-trade Coffee company that sells their used organic sacks cheaply and my compost tends to be high in nitrogen, so having some "browns" in it are a good thing. One of the issue with chicks is that they tend to peck at *anything* and a tummy full of shavings isn't the best for them.
4. Where are they going once they need exercise? Chicks with actual moms, don't spend that much time during the day tucked under mom. They're up and active and then tucked under mom for nap-time and bedtime. They need to start off at about 90F, and getting chilled in the first week seems to lead to long term issues, so if you're relying on electricity, try to have a back up plan (lots of jugs full of hot water - been there, done that!) However, at least day-time temps should drop fairly quickly so that depending on the weather, you can have them outside by 4 weeks at least during the heat of the day if they're protected from wind and rain. Meat chicks get big so quickly, I try to at least be sending the bigger ones out into a run area for a few hours each day by 2 weeks of age.
5. As J. Rosseau says, "but quickly the dust seems to increase exponentially". The dust is definitely coming from the chicks themselves, and the more they're loosing and growing new feathers, the more dust will be present. Filtering may work, a filter than exits outside would be a help, but when I'm cleaning our brooder, I have a long hose for our shop vac and the vac is outside and I bring the hose in. If the birds end up in the brooder longer than intended (talk to Hubby about that one!!!) I make Hubby use the air-compressor to spray down the walls and ledges and everything up high, let is settle over night, and them go in to clean up.

Hopefully some of that info is helpful! They do make up for the mess factor by being cute and fun to watch - way better than the crap on TV!


Thank you, Jay!
1.Yes, these will be layer chicks. Eight of them. I definitely plan on a sturdy lid both for that reason and to keep the cat out!
2.We are going to use an ecoglow plate brooder, chosen for similar concerns about light. Plus it seems more like a mama hen. We heat the house with wood, so it can get a little cool overnight. I'm wondering if they will need an additional heat source so the air temp is higher?
3.Burlap does sound like a good idea. How often do you find you have to change them out?
4.We are building them a cattle panel greenhouse as part of their run, so that they have a super secure area to hang out and stay warm and dry in colder weather. I'm imagining that weather permitting, maybe they'll be able to go out there for at least a few hours a day, probably with access to the plate brooder. Would it be good to give them some exercise time outside the brooder before they're old enough to go outdoors? We have a folding fence we picked up that could probably make that possible. Thanks for the tips about back up plans for warmth!
5.Good call on the vacuum being outside.
That was all super helpful, thank you! I'm super excited for the cuteness and chicken TV!
 
pollinator
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We raise quail and chickens.  We like to use news paper and just add a new layer every day. We use plastic bins with a heat lamp screwed to the side so it can't come off.  We do this for a week in the house.  We built wood box brooders for the barn.  They are 2ft x 3ft.  We use lights to keep them warm in the barn.  We have found that metal bins stay to cold and suck the heat out.  They made it just fine in the barn last night at -1deg f.  We did try the mats once and they get covered in poo so quick that they start smoking in about 3 days.  We also had one pad get too hot and burnt some of their little feet.  
 
Jay Angler
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Heather Sharpe wrote:

1.Yes, these will be layer chicks. Eight of them...   We heat the house with wood, so it can get a little cool overnight. I'm wondering if they will need an additional heat source so the air temp is higher?

Eight is not what I'd call "critical mass". For the first two weeks, chicks aren't very good at regulating their own temperature - that's mom's job. But even after than, a single mom has more mass than 8 fuzzballs, so ideally you'll get a thermometer with a probe on a wire (we reinforce ours with heat shrink, because chickens peck) to help you have a feeling for what the temperature is. If it seems they're too busy huddling for warmth to eat or drink, it's a problem. If they seem comfy under the heat plate at night, it would still be nice to be able to slide a probe under the area to see if it seems reasonable. If you're only worried about night lows, I'd cover part of the lid with old towels to keep the heat in as a first step.

3.Burlap does sound like a good idea. How often do you find you have to change them out?

With only 8 birds, they should be fine for the first week. It's a moving target - the bigger and more active they get, the more they eat and poop. I've always read that they shouldn't be on anything slippery like paper as it can result in "Splay Leg", but if you notice there's an area that gets particularly mucky - like under the heat plate - if you look for nubbly paper towel and put that over the sacking and compost the old sheet daily/2 days depending on how mucky they are, that should extend things. We used to use pieces of thick fabric from an old sofa when we only had a small number of girls, and launder them and sun-dry them, but that's a *lot* more work and we're dealing with much larger numbers now.

4.We are building them a cattle panel greenhouse as part of their run, so that they have a super secure area to hang out and stay warm and dry in colder weather. I'm imagining that weather permitting, maybe they'll be able to go out there for at least a few hours a day, probably with access to the plate brooder. Would it be good to give them some exercise time outside the brooder before they're old enough to go outdoors? We have a folding fence we picked up that could probably make that possible.  

Absolutely! Just check the temperature and use that to judge how long. Even just giving them a 20 min run while you putter with some chore or other is great and they won't need the heat for that long, as they'll be too busy exploring. Getting them early, healthy exercise is important for long-term health - laying eggs is hard work! You want them to be building muscle, not fat, and with a mom, they'd be following her all around as she hunted for food for them.
 
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We hatch and brood enough chicks that I built outdoor brooder houses - right now, one for "wet birds" and another for "dry birds". We are having to build another "dry bird" brooder house because of the need to separate different species - this last year we had guineas that harmed the beaks of pea babies and chicks that pecked off the helmet of guinea keets.

The houses are 3' x 5', raised on 2x4 legs, floor just lower than waist level, peaked like a shed with both sides hinged to lift.  The short sides are about 18" tall and they too hinge up to rake out and clean.  A flap is cut and hinged at each peak on  the sides for ventilation.  Wire it for both a LED bulb on one side and a heat bulb on the other, and a plug for a hover box (I also built some of those fairly cheaply).  Painted white on the inside, red on the outside, metal ribbed roof.  I think they are very attractive.

They work very well and people coming to the homestead to buy chicks of all types really like them.

Pics attached are of the first one - I improved the design for the second one, but I cannot find pics.  Everything is under snow right now or I would take some more.  The framing and dimensions are the same between version 1 and version 2



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Haven’t read all replies so apologies if it’s been covered.

If you don’t mind not having the chicks imprint on you I’d suggest brooding them outside. I’ll take a picture tomorrow, but we built a couple 8x8 brooders so we don’t have to brood inside the house.  If it’s cold you can add insulation.  I’ve been getting them when it’s warm enough to not need that, but at times I’ve run 5 heat lamps simultaneously.  I can brood 100 chicks easily at a time.  You could scale it down to be cozy for a smaller number too.  But the nuggets advantage is it makes it easy to get them on pasture sooner, there’s no dust in the house, and it’s movable if necessary.  Downside as mentioned is they won’t imprint on you, and so won’t be especially friendly unless you make a conscious, extra effort to handle them enough to make that happen.
 
Heather Sharpe
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Jay Angler wrote:With only 8 birds, they should be fine for the first week. It's a moving target - the bigger and more active they get, the more they eat and poop. I've always read that they shouldn't be on anything slippery like paper as it can result in "Splay Leg", but if you notice there's an area that gets particularly mucky - like under the heat plate - if you look for nubbly paper towel and put that over the sacking and compost the old sheet daily/2 days depending on how mucky they are, that should extend things. We used to use pieces of thick fabric from an old sofa when we only had a small number of girls, and launder them and sun-dry them, but that's a *lot* more work and we're dealing with much larger numbers now.

4.We are building them a cattle panel greenhouse as part of their run, so that they have a super secure area to hang out and stay warm and dry in colder weather. I'm imagining that weather permitting, maybe they'll be able to go out there for at least a few hours a day, probably with access to the plate brooder. Would it be good to give them some exercise time outside the brooder before they're old enough to go outdoors? We have a folding fence we picked up that could probably make that possible.  

Absolutely! Just check the temperature and use that to judge how long. Even just giving them a 20 min run while you putter with some chore or other is great and they won't need the heat for that long, as they'll be too busy exploring. Getting them early, healthy exercise is important for long-term health - laying eggs is hard work! You want them to be building muscle, not fat, and with a mom, they'd be following her all around as she hunted for food for them.


Thanks again, Jay! I had heard that about splay leg too. The burlap really seems like the ticket. I wonder if it might even hold onto the dust a bit, since it would fall down between the fibers. I hadn't thought about how much they'd be moving about if they were with a mama hen, so I really appreciate you mentioning that.  

Mark, those brooders look great! Nice work on the design!

Hearing about folks brooding outside is definitely helpful, so thanks y'all! I hadn't considered it too much, since I'm new to chicken keeping and would feel more comfortable if they were inside where I can easily observe them and watch for any issues. Plus I want to be able to get to know them as they grow and enjoy the cuteness! But this is making me think that maybe I'll keep them inside for at least the first few weeks and if the dust starts to become a problem for the cat, I'll set up a brooder inside their coop.
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