A brooder is where you keep newly hatched chicks until they have enough feathers and are big enough to move outside. The most important thing about the brooder is you provide adequate food and water and keep them warm and dry.
Choosing a brooder. You can choose from many different options for your brooder. You can use a large cardboard box, aluminum tub, a ready made brooder from the store or build your own. You want to make sure that your chicks have enough space. It is recommended for chicks 0-4 weeks old you give them 1/2 square foot per bird. For us, I am using a large rubber maid tote.
Bedding. I am lining the bottom of the tote with pine bedding. I have heard of people using pine bedding, shredded paper or both. For now I am sticking with just pine bedding. You don't need very much to cover the bottom of the tote.
Food and Water. I bought a 40# bag of chick starter from my local farm store. This is designed for chicks 0-6 weeks old. I also purchased a chick feeder. It is designed to discourage chicks from soiling in their food.
For the waterer I am using a 1 quart water container designed for chickens. This was given to me to use from a cousin. You need to provide fresh water every day. Keep food and water available at all times.
Heat. Chicks need to be kept warm. When you bring them home the brooder should be a toasty 95 degrees. Place a thermometer in the brooder to keep track of the temperature. Another way to tell if your chicks are getting appropriate heating is to watch their behavior. If they are huddled under the lamp they are too cold. If they are along the outer edges, chances are they are too hot. As the chicks develop more feathers they will need less heat. Here is a breakdown of costs for setting up my brooder.
Large Rubbermaid Tote $11
Pine Bedding $4.99
Heating Lamp $8.99
Heating Lamp Bulb $4.89
Chick Starter 40# $8.99
Waterer Free from cousin (Thanks Chris!)
Chicken Wire $3.99
(to cover the top of the tote, we have a cat and I want to make sure he stays out!)
My total cost was right around $50 to get my brooder set up. I could have gone without the tote and used something I have at home or borrowed a tub, but I choose to buy the tote because once the chicks are out of it I will be able to reuse it for storage.