Brooding, stress and poopy butt

You lookin' at me?

A lot of people came to buy chicks this weekend, so this is a good time to talk about brooding. Hatchlings cannot regulate their own body temperature for the first few weeks of life so, since they are not being cared for by a mother hen, we as their keepers must simulate a proper environment for them. It’s really not all that hard and can be very rewarding as the chicks will become very friendly if you handle them regularly. I like to use a large cardboard box for a brooder. Some people like to use a big tupperware container or large glass fish tank, and those work well, but I am basically lazy and like to just compost the whole thing when I am done with it. Locate your brooder in a warm room inside the house or a heated garage. Do not put outside. Please be aware of the fact that both your cat and your dog would very much like a chick snack, so keep that in mind when choosing a place out of harms way. Unsupervised handling by small children can also be dangerous for young chicks. After the first few weeks your chicks will start to feather out and you can start leaving them outdoors on warm days – still bringing them in at night until they are fully feathered. If there is an indoor area of your coop, you can put a light out there for a few weeks as well.

Ok, first off you need a heat source. I like to use one of those clip-on lights with a metal hood with a 100 watt bulb (these are getting a little hard to find these days with all the energy saving bulbs but some places still carry them). Be sure to place the light low enough, about 4-6 inches from the floor of the brooder. Use as large a box as possible so they can chose where they want to be in relation to the heat source. Use common sense – if the chicks huddle under the lamp and are being noisy- they are too cold. If they are in the farthest corner away from the lamp and panting then they are to hot. If there are some eating, some sleeping under the light and some walking around and they seem content, you’ve got it right. Now, I hate to have to say this next part but I know at least 2 people who lost their chicks this way so I say it to be safe rather then sorry – don’t turn the light off at night. Common sense is not as common for some as it is for others.

Next, you need non-slip flooring in the box. Pine shavings are best. NEVER use cedar – it is bad for them to breathe in. Paper towels can work for the first few days if you were caught unprepared but do not use newspaper, it’s too slippery and they cannot get their footing and will end up with splayed legs.

Then you will need food and water. I start with the medicated chick starter and I like those plastic screw-on feeders and waterers – they come apart and are easy to clean. Place food and water in the farthest corner from the heat source. Add marbles in the moat of the waterer if you are brooding very small chicks like bantams or quail so they can’t drown themselves but can still drink between the marbles.

If you have purchased chicks from a hatchery and they have shipped overnight and are a stressed, you can give them a little sugar in the water for their first day- but not after that, since it can bind them up. You can use a touch of corn syrup if you are out of sugar, but again, only for the first day to give them a boost.

Despite your best efforts though, sometimes one or all will stress and end up with “poopy butt” or “pasting up” – this is where poop blocks the vent and prevents them from going to the bathroom. If you don’t take care of this right away you will lose them – so let the great festival of butt washing commence! I bring the chicks to the utility sink and run the tap until it is WARM to the touch, not hot or cold. I hold the chick in one hand with just its little bottom under the gentle flow of warm water and work the poop off between my fingers. I gently pat dry with a hand towel and place the chick back under the light in the brooder. Recheck your chicks every day until you are sure they are over it.

There is tons more info on brooding on the net that you can check out, this is just a brief overview of the way we do it here. The whole brooding thing is a great experience to go through (well…maybe not the poo-poo butt!) and you can count yourself as a real chicken keeper when you make it through this phase with your flock. Happy brooding!

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