Knowing how to purchase and raise/care for chickens or other poultry animals is an important homesteading skill. If you’ve never cared for more than a fish or housecat, being a homesteader is going to be a very big jump for you. You may think to yourself that you will start small but, like potato chips, you’ll soon find you can’t just stop at one or two. Well, maybe YOU can but we haven’t met any homesteaders yet who have been able to.
Poultry care can begin as early as brooding an egg or as late as adopting a retiring animal from an ailing “crazy chicken lady” or an adoption agency. Either way, there are basics you need to know.
One of the first things people often ask us when they meet us is how we managed to save so much money, so that we could “retire” and homestead. The fact is that we didn’t.
If you’ve been brooding chicks already you are probably already familiar with the traditional heat lamps with red bulb that are often used to keep the chicks warm. They are easily acquired at any feed store during chick season and simple to use. However, they come with several drawbacks.
- They are dangerous. Heat lamps emit a lot of heat and are attached by a simple clamp that can easily be jostled when you aren’t there to notice.
- Heat lamps often rely on light bulbs. Baby chicks need to sleep and light sources can be distracting to their sleep cycle.
- Heat lamps are not temperature controlled, except by you raising or lowering the bulb. If you are away from home and your home AC or heat fails, you don’t always know about it until it is too late to adjust the light in the brooder box.
When brooding new chicks, it is not necessary to purchase an expensive brooder out of a catalog. It is definitely an option if you can afford it, but it is not necessary.
Many people also use wading pools, boxes, fish tanks, livestock troughs, or wooden boxes. Some have even converted old dressers and other furniture into brooders.
Here at Mother Udder Farm, we prefer to be as frugal as possible. We use totes that fit in our laundry room brooder shelves and can be checked quickly and easily at a glance. They also fit three side by side in the back of our SUV, which is lovely when picking up chicks, ducklings, or goslings locally or from the post office.
Most people say you need about 2 square feet per chick. We raise ours in the summer, it is very warm here. So, ours go outside much earlier and larger brooders aren’t necessary. We can get away with more chicks in a smaller space that way.
If you are raising yours in the spring or live in a cold area, you might need a larger brooder or to put less birds in yours. However, a large plastic tote works well for us.