What is the best bedding for chickens won’t be the only question you have as you set up your first brooder. As you await the arrival of your new chicks, you will most likely be researching what you will need. Raising chickens for eggs is not that complicated. You will need to provide the chickens with food, water, and shelter. Those are the basics requirements. Buying the equipment to raise chickens for eggs can be confusing. Should you buy the metal or the plastic water fount? How much food do I need the feeder to hold? How big does my brooder and later the coop need to be? Let’s take a look at each stage of development and type of equipment needed.
The beginner’s equipment for raising chickens for eggs can be very simple. There are products on the market that cost a good deal and also do the job, but the main goals are to keep the chicks warm, dry, watered, and fed. The standard water founts and feeders are usually found in both plastic and metal varieties. With the base portion, you can use your own quart mason jar or purchase a plastic bottle attachment. I find the mason jars easier to clean but it really is personal preference. If you start with the quart size feeder and waterer, you will quickly find that your little flock of chicks is eating through the feed amount quickly. Consider buying the water founts and feeders in the gallon size if your brooder has enough room for them.
Speaking of brooders, what is the best brooder for starting to raise chickens for eggs? I like to start with the largest plastic storage bin I can find. Home improvement stores and department stores often have quite a large selection. The storage bin will keep your chicks housed for the first few weeks. I have raised up to a dozen chicks in a storage bin, moving them to a grow out pen as they grew in feathers.
Other options for a brooder could be a plastic kiddie pool with a chick coral surrounding it. Yes, the pools are shallow, but adding the chick coral to the setup has a few advantages. The pool is easy to clean, the heat lamp can be adjusted easily to keep the chicks comfortable. The sides prevent the little fledgling wings from carrying the chicks out of the brooder.
A cardboard box is often used by people raising chickens for eggs. Starting your chicks in a cardboard box can be messy and you will need to be even more careful that the heat lamp does not come in contact with the cardboard.
But no matter what type of brooder you decide on, elevating the feeder and water on a brick will keep the chicks from scratching feed and litter into the food and water.
Keep family pets out of the brooder area. It is a natural instinct for cats and dogs to chase and kill small quick moving animals. Your dog may not bother your chickens, but he may not make the connection that this small, fast moving ball of fluff is the same thing. Be cautious and supervise your house pets around the chicks.
Heat Sources for Raising Chickens for Eggs
When the chicks are newly hatched up until around 8 weeks of age, they will require some additional heat source. Room temperature is too chilly for the new hatchlings. At this point, a broody hen would be keeping the chicks nestled under her, for body warmth.
Most people choose a conventional heat lamp and a 120v red light bulb. Heat lamps for chickens can be adjusted for height to regulate the comfortable temperature for the chicks. One major caution with using these heat lamps is the fire hazard they post. Extreme caution must be taken when using the heat lamps. There are some new options on the market, however. Shelf style warmers are much safer and look like a small doll’s table. The chicks huddle under the shelf for warmth and come out to eat and move around. It is similar to being under the broody hen. I have used one of these for the last few batches of chicks and I liked not having to worry that the lamp might cause a fire.
I have seen new hanging heat lamps on the market too, which use a safer method than the metal lamp. These are made from heat resistant plastic and have a much safer hanging mechanism and safety grill that covers the bulb.
After the chicks are fully feathered the added heat source need should be minimal. Depending on the time of year and the age of the chicks, you may be able to move them to an outside grow out pen in the coop without additional heat. Each case is different and you will need to determine this for your area.
What Type of Litter is Needed When Raising Chickens for Eggs?
Most chicken raisers start with pine shaving as bedding for new chicks. It is kiln dried, clean and dust free. The bedding is soft and absorbent. The chicks will peck at it but the pieces are too large for them to ingest. I recommend that you avoid using any type of paper for the first week. Letting the chick’s legs develop some strength before putting them on a slippery paper surface such as newspaper or paper towel helps avoid splayed leg development. After they chicks have a good start and are strong, newspaper may be a good economical choice especially if you have a messy bunch of chicks. My preference is still pine shavings, though, as it absorbs more moisture and keeps the odors down, too.
What Not to Use for Bedding.
- Cedar shavings – The strong aroma can harm the respiratory tract of chickens.
- Straw- This provides a slippery footing and is messy for chicks.
- Hay – This holds moisture and is too damp.
- Other slippery surfaces, anything damp, anything that the chicks might eat that could be harmful
Should I Add a Chicken Roosting Bar for the Chicks to Stand On?
Yes! Adding a perch is a great way to get the chicks acquainted with what they will find in the big coop. I find a small sturdy branch and place it on the floor of the brooder. It won’t take long for the chicks to hop up on the branch. As they grow, you can raise the branch up off the floor by propping it on two bricks or other sturdy ends.
Time to Move to the Big Coop!
Once the chicks are partially grown, you will be glad to see them move out of your house or garage and into the big coop you have prepared for them. Much the same equipment is needed when caring for the chickens. You still need to provide protection, a dry environment, food, and water. However, at this point, you have another option for feeding. We use open rubber feed bowls for both food and water. I think they are easier to clean, and if the water freezes in the bowl, it will pop right out like an ice cube when the bowl is twisted. Occasionally, a chicken will get some feces into the bowl and this will need to be cleaned as soon as possible. But this does not happen often with our flock. Traditional water founts and feeders are a good option too, but I find that they often are harder to clean and if moisture gets into the food in the feeder, it can mold. The water that freezes in the water fount takes a long time to thaw! Bringing it inside the house may be the option to thaw it and then refill. Heated chicken waterers are available and may be a great investment if you live in a cold climate. With any feeder or water fount, cleanliness is key. Buy the equipment that seems easiest for you to clean, and that will feed and water your flock safely.
Now that the chicks are in the big coop outside, remember that they will need a new chicken roosting bar. A simple finished 2 x 4 piece of lumber is often used for this. Paint the roost bar with a non-toxic paint to prohibit mites from living in the wood. Securely mount the roost in the coop and place a droppings board underneath to collect the droppings for easy removal.
How Big Does the Coop Need to Be?
The usual recommendation for a chicken coop size is 3 to 4 square foot of space for each chicken. This is adequate if they are mostly using the coop for roosting and occasional bad weather. If your chickens need to be cooped up often during the day, up the space requirement to 7 to 8 square foot of space per hen. Chickens that are cooped up for long periods of time may grow bored and have behavior issues such as pecking, cannibalism, egg eating, and other unpleasantness. Some products such as flock blocks, cages that hold fresh greens like a piñata, and other chicken toys may help alleviate boredom in the coop
Now it’s time to sit back and relax while watching the antics of your new backyard pets. Enjoy those delicious fresh eggs which you will find in the coop after the hens are 5 months of age. Nothing beats raising chickens for eggs!