There are several options open to you, I use a cardboard cereal box which I have modified, to be approximately 20cm high, with a brooder lamp suspended above. I make my box very long as the chicks need to have room to either come close to the lamp or move away from it. Never have a small box with a lamp too close, the chicks will get too hot and die. Similarly the heat source must be close enough to keep them at 37degreesC or they will get too cold. Have wood shavings on the bottom of the box. Do not use grass or newspaper .Grass will give them aspergillosis and newspaper is too slippery and will lead to splayed legs.

Shavings are warm and dry the droppings too.

I place feed and water at one end of my box.

When chicks are dry, and able to move freely, I move them to the larger brooder, a Masonite ring approximately 60cm high, with shavings on the floor and a brooder lamp above. See picture on the right above. Chicks will stay here until about 6 weeks when they move again to another brooder area, where they can be transferred outside for some sun.

Moving your young birds frequently does help to curtail coccidiosis and mycoplasma infections.

20130317_083931 chicks3 chicks in feed trough masonite ring brooder     From brooder ring to free range.


new house sussex 2002

Chicks need a temperature of about 37degrees C on day one, although this is also dependent on what the temperature outside is, and this should be reduced gradually depending on the weather outside every seven days. Monitor the birds as they will tell you whether to increase or decrease the heat source. it is wise with the electricity supply being unreliable, to have a gas brooder on hand in case it is needed. A lamp as above will warm approximately 50 chicks. A brooder such as the one shown above  is electric, and warms approximately a hundred chicks.

Raise and lower the brooder as needed. Always set your lamp or brooder at one side of the ring so as to give the birds the option of moving away from the heat source.
By the time they are three to four weeks old they should not need a heat lamp, but keep one on standby in case of cold spells.
If you observe the babies they will tell you if they are cold or hot.
The noise they make will be a good way to tell: chirping which is consistent in level, soft and low level, is a good sign. If the chirping become loud and shrill, the birds are unhappy. If they are comfortable, they will be spread around the area of your Masonite ring and be scratching and chattering happily. If they are too warm, they will all be huddled away from the heat lamp and there will be a space under the lamp with no birds. In this case, raise the lamp. If they are too cold, they will all be huddled and chirping miserably, right under the lamp, jostling for the spot under the light. In this case, lower the lamp. As with adults, there is no substitute for listening to your birds, monitoring constantly, inspecting every day, handling frequently. You would be amazed how many disasters can be averted by this very simple rule.

Your feeders at this stage should be in the form of trays as above. Usually fifty small newborn chicks need two feeders. You add feeders as they grow, and eventually move onto suspended feeders to avoid faeces and sawdust in the food. You need to clean and replace feed every day. drinkers need to be placed away from the heat source, and at newborn stage you can count on one drinker for twenty five chicks. Increase the drinkers as the chicks grow. Take care that drinkers are raised so as to avoid sawdust in the water, and make sure wet shavings are removed daily.

Watch the feed consumption and add as needed, because chicks eat a lot! Watch that all babies have access to the water and the feed. If there is bullying, you need to add more feeders or drinkers.

Obviously the climatic conditions in the area you live will determine whether you need a heat lamp or not, and for how long as well.

If you breed all different types of chickens and you incubate them all at the same time, be careful that they are compatible. Silkies for example do not do well with other breeds especially large breeds like Australorps. The Australorps grow faster, being a large breed and the silkies will be bullied and terrorised. This will lead to silkies banging their heads on the brooder sides and this spells disaster, see the article on SILKIES.

Once your babies have passed the vulnerable 6 week stage, you should not give them a heat lamp no matter the weather, as they then are strong enough to establish their own resistance to heat/cold, and to interfere with that by giving artificial heat may be detrimental. If you have deaths, this is not abnormal but only in the 1% range of the size of the flock. Anything higher than 1% needs investigating. Any youngsters that show abnormalities such as crossed beak, twisted toes, splayed legs, (if this goes on beyond 5 weeks), need to be destroyed, though if your breeding programme is correct and your genetic programme is solid you should have none of the above.

If you find more than 1% of your flock is weak, more than 1% dies, or more than 1% is deformed, you need to go back to the drawing board, and maybe stop incubating until you have answers. If necessary contact the veterinary services at ALLERTON or ONDERSTERPOORT for help.

You may have an underlying MG problem, feeding deficiencies, or genetic weakness in the parent stock.

Try to keep youngsters in flocks of their own age, as keeping different age groups together is never advisable, they will transmit diseases and infections to and fro. Keep youngsters away from the adult flock too, and if you have cleaners that handle both the babies and the adults always tell them to start with the babies first and work up to the oldest flock. If it is necessary to work from oldest to youngest for whatever reason you need to have a trough with disinfectant (see section on disinfectants) Virukill or VirkonS, and some disinfectant like THS (total hand sanitiser) alcohol based for the hands before you handle the babies.

Watch your footwear too, do not walk into a brooder area with faeces on your boots from an adult pen, dip your shoes first. This is routine. Wash hands regularly when handling birds.

This may seem such a waste of time but believe me it is the absolute must of any farming operation. My staff used to be constantly coughing and sneezing, picking up colds and flu, until I instituted rules that every single water tap in the area had to have a towel and a squeeze bottle of VIRUKILL. Every time they went past a tap, they had to wash hands in the VIRUKILL. From that time, there has never been a day off for colds or flu.

It prevents transmission of bacteria and viruses from human to chicks and from chickens to humans too.

The use of THS (Total Hand Sanitiser) which is an alcohol based gel used to create an antiseptic film over the skin so that no transference of bacteria or virus can occur, is also excellent hygiene practice, and one I use when vaccinating chicks or handling birds, especially sick ones. You can buy this as “gloves in a bottle” at the local supermarket and it will cost you  R27,00 more or less for 100ml small bottle,, whereas a 5 litre container of THS from IMMUNOVET or VETPRODUCTSONLINE ( will cost you R300 more or less and lasts a long time. Only a small amount is required.


Prices vary according to availability and current pricing.

Soap and water do not help, even antibacterial soap, as you need to handle virus transference as well, and ordinary soap does not do this.

The fact THS does not require water is useful in a farm environment.

A clean operation is always a healthy one and your birds will be healthy, require very little in the way of treatment or antibiotic, hence saving you money!

Makes sense? Of course it does!

There is a simple test: If you have an unpleasant smell coming from your pens,  if you see a lot of flies,then there is a problem.

If the area is clean there will be few flies and no unpleasant odours.



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