It's been an interesting week at our house.
I picked up our girls at the local feed store for three bucks each. They're not day-old chicks -- they've got to be at least a week or two old. We got a Rhode Island Red (my five-year-old gave her the best chicken name ever: Princess Leia. Get it? Lay-a. Awesome.), a Black sex-link (we named her Foxy Cleopatra), and an Ameracauna (we gave her a good America-inspired name: Betsy Ross. What's cool is that she'll lay green eggs someday!). We've had fun watching these little chickies, holding them, and hearing their little peeps from the storage/water-heater closet. My oldest son's favorite thing to do is feed the chicks worms from the garden and watch them run around, peeping wildly, and playing tug-of-war with the poor worm. My baby just giggles as he watches them and says a word that sounds a lot like "chicken" over and over. Yes, we've already started to love "chicken TV".
When we brought the chickens home, I put them in the cat carrier (the one we use once every couple years when we take our semi-feral 25-lbs. cat to the vet for shots) with the heating lamp resting on top. I knew we needed a bigger space for them for the next few weeks so we set out to make a "cheep" (ha ha) chick brooder.
You can buy chicken brooders from hatchery catalogues, but I think it's unnecessary if you're just raising a few for your backyard. From one post I read, you can use just about anything for a chicken brooder: a cardboard box, a plastic storage container, a kiddie pool, an aquarium. Basically, you just need a place to keep them contained. Our homemade brooder isn't fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is working well for us!
We went with plastic storage container route with our brooder. Since we have a curious almost-one-year-old boy and the aforementioned 25-lb. cat, we decided to put a lid on our brooder. You don't need to have a lid as long as the box is 12 inches deep.
For our brooder, we cut out the center of the lid. The edges were pretty jagged and rough, so my husband got out the roll of duct tape and covered the edges with it. Once that was finished, he covered the hole with some mesh window screen material (we just picked up a roll of it at Walmart when we got the storage container). Then he secured the mesh material in place by drilling some small screws along the edges. I like this container and lid in particular because it has the handles that latch on the ends making it even more baby and cat-proof. Like I said before, our homemade brooder is nothing fancy, but it does the job.
Add the heating lamp (we have ours strung from from some rope from a shelf over the brooder), the chick feeder and waterer, and some pine shavings, and you're done. In the end, setting up our chicks' living space for the next few weeks cost around $20. For more information about setting up a chick brooder, check out this article. Also, the "Raising Chicks" chapter in Ashley English's Keeping Chickens is very helpful.
And so our backyard chicken endeavor begins.
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