By Tom W. Smith, Jr.,
Ph.D., Extension Poultry Science Specialist
Poultry and game bird producers realize that
chicks must be kept warm or brooded during the first
weeks of life. Surprisingly, improper brooding is
one of the most common causes of stress in poultry
Three basic methods are used to brood chicks.
- The chicks have localized heat source and access
to a cooler, unheated area. The chicks determine
their own heating needs by moving from hot to cold
areas and vice versa. This method is known as spot
- A large area around the brooders is warmed to
the same temperature when whole house brooding. The
chicks have no choice between warm and cool areas.
- Partial-house brooding--Partial-house brooding
is much like whole house brooding, since the total
brooding area is warmed. To save energy, however,
the brooding area is reduced to the minimum amount
needed for the size of chicks. As the chicks grow,
the brooding area is increased in accordance to
their sizes. Good ventilation is essential with all
brooding systems but especially partial-house
Light the brooders 24 hours before the chicks hatch
or arrive. Determine if the brooders are working
properly, and adjust the temperature to 90 to 95 °F
below the outer edge of the brooder (1 inch above the
litter). In time of
stress or vaccination reactions, increase brooder
temperatures about 5 ° above the recommended
temperature until the chicks recover.
Place an 18-inch-high, solid-type brooder guard
around each brooder. Locate the guard 3 to 4 feet from
the edge of the brooder. The guard prevents floor
drafts and keeps chicks near the heat. In summer,
enlarge the ring to keep chicks from getting too hot.
Expand the guard a little each day (about 20 to 25
percent total area increase) until it is no longer
needed after 7 to 14 days.
Corrugated cardboard makes an excellent brooder
guard and can be discarded when it becomes soiled. In
hot weather, hardware cloth or similar mesh material
may be used instead of solid guard. Most of these
guards are cleaned, disinfected, and reused.
Place an adequate number of feeders and waterers
around each brooder. Provide at least two 1-gallon
waterers and two 12-inch or 18-inch chick feeders for
every 100 chicks. Feed placed on a few feeder lids or
egg flats under each brooder encourages the chicks to
start eating sooner.
Sprinkle a pile of feed on each lid before placing
chicks under brooder. Remove lids when all feed is
eaten or after 4 to 6 days.
Place long waterers or feeders in the brooding
area, pointing toward the heat source. If placed
parallel to the brooder guard, small chicks may be
prevented from returning to the warmth. (At 1 day of
age, they have not learned they sometimes have to go
around a long object to get back to the warmth.)
Placing feeders in a "wagon spoke" fashion also
insures that a section of each feeder is always in a
comfort zone. Locate the inner end of the feeder under
or slightly outside the outer edge of the brooder or
hover. Never place all the waterers and feeders
directly under the brooder. The area under the brooder
must be kept clear for brooding the chicks.
The day-old chick's temperature is about 3 °F below
that of an adult's. Its body temperature starts rising
about 4 days of age and reaches its maximum at 10
days. The chick needs time to develop temperature
control (2 to 4 weeks). As the chick grows older, the
downy coat is replaced with feathers, and brooder
temperature must be reduced according to the
Brooding temperature schedule
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Under this brooding schedule, the brooding
temperature is reduced 5 °F each week. At 5 weeks of
age, chicks maintain their own body temperatures if
the room temperature is kept near 70 degrees.
Use lower brooding temperatures during warm months.
Most poultry houses are not tight enough to maintain
these temperatures constantly in winter. Insure
adequate warmth in winter by using the higher brooding
temperature; when cold nights cool the house, chicks
are likely to have enough warmth.
Check the comfort of the chicks several times each
day, especially in the evening. Make adjustments to
maintain chick comfort. Contented peeping and even
distribution of chicks around and under the brooder
indicate comfortable conditions. If the chicks chirp
and huddle to one side of the brooder, there is a
draft. When the temperature is too cold, the chicks
chirp sharply and huddle together under the brooder.
If the chicks move away from the brooder, pant, and
are drowsy, the temperature is too warm.
With steadily increasing energy costs, a strong
emphasis must be placed on sound brooder management
and operation. Some tips for conserving energy are
- Use the correct brooder height, as
recommended by the brooder manufacturer. A
higher brooder adjustment increases fuel usage,
while lower brooder adjustment increases the danger
of igniting flammable litter and burning the chicks.
Maintain a minimum clearance of 5 to 6 inches over
the chicks' backs.
- Use dry litter material for brooding. Additional
energy is needed to evaporate moisture.
- Check the accuracy of brooder thermostats and
thermometers to insure proper heat for the chicks.
- Solid brooder guards keep the heat closer to the
- Place brooders near the center of the house.
This reduces heat loss through walls and prevents
- Frequently clean burner orifices, adjust pilot
lights, and check for proper gas line pressure.
- Brood the maximum number of chicks under each
brooder, but do not overcrowd.
- Shut off half the brooder pilot lights when all
the brooders are no longer needed. The best practice
is to turn off every other brooder. The remaining
brooders help prevent serious problems if internal
house temperatures drop suddenly.