Incubation and Embryology - University of Illinois

A Brooding Unit for a Small Number of Birds

Rearing chicks in a classroom has serious limitations. However, if for some reason the chick are to be kept for a few days, they should be placed in a brooding unit that will provide warmth and protection and sufficient room for them to move about some and eat and drink. Here is a plan for a simple brooding unit in which 10 to 12 chicks could be kept for 7 to 10 days or 10 to 12 quail for about 3 weeks.

Equipment needed

The principles of brooding are the same regardless of the number of chicks in the flock. Whether there is one chick or 1,000, they have to be kept warm, well fed and watered, protected from predators and dampness, and provided with plenty of fresh air without being exposed to drafts. This unit, when used in a warm place such as the home or school, will do the job.

The drawing is a cardboard box adapted for a brooding unit. The size and shape is not important so long as it is large enough to properly house the chicks and the equipment needed to take care of them.

The gooseneck lamp provides the heat, 95 degrees F. A 60 or 75 watt bulb normally provides enough warmth. The neck of the lamp can be bent to move the bulb -- the source of heat -- closer to or away from the chick to adjust the heat. If the side of the box is very high, a slit can be made in it so that the neck of the lamp and the lamp shade can be bent into the box.

When chicks are cold, they huddle together and "cheep" plaintively. When they are too warm, they stand with wings partially outspread, beak open, throat rapidly pulsating, and in essence pant like a dog. The walls of the box keep drafts off the chicks and confine the chicks, too.

Two to three inches of litter are needed on the floor of the box. This serves as insulation and as an absorptive material. Materials such as peat moss, sawdust, shavings, straw, or sand can be used. Never place birds, especially young ones, on a smooth surface. They cannot grip a slippery surface, and their legs tend to go out to the side. This disjoints the legs and cripples the chicks. This condition is commonly called "spraddle leg."

The brooding unit should contain at least one waterer and one feeder. Place the waterer on a wooden block or stand to help keep the litter out of the water.

Important: Place pebbles or marbles in a water dish or a screen on it so the quail cannot get wet. They should be able to get their beaks in the water, and that's all. Feeding and watering equipment can be obtained from feed stores, hatcheries, and farm supply stores. Feed can be obtained at feed or farm supply stores. Chickens should be fed chick starter; quail should be fed gamebird starter or turkey mash. If these are not available, some of the newer high-protein, vitamin, and mineral cereals for human consumption may be satisfactory. Feed and water chicks as soon as they are transferred from the incubator to the brooder.

Finally, after the chicks have been put in the brooding unit, cover the unit with welded-wire screen. This will keep the chicks in and predators, such as cats and dogs, out. The illustration shows a 1" by 1" welded-wire screen. Other sizes from 1/4" x 1/4" to 1" x 1/4" mesh can be used.

If you do all these things, you will have a comfortable home for the baby chicks. Then, you must follow through to be sure that they are kept warm and well fed. This means checking the feeders, waterers, and the heat every morning, noon, and before you leave the school.

This materials was taken in part from materials prepared by E. A. Schano, Cornell University.

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