There are as many different ways of brooding your chicks as there are people raising chicks, and what works well for one may not always work well for another. The ultimate goal is to provide the chicks with plenty of fresh warm air in a clean and safe environment.
The Brooder Box
The goal here is to provide a draft free environment for the chicks. Any solid sided container from a cardboard box to a plastic tote to an aquarium will make an excellent brooder in most cases. You will want to avoid a wire or mesh sided cage as a brooder, especially for baby button quail as it could subject the chicks to excessive drafts, in addition to the fact that most quail chicks can escape from even the smallest openings.
A lid or cover is essential, especially with game birds as they can usually fly out of the box in as little as seven days. Just be sure the top provides good ventilation while still keeping the chicks secure.
The Heat Source
The most common source of heat for a brooder is the good old fashioned light bulb. They are inexpensive and generally pretty reliable. The key is to get a bulb of sufficient wattage to provide the level of heat required for the size brooder box you are using. In other words, you do not need a 250 watt infra-red heat bulb if your brooder box is a 10 gallon aquarium.
In our experience, sufficient heat can be had from a 25 to 40 watt light bulb if placed just above the level of the chicks heads. It is advisable to use a colored bulb as opposed to a white or clear bulb to reduce the glare on the chicks eyes. Red seems to be the preferred color, although we have had equally good success with green and blue bulbs as well. Always keep a spare or two handy in case one burns out or you need to provide additional heat.
Always place your heat source at one end of the brooder box so the chicks can self regulate the heat they need and can move away from the heat if they are too hot, or get up close if they are too cool. Just watch and listen to your chicks for signs of discomfort. If they are peeping loudly, huddled around the heat source,they are too cold and need additional heat. If they are huddled away from the heat source, they may be too hot.
If everything is just right, some will be running around, exploring their surroundings, eating and drinking, while others will be laying under the heat taking a nap.
It is vital that the flooring you provide your chicks is such that it provides a good, solid foothold. Never, ever use newspaper or typing paper as a flooring for newborn chicks as it is just way too slick and will likely cause the newborn chicks to develop straddle legged syndrome. Instead use several layers of a good textured paper towel or rubberized shelf liner as the first flooring. Burlap or an old towel will work nicely as well. I would avoid the use of any type of shavings during the first couple of weeks as the chicks may confuse it as feed and ingest some. After the chicks are several weeks old, you may use newspaper, but it must be changed daily as it is not absorbent enough and will generally cause a build up of excrement on the chicks feet. Pine shavings (never use cedar), hay, straw or sand can be used on older chicks as well.
Water and Feed
The quality of the food you feed your chicks will play a significant factor in the quality of the birds you raise. Cheap feed will always end up costing you twice as much as the best quality feed available. For quail and game birds, choose a turkey or game bird starter ration with a minimum 28% protein. For button quail, you may need to grind the feed to a finer consistency if the feed appears too course. Initially, we sprinkle the feed all over the floor of the brooder box so the chicks will have no trouble finding it. After a few days we add a chick feeder, filled to the brim and overflowing to the floor of the brooder box to attract the chicks. Once the chicks become accustomed to the feeders, we stop sprinkling feed on the floor.
For water, any good container that can provide a fresh source of water while keeping the chicks from falling in and drowning will work just fine. For quail chicks, some breeders prefer to use jar lids with pebbles or marbles in the water to keep the chicks from drowning. We prefer to use the No-drown fount with attraction stones. Easy to clean, keeps the chicks dry, and after a few days you don't need to use the stones.
Never let your babies run out of food or water. Fresh greens and baby mealworms or small crickets can be offered in about a week. It's fun to watch the chicks play keep away with each other as they run around with a mealworm or cricket in their beak.
Check out page 4 for a very affordable and effective brooder designed by Phil, The same brooder we use to raise hundreds of birds every year!