Once you have hatched your chicks (or ducklings) you need to give them the space to develop. The chicks should stay in the incubator for the first 12 to 24 hours to dry off, unless you have a hatcher but these are normally for large amounts of birds 100+. Don't worry about food and water at this point, they have enough in the yolk sack to keep them going for upto 48 hours.
Your brooder will need three key things, heat, food, water. It will get messy and needs cleaning on a daily basis or it will smell awful. It must also be positioned out of drafts and direct sunlight.
Lets look at the base unit, this can be a domestic cage for rabbits, or you can make your own which will normally be better.
Old shipping crates make great brooders, plenty of room, mobile, cheap very often free and you can simply throw it away once finished or re use it if you are going to continue to breed your birds.
If your brooder is porous its best to line with plastic to stop the liquids soaking into the wood and making it swell or worse smell! I use simple builders plastic sheet and a staple gun to attach it to the sides of the crate. Once your finished you can simply pull it out with all the mess enclosed and throw it away. Your crate should be like new underneath.
Protection from predators.
For Indian Runner ducks you don't need to worry about the cage element, they will not fly and are very easy to keep inside the brooder. Although for peace of mind, this type of cage will protect the young birds from rats, which are a huge problem when brooding in out buildings. I use a wire book case system available on Amazon that simply clips together to make any shape you require. Chicks (chickens or other flying birds) can start to fly out as early as 10 days old. I have seen leghorn chickens able to almost fly after just one week, if they do get out they are easy pray for rats, cats & other pets.
Heat is much safer by means of a heat plate, these are more expensive but if brooding indoors offer piece of mind. I regularly use heat lamps as they do offer a greater area of heat and virtually instant, but only outside in stables or sheds where a fire would be a disaster but no danger to the people living in the house.
All chicks need heat, they will grow quickly and normally not so fragile after about 4 weeks, let them get cold before this age and they could die very quickly.
In more permanent advanced brooder setups, heat regulation saves money on electricity and also stops the birds overheating during the summer months. Heating controllers can be set to switch off heat lamps when the brooder is at temperature and switch on an extractor fan to cool the building/shed if it gets too hot.
Food and Water
Chicks, ducklings and most young birds once they start to feed, do so constantly. You need to make sure your chicks have a constant supply of chick crumb (specific for the type of bird) and a constant supply of clean drinking water.
The water container for chicks can be a standard small water dispenser, chicks will drink and splash a bit around but are normally not to messy. Ducks on the other hand are very messy.
Ducks will flick water around and make a terrible mess and a right old smell if you let them. I find suing a standard water dispenser is quite useless, the ducklings will have it empty in a matter of minutes once they start and then have nothing to drink. Ducks use water to wash food down, they cannot swallow dry food, they can also starve by not having enough water as they stop eating once it is not available. I find the small crumb feeders are best to house the water for ducklings, they need to swim at playtime which we will cover in a later blog post.
Larger scale permanent brooders can be setup with raised floors, this allows the water to drain off keeping possible infection risk down and the birds dry. Pictured below is a setup used for automating the brooding period and also offering outdoor exposure, this gets the young birds used to being outside and allows for imprinting to be done if you want to be the birds dependant.
It is important to make sure the birds have a flat warm area to rest in if a self draining floor is used..Once the ducks are large enough the mesh floor will be removed as will the food and water and they will travel outside into a covered secure area.
This video clip shows how these little ones are starting to imprint, they are recognising me, my voice and starting to follow. These ducks were being kept hence imprinting, I will cover imprinting in a separate post.
Thanks for reading, please do not hesitate to ask questions if you need any advice or help.