Brooder substrate


In the Brooder
Apr 13, 2017
I'm sure this has been discussed to DEATH but I searched and didn't quite come up what I was looking for, so here we go again. If there are threads I should go read, please direct me!

My brooder is lined with vinyl for easy clean up and I had planned on using puppy pads for the new hatchlings and shavings when they get a little older. Now I'm seeing all over facebook how puppy pads are killing birds... :barnie

So, feedback on the puppy pads? I think the problem was birds scratching the top sheet and then EATING the absorbent crystals, and yeah...that would kill them. But there was also mention of toxic fumes when they're heated and I'm not sure how seriously to take that. :-/ I won't be using a heat lamp, but have brooder plates instead.

So, what do you do? Puppy pads? Paper towels over shavings? Straight to shavings? Something different?

I swear, there are so many roads to Rome here that trying to pick "the best" is just maddening. I'm an overthinker anyway, and this isn't helping!
I have used puppy pads, but not alone (they are too slick). I topped them with the grippy kind of shelf liner:

It comes in a variety of sizes and colors. My brooder is ~2'x4' and there is a size that fit almost perfectly. Every day I would shake out and roll up the shelf liner then rinse it off and hang it to dry - I had 2 of them and would swap every other day so one was always dry and ready to go. 2 Amazon basic puppy pads fit nearly perfectly beneath. I just folded these up and put them in the garbage. Cleaning the brooder took < 5 minutes. Rinsing off the shelf liner took ~10 minutes.

However after 2 weeks the amount of poop was too much to use that method with one cleaning a day. I switched to sand - which I sift daily with a mesh scoop. It takes ~20 minutes total, including handling each chick and providing treats while I move them to/from temporary digs while I clean out the brooder. It is not dusty and poop dries out so fast that I don't find the brooder stinky even though it is in my office where I work from home.

If I was brooding outside I might use a different substrate. Wood chips are too dusty for a room that I share with the brooder and leaf litter is too messy. I also am more comfortable with a few minutes of maintenance daily than a lot of maintenance less frequently.
I use papertowels until they're 24 hours old and then straight onto pine shavings or sand. You can put them on just shavings or just sand with rarely any issues, but IME the 24 hours for them to figure out how to 'live' kind of helps.
I've used puppy pads for all three batches of chicks I've raised, but I do cover them with textured paper towels, that also helps prolong the life of the pads. I just roll up the paper towels every 12 hours and replace the puppy pads every 24 hours. Never had a problem, always had healthy chicks. But I am able to put them outside at 3 weeks, because I'm in a very warm climate. I tried shavings, but I felt I couldn't keep the brooder as clean as I liked. Different things work for different brooder situations, this is just what works for me.

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