DIY Chicken Brooder Ideas
As a first time chicken keeper, it’s easy to put yourself in a tizzy over where exactly to house your chicks. They are often a somewhat foreign feeling animal, and I know that, at least for me, I felt like just raising them for the first 6-8 weeks in a bin seemed strange. Are they really okay in there? Yes, they really are! They are going to live outside after all! You can brood chicks in just about any container, and you do not need anything fancy. For the past few years we’ve brooded all of our chicks in the same bin - a large metal feed/water trough for livestock. It works really well and is plenty of room for a group of up to about 15 chicks. This year we purchased 26 more, so it was a bit cramped by week three of their growth. We upgraded them to a different type of brooder, which you can scroll down and see below. We are, of course, brooding more chicks now than ever before because we live on a farm. If you have a simply backyard homestead and are only raising about 3-10 chicks, you can use something much smaller. Read on for some ideas!
Setting up the brooder
You'll want to have your brooder supplies set up and ready for the day that your chicks arrive! You can find all of these supplies at the feed store. It's important to have everything waiting and ready to go before they get there, as the chicks will be exhausted after their long journey back to your home, and you will want to get them under the heat lamp right away. Newborn chickens cannot maintain their own body heat well; they must live underneath a heat lamp until they are fully feathered, which is about 7 to 8 weeks. Once their feathers grow in, they no longer need the heat lamp to stay warm for the rest of their lives - even in the dead of winter! The heat lamp is a replacement for the mama hen, who would keep them warm with her down feathers and body heat.
Where should you keep the brooder? Somewhere safe and free from drafts! We usually keep ours in the basement or in an attached porch. The garage is fine, too, if its not too cold! They will make a lot of dust, peep loudly, and possibly tempt your other pets so think ahead of where they will be safest and not bother your family at night!
Here are a few supplies that you will need:
Brooder Box. This can be any old container like a cardboard box (prone to catching fire - so not my favorite recommendation!), a plastic tub, a metal wash tub, or even a puppy playpen. Just use something that you can clean easily and don't mine ruining with chicken poop. It's also good to note that you might want to pick something that won't leak if water is spilled. Chickens don't pee, but they do sometimes spill water on the bottom of the box.
Bedding. Fill the bottom of the brooder with a natural bedding like pine shavings or straw so the chicks don't slip. This also makes it easier to pick out poops!
Heat Lamp. Purchase a nice and reliable heat lamp! This will be the most important part of the brooder system and will keep the chickens warm for the next several weeks. You'll want to have this hung above the brooder with the ability to raise it over time. Learn later in this lesson what temperature your chicks need to be through weeks 1-7!
Thermometer. It's a good idea to have some sort of thermometer to place inside of the brooder. The best kind will be one of those electric thermometers that you can place on the floor of the bin directly under the heat lamp.
Screen. Once your chicks start to get bigger, they'll begin learning how to flap their wings, jump, and maybe even get a little bit of wind to fly. It's a smart idea to have some sort of screen covering them so that they do not fly out of the bin and escape!
Feeder and Waterer. Since the space will be a bit cramped, you'll want to purchase a small chick feeder and waterer. These will both need to be filled at least once a day! It might also be in your best interest to purchase some marbles to place in the waterer; sleepy chicks may fall in the water and accidentally drown themselves!
Feed. Newborn chickens need to eat chick starter, which is a type of feed that is specially created around what chicks need to grow healthy and strong. It usually comes in a crumbled form so that it is easier for them to eat. You will also want to purchase them some chick grit, which is crushed rocks and sand to help them digest their food. Their feed will change once they are out of the brooder - you can read about this in Lesson 8.
Electrolytes. If you bring your chickens home, and they look a little sad and lethargic, you can give them some electrolytes to help their tired little bodies. I use the Sav-A-Chick brand, which just dissolves into their water.
Our Favorite Brooders
We have been brooding chicks for three years now, and we’ve learned a little about what works and what does not over those years. Our first chicken brooder was a plastic rubber tote. It worked just fine for six chicks, though they did start to outgrow their space at about 5-6 weeks old. If you use a smaller sized box or tote you will begin to notice that the larger the chicks get the larger the poop which results in a much larger smell. If you plan to brood them in your home it’s important to remember that they can be smelly, even if you clean them daily. We try to give our chicks ample room to roam, which means the poop is a little less overwhelming and we can last a few days longer without cleaning.
We currently use the big metal feed/water trough most. Now that we brood more chicks, we are planning to have a built-in brooder in our new coop that will also be a place to house sick or injured hens when we do not have chicks.
A few other options might be a large wooden crate, a metal wash tub, a puppy play pen with a cover, or a dog kennel.
Again, it is really up to you and your creativity for what to put them in. I think that you could use just about any type of container as long as it meets these certain criteria:
It needs to be protected from the outer elements. This means from drafts, rain, leaks, and possible predators like other curious household pets. Keep the side enclosed and put a screen or breathable cover over the top, especially if you have a dog or cat!
Make sure the box does not leak and leave poop or chicken water all over the floor.
Plan for the chicks to outgrow the box and either provide them with enough space or have a planned place for them to move into. This could be the coop if you give them the heat lamp!
Give them access to a heat source and make sure that it can be moved over the course of time they are in the brooder.
Make sure you use the correct bedding so that the chicks do not slip and injure themselves like wood chips or straw.
For the rest of the month of March I will be sharing all of my chick related tips and tricks with you here on the blog! It is going to be Chick Month here at Under A Tin Roof while I raise my newest babies and prepare them for life here on our farm. I am really excited to share all of the best chick information with you!!
My course Finding Your Flock is $25.00 - I am offering 25% off now through March 30th to all of our blog readers. Just use the code CHICKDAYS15 to receive your discount!
This is the final week of Chick Days of March! Take advantage now before the sale ends. Happy chick days!