For Healthy, Happy Chickens, Start Your Chicks Off Right

Start your chicks off right for happy, healthy hens. From Oak Hill Homestead

You've ordered your chicks from a hatchery, or succumbed to the cuteness at the feed or farm store (because no one plans to buy chicks from the feed store, right? It's absolutely an impulse purchase), or maybe you've even hatched your own. What do you do now?

It's best to have your brooder set up before your chicks arrive, but I'm a master at putting it all together at the last minute (because I've definitely fallen for that feed store impulse buy). It isn't that hard.

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How to set up a quick and inexpensive chick brooder

Chicks need a warm and draft-free environment for the first several weeks of life. There are several ways to provide such a home for them; I use a Rubbermaid storage bin, the largest size I can find. I set a piece of wire mesh from an old rabbit cage on top. Hardware cloth would work just fine if you don't have an old rabbit cage lying around. The little chicks can't hop out of a bin at this age but they grow fast!

That wire panel sure isn't flat anymore and looks pretty sad. I've replaced it since I took this photo.

On the bottom of the bin I add an inch or more of wood shavings. For day-old chicks, cover the top of the shavings with paper toweling for the first day or two. Be sure to remove it after that time though, so the chicks can get traction on the shavings and prevent leg problems.

Chick feeder and waterer

They will also need food and water, of course. Chick feeders and waterers are available at your feed store, farm store, and even at Amazon. The tops and bottoms are available separately. Instead of the plastic top part you can use a quart size Mason jar, but I've found that this will make it top heavy and more likely to turn over, so I stick with the plastic jar. (Plastic mayonnaise jars work too!)

For happy, healthy chickens, brood your chicks right.

For the first couple of days though, I use mayonnaise jar lids for feed and water. While the chicks are tiny it seems to be easier for them to reach the feed and water in the lids. Of course they need to be refilled often since the lids don't hold very much. As soon as the chicks are able to reach the waterer with ease I switch to the plastic waterer; I don't like them tipping the lid over and spilling the water on their bedding. I set the waterer on top of a scrap piece of 1x6" lumber or a large, flat plastic lid.

Introducing chicks to the brooder

Move the chicks into the brooder one at a time, dipping each one's beak into the water as you put it down. Once they've had that first drink they'll be able to find the water again when they need more. By introducing each chick to the waterer as you set it down, you'll be sure that each one has had that important first drink.

Newly-hatched chicks need a temperature of about 95°F at first, lowered by about 5°F each week until it is about the same as the temperature of their prospective home (the chicken coop).

I prefer to start my chicks in the late spring when the temperature in my unheated/uncooled mudroom is pretty warm anyway. This means I don't need to use heat lamps at all; I just spread a towel over the top of the brooder at night to help hold in the day's heat, leaving the end of the brooder open for ventilation. (Remember that piece of hardware cloth I put over the bin? It keeps the towel from falling on top of the chicks.)

A few words of caution

If you are getting your chicks earlier in the year when it's cooler than 95°F, you'll need to supplement the temperature with a heat lamp or a light bulb. Please take all precautions to keep your chicks safe, a hot bulb that falls on shavings can start a fire. Bulbs have been known to explode too. (See why I wait until it's warm enough to not use a heat lamp or light bulb?)

Week-old buff orpington pullet

Place your brooder in a safe place where pets can't bother the chicks, drafts don't blow across the brooder, and out of direct sunlight.

The brooder bedding will get wet and icky rather quickly, especially as the chicks get older. Change the bedding often so the chicks will have a dry environment and can breathe clean, fresh air. You'll also notice that chicks produce a thick layer of "dust" on top of everything near the brooder. If you are keeping the brooder in your home, you'll be dusting constantly.

When to move chicks out of the brooder

Cute as they are, I try to move my chicks out to a small pen inside the chicken coop as soon as I can, which is usually when they are four to six weeks old. By that time I'm definitely ready to move them out of my house - and I bet you will be too.

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How to brood your chicks

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This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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  1. I'm so glad we're not the only one who have such a simple set up for chicks. :) This is pretty much exactly what we did with ours this year. Stopping by from the Homesteader Hop.

    1. It's a simple and easy set-up, isn't it? Thank you for stopping by. :-)

  2. We did something similar with our chicks last year. This year we'll need to make sure our box is strong enough to withstand the dogs. I think our puppy will be more interested in them than the others were. Thanks for sharing on Waste Less Wednesday Blog Hop!

    1. Another reason I keep mine in the mudroom: to keep the chicks safe from the dogs and cats. Thank you.

  3. I love our broodies but I so miss the peeping from the brooder! Thanks for sharing on the Homesteader Hop!

    1. There's nothing cuter than a hen with her fluffy little chicks, but yes, the peeping from brooding chicks is a lot of fun too.

  4. I found you through the Bloom Where You Are Planted Homestead Blog Hop. Great post! I love the simple set up you have for the chicks. We used half a dog crate last time. We raise chicks in winter so they are laying by around February that does mean they're inside a bit longer because of the cold though. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Emma, I'm glad you hopped on over here and hope to see you again. Wow, first eggs in February - that's really early!

  5. Impulse buying today thank you for this!!lol. We have been building our chicken coop and it was taking longer than expected and I have the itch!! I want my chicks today.

    1. It's hard to resist, isn't it?


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