Raising a few chicks is easy right? Buy ’em at the farm store or online,put them in your chicken coop with food and water and your done…right? Not exactly. When you first get your chicks home, they need some added care that grown chickens don’t, like warmth, safety, and the right kind of supplies that work best for chicks.
One of the items needed is a Brooder. A brooder is essentially a contained space for your baby chicks to stay warm and safe while they grow. Add to your brooder some chick feeders and waterers, some bedding, and a heat lamp and THEN you’re ready to go!
Rest assured it’s not difficult to set up a brooder for your new feathered flock. In fact, it’s pretty darn fun. We have kids and they help us so it becomes a fun family time.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the supplies needed to get your chicken brooder up and running, along with a full assortment of chicken brooder ideas for you to consider.
For a complete guide to setting up your coop, check out the rest of this website or see this guide.
According to Dictionary website, the technical definition of a Brooder is: “a device or structure for the rearing of young chickens or other birds.” This is a rather broad description, which means that ANY structure that provides an area to rear chicks will do…so we’ll take a look at a few of the more common brooders, along with some that are a bit atypical.
Size Requirements Of A Brooder
A good way to estimate the size of your brooder is to figure 1/2 square foot per chick for the first month (4 weeks) of life. For the following month (4-8 weeks), you’ll need 1 square foot per chick. After 8 weeks, you should be able to transition them to the chicken coop.
How Long Do Chicks Need To Be In A Brooder?
This can depend on how fast your chicks grow but, generally speaking, around 2 months is plenty. You’ll want to make sure they have a few adult feathers for warmth before transitioning.
When we transition our chicks from the brooder to the coop, we will add the heat lamp to the coop for awhile, but position it much higher since they are not as reliant on it at that point.
If you live in a warm climate, you may not need to add any additional heat to your coop when the transition is made. But if you live in a colder climate, you may want to consider having the heat lamp on at least for another 2 weeks or more until those feathers are in and they can stay naturally warm.
We’ve placed a generic picture of a cardboard box here, not the actual box we use. Real high tech huh. After raising chickens for over 14 years now, we have used a large cardboard box as a brooder almost every time. It works great, not to mention it’s FREE.
An ideal cardboard brooder box is a refrigerator box – the length, width, height etc. is ideal for raising several chicks. However, we don’t always have access to one of these so we improvise.
So we go to a few local hardware or retail stores and ask if they have any large recycled boxes. Without exception, they are happy to get rid of them and help a potential customer along the way.
We find around 2 or 3 (or more) of the largest boxes they have. If you don’t already have any, you may want to grab a roll of duct tape as well. When we get the boxes home, we position them side by side and tape them together. Then where the two sides of the boxes are butted up against one another, we cut that section out with a utility knife or heavy duty scissors, leaving a nice large opening between the two boxes that they can come and go.
After that, we add wood pellets bedding (about an inch thick is great), put in the chick waterers, feeders, and heat lamp and that’s it – our brooder set up is ready! After we transition our chickens to the coop, we throw the box away.
Other Brooder Ideas
If you want something that is more durable and can last a longer, there are a wealth of options at your disposal. You can make one yourself or simply buy one online. Let’s take a look at some cool brooder ideas below.
This is one the simplest, yet most durable options out there. It can be made out of plywood and some 2×2 or 2×4 framing at the corners. What’s great about a wood brooder is that you can custom make it to the size needed.
To determine the size, reference the size requirements again to determine how much space is needed…1/2 square foot per chick for first month, 1 square foot per chick for the second month.
For example, if you’re getting 6 chicks, estimate that they’ll need 3 square feet for the first month and 6 square feet for the second month.
Unless you want to build two brooders, simply build it for 6 square feet. Some possible dimensions of this example brooder could be 2 ft x 3 ft. (or 2×3 = 6)
If your not familiar…to estimate square footage, multiply length by width. In the above example, that is 2 ft x 3 ft = 6, or 2×3=6. As for the height of the sides, make them over 15 inches tall but not much over 30 inches or it’ll be hard to access the feed and water containers.
This is an AWESOME idea. It may not be free…but it’s certainly not too pricey either! You may even have one taking up space in the attic somewhere.
The beauty of a tote is that they can be washed and re-used again the following year without a lot hassle. Whether you can use this or not will depend on how many chicks you’re getting.
Again – measure the height and width of your tote to see if it’ll work for the number of chicks you are planning to get.
This is another brilliant option that won’t break the bank! We have considered trying this option before but shied away from it because the sides are a bit too low for our liking.
As the chicks start to get older – around the end of the second month, they will start flying a bit. We didn’t want them to be able to fly out with the potential of dying in the cold or getting eaten by a cat, dog, or other predator.
A way to solve that issue would be to place a top or lid on it. It could be chicken wire, a half sheet of plywood, or anything that would prevent them from flying over.
Aquarium or Terrarium
These are also really cool structures that can easily be cleaned once the chicks have been transferred over to the coop. Not only that, your chicks will be easily seen through the glass. The structure is rigid on all sides as well, which makes it perfect for attaching your heat lamp to.
The price of these can be a bit steep, but you may be able to find some sweet deals on one from Craigslist, Offerup, or similar sites. I’ve seen them there for free sometimes. If you want to buy one online, there are dozens of options (maybe hundreds!).
A stock tank is used as a water container for larger livestock like cows, sheep, horses and the like. It also makes a great brooder. Nothing will take it down, and it’s easy to access the chicks, take care of daily maintenance, cleaning etc.
The sides are high enough that it isn’t easy for the chicks to fly over the sides when they start taking flight. Having said that, I’d still put a cover over it just to make sure!
Expect to pay a bit more for these, however, but if you plan to keep it around for many years it will be a great investment. Not only that, if you stop raising chicks, you can use it for other farm animals!
Another possibility but, because they have an enclosed top, it’s a bit harder to put a heat lamp, water and food supplies inside. I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out, though. If it’s all you have it can TOTALLY work – it just takes a bit of extra time.
Many people use these as their brooder if they have just a few chicks. It’ll work just fine as a short term brooder. They are easy to clean as well – just hose them out when the chicks move into the coop.
Just remember to keep the dog out ?. I have a feeling Fido won’t mind you borrowing his crate for a couple months, and that’s all the time you’ll need!
Buying A Brooder Online
If the above ideas don’t really seem feasible for you, you can always buy a brooder at your local farm store or online. In fact, brooder kits can be ordered online now. You pay for that convenience but time is important so it may be well worth it!
Things often included in the kits are the brooder, heat lamp, waterer, and feeder – basically everything you need!
The kits I’ve seen advertised on Amazon seem to be sufficient for smaller flocks. You can buy just the brooder or the entire kit.
Make A Brooder Inside Your Coop
Although the previous options will work great, you can also abandon the idea of making or buying a brooder and simply partition off a corner of your existing coop. That way when they are ready to be released into the coop, it doesn’t take much work to dismantle at all!
If you have a larger coop, make sure to partition off a section to cordon them away from accessing the rest of the coop. This is important – if you leave the chicks to free range in that much space, they may end up away from the heat lamp, become too cold, and die.
Also, it’s harder to provide enough heat for them in this larger space. The contained space of a brooder allows the heat to be contained in one smaller area, which is better for your chicks and your wallet!
To make an in-coop brooder, you simply add two sides to meet together in a corner of the coop. Think of it like adding a coop inside a coop. This type of set up will provide successful containment, making it so you wouldn’t have to make a full brooder. It may or may not work, depending on the floor plan of your coop, how big it is etc. but it’s something to keep in mind.
Once you’ve picked out the kind of brooder you want, there are a few things that are helpful when setting it up.
- Add A Top – Depending on where you place your brooder, consider adding a top or lid on it. This will protect your chicks from predators and prevent the chicks from flying out when they get a bit older.
- Elevate The Feeder And Waterer – This is also optional, but I put a 2×6 board (or similar) on top of the bedding, and then put my feeder and waterer on top of it. Even at at young age, the little chickens can make a mess in the water and feed so having it slightly elevated off the bedding can help. Just be careful not to place it too high, since they are so tiny! We observe ours to make sure they can eat and drink comfortably and make height adjustments if needed.
- Consider Using A Standing Lamp To Clamp Your Heat Bulb To – The chicks will need less heat as they get older so the heat bulb can be moved up an inch or two every few days. By having standing lamp either inside the brooder box, or right next to it on the outside, you can easily adjust the height every so often.
- If you don’t want to use a lamp, they make height adjusters for this very purpose, and these can be bought online.
- Also – you can also get creative with lumber and build a similar stand at a fraction of the cost!
I hope you’ve picked up a few ideas here today. Just know that the list is by no means exhaustive. ANYTHING large enough to hold chicks can work as a brooder, so get creative!
If there is something you’ve used as a brooder that isn’t listed here, please let us know by adding a comment below. We can all get ideas from one another and it will help provide an even more extensive list.
Thanks for stopping by!