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Chicks Need a Brooder

Chicks have what they need.

When chicks are newly hatched, they have some basic requirements. If chicks are not being raised by a hen, “the humans” will have to provide them with all the things a hen would give them. When we brought our “less than three-day-old chicks” home from the farm supply store, they were tiny fluff balls with no hovering hen to watch out for them. They needed to be kept warm, help in finding food and water, and protection from predators. Humans were in charge of all that.

Chicks, whether being raised by a hen or humans, have five basic needs:

  • heat
  • food and water
  • adequate space
  • freedom from drafts
  • safety from predators

Raising a handful of chicks for your backyard hen project requires some basic investment in equipment. Because the chicks are housed in something called a “brooder” for the first weeks of their lives, you will need to buy or build a place where chicks can thrive until they are ready to be put outside (at about 9-10 weeks, depending on your climate) in a coop or a henhouse.

There are directions everywhere on how to make homemade brooders. We used a 2′x3′x3″ plastic tray set inside a wood surround for the first 3 weeks the chicks were with us. We kept this in the living room of our home (yes, you heard me right) until the chicks could be moved to the garage. Not everyone wants a chick brooder in their house but I wanted to get to know these chicks and to handle them so that when they grew up, they would be not only egg-layers but also pets. When the chicks were ready to be moved to the garage, we borrowed a larger brooding pen (about 4′x4′ with 24″ wood sides and a wire lid) where the chicks lived until they could be put outside in their permanent coop.

Brooders can be exotic or as simple as you want, and chicks are not particular if you keep in mind their basic needs. Brooders can be a large plastic container with wire on top or even a large cardboard box will do. You will need about 6 square inches of space per chick until they are 2 weeks of age, then you will have to increase that to a square foot for each chick. We went slightly larger than the minimum requirement just because it seemed the “right thing to do”. But don’t make your brooder too large or your chicks may find it hard to stay warm.

We used a towel on the floor of the brooder for the first few days so that the chicks would have something to “grip” with their tiny feet. After that I used newspaper with PINE (not cedar) shavings on top. The chicks loved scratching through the shaving as if they were out in the garden foraging for food.

Make your brooder before your chick arrive. Set it up and test it with a thermometer so that you know it stays in the 95-100 degree range. When your chicks come home, show them where the water and food is. Dip their little beaks into the water once or twice as they will be dehydrated from their journey. Let them settle in and enjoy their company.

6 Comments to “Chicks Need a Brooder”

  1. Never heard so much misinformation regarding brooding chickens.

    6 square inches per chick????

    Minimum 1/2 of square foot is required first couple of weeks them more. 1/2 sq foot is 72 sq inches not 6.

    Wonder what PETA would say about such “advice”


  2. Thank you Andy for catching my mistake. I changed it in the text! Did you find other mistakes?

  3. Really was enjoying reading about your journey. I have raised chickens, or been around someone who has, off and on all my life. And then I came across this rude comment by Andy. Your reply was so polite I was shocked as I cannot say I would have been so much. That said, a mother hen can easily cover about 12 chicks. Let me see, a hen has a footprint of about 10 by 10 inches! And who cares what those radicle PETA peeps say?? Your place is beautiful. Your care for the chickens is exemplary. The chicks huddle together no matter what size area they have, they are very social creatures at a young age. If in doubt, take a three day to three week old chick out of group and hold it for a time and it will begin to call out for the others. As they grow until they can stand the weather you will need to increase their area to be fair to them. I cannot abide such rude people as Andy without letting him know about it. Best of wishes! Your doing a great job on the site, love it!

  4. Thank you Charlie for supporting me. I was not offended because I was at fault in figuring the square inches in a foot. My math was never my strength. I took Andy’s comment with a grain of salt.

  5. No cedar shavins, can be very bad. Thanks for the rest of he information.

  6. Yes, Vickie. You are right. I will change it to pine shaving, not cedar shavings!!!! Thanks so much!

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