Raising Backyard Chickens for Eggs. Part 2 – The Brooder

Before your baby chicks arrive, you need a brooder for them.  The brooder is simply a box or blocked off area that will house the baby chicks for the first several weeks of their life.  It can be something more permanent if you think you will reuse it often, but if you don’t plan on getting more baby chicks in the near future, a cardboard box works wonderfully.

Baby Barred Rock Chicks giving me the stink eye from their brooder box.

Cover the bottom of the brooder with pine shavings for bedding.  The bedding will help absorb the chicken manure as well as the smell.  It will also absorb any spilled water and help keep the baby chicks dry.  Another reason the bedding is necessary is to give the baby chicks some traction on the bottom of their box.  Keeping baby chicks on smooth floors can lead to spraddle legs (or splayed legs), a condition where the feet point out to the sides instead of straight ahead due to their feet sliding out from under them on smooth floors.  This condition can also be a birth defect.

The most important aspect of he brooder box for baby chicks is the heat lamp.  During the first week of their life, baby chicks need an area that is 95 degrees.  That temperature drops by 5 degrees each week, until they are 6 weeks old at which point they can withstand most any temperature as long as they are dry and draft free. It is also important for the baby chicks to have enough space to move away from the heat lamp and cool down if necessary.

Hang the heat lamp above the box and adjust the height as necessary to achieve the desired temperature.  Having it attached to a pole or something that the lamp can be moved up and down to adjust the temperature in the brooder will make life much easier.

A very simple and effective brooder box set up, complete with little balls of fluff.

Lay a thermometer on top of the wood shavings covering the bottom of the brooder to get the accurate temperature at baby chick level. You can determine if your temperature is off based upon how the baby chicks act in the brooder.  If they run and hide in the corners, it is too hot. Adjust the lamp up to lower the temperature in the brooder. If they huddle together directly under the lamp, it is too cold and it needs lowered to raise the temperature. Do not confuse this with them huddling together in a big pile to sleep, they will do this even if the temperature is correct.  Also, when you first bring them home and place them in the brooder they will most likely stand under the lamp to warm up, so give them plenty of time in the brooder before adjusting the temperature based upon how they behave.

Baby Chicks huddling in the corner of a cardboard brooder box.

The last thing that is necessary for a brooder is food and water.  Your new baby chicks should have constant access to food and water.  There are very inexpensive plastic feeders and waterers available at your local farm and feed store, or where ever you purchased your chickens.  If possible, these should be placed away from the spot directly underneath the heat lamp.  This way the chicks can go get food and water and still have room to lay under the lamp to stay warm.

This is all you need to bring home your day old baby chicks and keep them alive and thriving.  Once they get a little bigger you may find that you need a lid on the brooder to keep them in.  Some chicken wire laid over the top should do the trick.  Also, you can add something to roost on as they get older.  A simple thin board stood up on the bottom of the brooder, protruding a little up through the wood shavings works perfectly well.  They will begin to roost here as they get older.

Raising Backyard Chickens Series:
Part 1 – Getting Baby Chicks
Part 2 – The Brooder
Part 3 – The Coop
Part 4 – Feed