While I was figuring out how to set up a brooder for our new chicks, I did a lot of research and it was a little overwhelming because although the basics seem ironed out, there’s a little bit of conflicting information out there. Chickens are also a bit quirky it seems, so what works for one flock might not for another. I’m going to show you how I set up my chick brooder and I’ll explain why I made certain decisions. Now that we’ve lived with this set up for over a month – and the chicks are almost ready to move to the coop! – I’m also sharing what worked, what didn’t, what I’d do differently, or what I might recommend you do differently (because I’m quirky too). And for those of you who don’t have chickens, hopefully you just enjoy cute chick picks and a look at what it’s like to raise chicks (in the house!):
Spoiler alert: it’s a lot of fun. And a little dusty.
This post is a collaboration with Premier 1 Supplies, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Where to Put a Chick Brooder
When it comes to thinking about how to set up a brooder for chicks, the first question is: where to put a chick brooder? I decided early on to keep the chicks in the house so I could keep them safe from predators and check on them easily and often. It’s also really cold here in the spring, so I worried that the garage would be too chilly. I have a small house though, so I didn’t have many options. I chose my office because I could close the door (and open a window) as needed, and I could tuck the brooder out of the way. Because I have two dogs, giving the chicks a space where they wouldn’t be pestered was important. But first I had to rearrange! Here’s the before:
And here’s the office now:
Chicks can die from so many things, like too much heat, not enough heat, drowning in the drinking water, smothering each other – they can even die from “pasty butt” (which is when their little vents get caked with poop). I spent quite a few 2AM nights that first week, gently dipping the chicks in a warm “hot tub” I made from a tupperware dish, and carefully wiping their bums with a damp Q-tip, to clean potentially lethal poop. I’m so happy I wasn’t freezing my own butt off in the garage while I did it. But keeping chicks inside is kind of controversial.
Hubby had chickens growing up but he didn’t remember much about it so I asked his parents. My mother-in-law encouraged indoor chick rearing, because she said it helps adult chickens be more tame if they’re used to people and are handled a lot. My father-in-law thought I was nuts. I had read that chicks create a lot of dust, but I figured that applied to people who have 100+ chicks – I only had 12. And for the first couple of weeks, there wasn’t much dust. But as I sit here and type on a totally dust covered laptop, I am starting to see my father-in-law’s perspective. I’ve recently read that it’s really not the best thing to be inhaling this dust. Then again, I am also currently nursing a sick little chickie and we were able to isolate her from the others immediately because she was in the office, so we spotted her ailment right away. Otherwise she might have been trampled on or pecked to death.
So here’s my advice: pick a spot that’s convenient for you, that you don’t mind getting dusty. If you choose to put the brooder inside, clear the room of textiles and hard to clean things. I raised the fabric window shades, removed the velvet chair, and put away any electronics other than my laptop. I also keep the window open a tiny bit for some ventilation (but I monitor the brooder temp). And then I just came to terms with the fact that when they move to the coop, I’ll be giving the room (and probably the whole house) a deep, DEEP clean.
What to Use for a Chick Brooder:
The second most common question for how to set up a brooder for chicks is the brooder itself. I happened to have a stock tank (a spare from my DIY stock tank shower), which was the perfect brooder in my opinion. I read that chicks can pile up and crush each other in corners, so a rounded brooder is best. The size will depend on the number of chicks and their age – some people move up to larger brooder sizes as their chicks grow. You want to make sure they have space to cuddle up but also to move and play and eat and stretch out. They can get quite active and playful and this stock tank had room for me to add little branches for perching! This stock tank will be good for them until they head out to the coop and I love that it has high walls so they can’t fly out – yet. Plus the tall walls keep my two dogs out. They can peer their heads over, but cannot reach the chicks.
You can also use a rubbermaid tote, build a box from cheap plywood, or buy panels from Premier 1 Supplies. People really get creative with brooders!
How to Choose a Heat Lamp & Stand:
Chicks need to stay warm so when you’re thinking about how to set up a brooder for chicks, you need to consider a heat source. In lieu of heat from the hen, chicks require a heat lamp or heating plate. We chose the Prima Heat Lamp because it’s safer than traditional heat lamps. It has a strong hanging system and protective guard. Our only mistake is the heat lamp bulb we chose, which has a white light. Later I read that chicks are safer and calmer with a red lamp or infrared lamp with no light. Apparently a white light highlights blood and can cause pecking, and also disrupts sleep. I have been keeping a close watch on our chicks and so far, so good. They sleep soundly and haven’t injured one another – but it’s something to think about. You’ll also want an inexpensive thermometer to check on the temperature in the brooder. With a heat lamp, you adjust the temperature by raising the lamp each week.
At first we quickly made a heat lamp stand from old wood, but quickly upgraded to this Heat Lamp Stand from Premier 1 Supplies. This heat lamp stand makes it much easier to adjust the height of the heat lamp. It was easy to put together the stand (there’s even a video) and it’s really sturdy.
We used pine shavings from the start, because we didn’t want them to slip and develop leg problems on slippery newspaper. The most important thing is that chicks stay dry. Pine shavings are cheap, easy, absorbent and smell nice – just watch that they don’t eat them! If chicks don’t know the difference between food and shavings, use paper towels for a bit.
The only downside to the shavings is that they help create the dust. For the first three weeks, it was fine, but now the chicks are BIG and so active. They kick up a LOT of dust these days.
Which Chick Feeder and Chick Waterer to Buy:
There are different styles of chick feeders and chick waterers but most are red because chicks are drawn to red. I hate the color red, so this was a bummer lol. We chose the waterer with a drown-proof base. It has a really narrow trough so chicks can’t fall sleep and drown accidentally. It also reduces how much shavings and poops gets in there, but they do kick a little into it though so next time I might want to try a chick nipple drinker.
For the chick feeder, we chose the 2-lb classic feeder. Even though it’s open, they haven’t pooped (much) in it and I like the wide open base so I can easily add treats, like some mushed egg yolk, on top. It also holds about a day’s worth of feed for the chicks which is perfect, because I get into the rhythm of cleaning it every night and filling it up.
Why You Need a Chick Stand:
I hadn’t wanted a chick stand, because I figured we could just prop up the feeder and waterer on scrap pieces of wood, but Hubby recommended it and I’m so glad he did. It keeps the feeder and waterer elevated so less shavings and poop are kicked in but, more importantly, they LOVE it. Some of them sleep on it and perch on it. They like to jump into the middle and jump out again. They’re like little kids on a playground. When I clean the brooder, I just hose it off outside to keep it relatively clean.
Chicks Love Feather Dusters:
I read a tip on Pinterest that chicks would love a feather duster to crawl under to simulate their mama hen. I bought two and hung them in there and at first they were afraid of the big “chicken,” but soon they nestled underneath. Now there’s always a few under there. It’s sad actually because they’re getting way too big to seek comfort under “mama hen” but they still try! When the power went out suddenly while we weren’t home, we raced back but we were an hour away and found all twelve under the feathers, with their heads poking out and looking up at me like, “human, halp us”. I’m glad they had a spot to snuggle and keep warm.
Chicks Love Toys!
Early on, the chicks loved to play. I added a mirror, because I read that they love looking at themselves (they do!) and some branches and twigs. They love to perch on them and snuggle up inside the V shape the two branches make. I change the branches every week because they get covered in poop. Once they were old enough to eat grit, I also started putting in an upside down clump of sod. They love to dig in the dirt and wriggle in it for a mini dust bath of sorts. They play with it a lot and it helps get them ready to be exposed to the outdoors.
Getting Chicks Ready for Treats (Save Old Bowls!):
Once they were old enough, I bought them some Mana Pro chick grit and put it in a small bowl on the chick stand. They immediately all ate some and so now I’ve been able to give them little treats. They love smushed egg yolk (which I gave from the start), plain yogurt, and dandelions. The hatchery said to give them skim milk powder but I give that in my hands because they’re so obsessed. I can make sure no chick overindulges on that plus, because they love it so much, they are getting more tame. When they saw my hand before, they knew it was a butt washing – and ran – but now they’re starting to associate it with treats. Sorta. I wish I had collected more random bowls for this – like old food containers and stuff – because putting their treats in a separate bowl I can toss is so nice. After it’s empty, they perch and poop all over it and sometimes it’s just a relief to throw away a poop covered bowl. I try to reduce waste, but sometimes I don’t want to wash poop.
Other Brooder Supplies:
You’ll want to keep some other things on hand: thin medical rubber gloves (for handling poop/cleaning the brooder), a scoop for scooping out the shavings when it’s time to change them, a thermometer to gauge brooder temperature, a cardboard box to move the chicks to when cleaning the brooder, and an alternative heat source for power outages (like these hand warmers to put in a cloth that they can snuggle in a pinch, or a wood stove to keep them near). In case you have a sick chick, be prepared with a makeshift second brooder if you need to quickly separate a chick from the others. I also kept a lot of rags around for clean ups and clean old dish towels for snuggling chicks in my lap (I bundled them up in the towel and it kept poop off my clothes!). Of course you’ll also need a good quality chick starter feed, possibly some vitamins, probiotics, etc – your hatchery can guide you with nutritional requirements.
Shopping List for Setting Up a Chick Brooder:
Here’s a quick reference list with everything I needed to set up the brooder:
- Round container (approx 1/4 square foot per chick)
- Pine shavings
- Heat lamp and bulb
- Heat lamp stand
- Chick stand
- Chick feeder
- Drown-proof chick waterer
- Random bowls for grit and treats
- Feather duster
- Logs, branches to perch
- Mirror (optional)
- Spare cardboard box to keep chicks when cleaning brooder
- Scoop to clean shavings (can use later for dishing feed)
- Rubber gloves
- Hand warmers to use in a pinch
- Food, vitamins, probiotics, etc
- Spare rags, cloths, etc
What it’s Like to Have Chicks in the House:
I’ll be totally honest. For the first three weeks, it was AWESOME!
They are so cute and so soft. I didn’t ever want to leave the house so I could just watch them. I’d pull my desk chair over and just watch them for hours, it was actually kind of zen and calming! They didn’t smell much, didn’t poop much and were a joy to watch and care for. The house smelled fine (I polled everyone who entered) and things were dreamy. As they grew, they ate and pooped more and became more active. I have had the Ameraucanas since early June, and the silkies for a week longer, and about a week ago I considered moving the brooder to the garage, I but couldn’t do it! But now, the smell is kinda bad. I have to clean the brooder every couple of days or else my office is incredibly barn-like. I am tired of the dust. But they’re still cute, and I still have just as much fun caring for them, so I can deal. But I wanted to be honest! They’re so close to moving to the coop and the run, which will be good for everyone. We’re in the home stretch! And soon I can restore order in the house; I’m looking forward to my office looking like this again!
People have asked what the dogs think about the chicks in the house! They are…confused. They’re allowed to chase geese, but not chicks. Mostly they just stare at them – I’m happy the brooder is to tall, so they can’t reach in.
In my experience, that’s how to set up a brooder for chicks! And what’s it like to live with chicks inside. Huge thanks to Premier 1 Supplies for collaborating with me on this post. If you’re looking for any farming supplies, they have really great products and resources. We’re currently working on the coop and soon I can share the finished project!