this post is about raising chicks under six weeks old in a brooder box until they’re ready for the coop.
By now, you’re probably aware of my love for chickens, especially baby chicks. They’re just so low maintenance and provide so much in return for ranging around the farm eating bugs and entertaining us.
And the eggs are so pretty. It makes going back to store bought white, cage eggs with watery yellow yolks kind of depressing!
Which is why it makes sense to grow your flock by hatching your own eggs if you’re not getting enough from your layers over the winter. Because eggs keep in the fridge for a really long time! (read more about rationing here) So if you have a bigger flock, you can store extra eggs from the warmer months to tide you over in the winter or should you lose birds to predators.
Starting from scratch
But don’t worry, if you’re starting fresh and this is your first time raising chicks, you’re in the right spot!
Because as you’ll hear me say in the video, I stressed way too much last year when we got our first baby chicks from Cackle Hatchery, who I’d definitely recommend for ordering chicks or eggs to be shipped! ( a note on specialty breeds below)
I thought everything had to be perfect and mad sure the temperature was precise at all times. But, as you’ll see – it’s more about watching your chicks to make sure they are happy than measuring anything else. Look at these cutesies. They are so much fun!
Why do chicks need a brooder
Chicks who are born in an incubator or don’t have a natural brooder (a.k.a. a momma hen to sit on them and keep them warm) need supplemental heat. This is because they aren’t fully feathered until they’re 6 weeks old.
Chicks who are being raised inside where room temp is around 70F will only need a heat lamp until they’re 4 weeks old, then they’ll have to wait another two weeks to go outside or to a coop if its colder than room temperature. They’ll be more than ready by the time they’re 6 weeks old. Here are some of our fully feathered babies ready for the coop last spring!
So, the easiest way to do this is to set up a small area for them with bedding, food, water, and a heat lamp. Also known as a brooder box.
Any kind of box will work. I use a clear tote that I had in my basement and I do like that they can see out and we can see in. But a cardboard box would be fine as well. Just make it something thats easy to clean. Also, make sure you have enough space for your chicks. If you have a lot, you may need a larger box or to separate them into two, like I did below.
In the first week, you can line it with paper towels because they won’t be that messy. But after that, its best to switch to pine shavings or straw for a bedding. Just an inch or two at the bottom will do.
You’ll also need a feeder and waterer. I bought plastic ones last year, but I linked mason jar feeders below because that’s what I’d use if I didn’t already have the ones I do!
Lastly, you will need a heat source. I use a basic heat lamp (pictured above my two brooders and seen in the video) with an infrared bulb (when my husband doesn’t take it to the coop because polar vortex and he spoils the chickens – you’ll know what I mean if you watched the video!). These are pictures from last year when I had lots of babies and had to set up two boxes.
I feed all of my animals who need supplemental food non-GMO, organic. So the chicks are no different. I believe in eating that way for myself and my family to keep us healthy, and the same holds true for them. After all, we will be eating their products or meat…so what they eat matters. Once again you can know best how often to feed your chicks by watching. If they are playing in their food and getting it everywhere don’t fill it all the way up, but just the bottom portion. When it gets low, add more – thats it!
Chicks will also need grit because their stomachs require it to digest their food – but they don’t need it until about week 2. Just a little bowl of it in the brooder will be fine.
check out our countertop brooder and chick care 101
Keeping them warm enough
I got really concerned about this our first go round last year, but the easiest way to know if your lamp is keeping your chicks warm enough is to watch them. If they’re all huddled together directly under it, they’re probably cold and you should move it closer.
If they’re huddled in a corner away from the lamp, it may be too close and too hot, so you can move it away a bit. And when its just right you’ll know because they’ll be running around and look comfortable. However, if you’re still worried about getting this just right, check out Mother Earths recommendations on temperature!
You’ll need to clean the brooder once a week or maybe more as they grow! When you do this, have something close by with a lid to keep them contained or they will fly all over and poop all over your house!
You can put a stick or rock or even a hand mirror in their box for them to roost on or check themselves out. They will thinks its 100% fantastic and be very entertained.
Chicks like scraps too! Once they’re growing, you can give them some veggie scraps to try out. When they get bigger, they’ll bet your favorite way to compost for the garden.
Don’t let them free range right away! So they’re ready for the coop – keep them inside the for a few days and don’t let them out at all. You’ll want them to know that the coop is home base before you let them venture out. Free range chickens typically return to the coop at dusk without you needing to do anything.
Beware of predators. You’re bound to lose some birds if you free range. It just happens, but to avoid it – situate your coop close to your house and away form wooded areas, close it up at night, and make sure there aren’t any holes that raccoons or other critters could slip through. Also, having dogs around helps – but you need to make sure your dogs don’t become the predators. I learned with mine the hard way and had to train them not to eat the chickens – such is life!
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Mason Jar chick waterer from Lehmans (linked because it’s cute & not plastic! I wish I’d seen these before I bought mine)
Mason Jar chick feeder from Lehmans
Chick Feed from Amazon