Brooders for 1st Time Chick Owners

March 9, 2020

You’ve been told that you need to set up a brooder for your chicks.  But how do you set up a brooder when you aren’t even sure of what a brooder is?  Don’t worry.  Brooders are simple to set up and there’s more than one way to do it. 

            A brooder is simply an enclosed space that you can heat for your baby chicks.  It should have sides that are deep enough to prevent older chicks from trying to jump out.  The deeper sides will also help to prevent drafts, which is something that you don’t want.  You can make a brooder from many different things: a large cardboard box, livestock waterers, plastic totes or even barn stalls.  You don’t have to purchase a fancy brooder to successfully raise chicks.  If you’re feeling particularly handy, you can build a brooder box.  Keep in mind that the sides of a brooder should be solid, not mesh or wire.  You’re going to heat the space inside of the brooder and breathable materials won’t hold heat in.

            Space in the brooder is crucial for chick development and growth.  Plan on having one square foot of room for every two chicks.  This gives them room to grow and move around.  Crowded chicks are more likely to get sick due to the stress of being overcrowded.  They are also more likely to become injured or die from crushing.  Chicks should be able to move around freely in the brooder space.  They should be able to easily access food and water as well as move under the heated space or away from it.

            The brooder will need to be heated.  The most common way that this is done is with a heat lamp.  The lamp should be securely mounted above the brooder to avoid the risk of it falling into the brooder and becoming a fire hazard.  You can also use a brooder, which is a heated plate on a stand.  It warms the space around it and allows chicks to get under it to get warm.  These are usually on the smaller side, so if you have a large number of chicks, you’ll either need multiple brooders or a different source of warmth.  Chicks that are less than a week old should be in a brooder that is between 95-100 degrees F.  Each week, the temperature of the brooder can be dropped by five degrees.

            You can measure the temperature of the brooder a couple of ways.  A thermometer can be placed in the brooder to measure the temperature.  If you’re using a thermometer, make sure that it is placed at the level where the chicks are, not clipped to the top of the brooder where the temperature may be cooler.  If you don’t have a thermometer on hand, don’t run out to the store to purchase one.  One of the best ways to monitor the temperature of the brooder is to observe the chicks.  They will tell you if they are too hot, too cold or just right by the way they stand in the brooder.  Chicks that are huddled together under the heat lamp are too cold.  Chicks that are spaced out along the edges of the brooder, far away from the heat source are hot.  Happy chicks will be dispersed randomly throughout the brooder.  There should be chicks eating, drinking and moving around happily.

            The bottom of the brooder should be lined with some sort of bedding that will trap droppings.  Do not use cedar shavings in the bottom of the brooder.  The dust content of cedar shavings is too high and can lead to respiratory illness in chickens.  A pine flake bedding is ideal.  Make sure that the flakes are large and have little dust.  Provide a depth of 1-2” of bedding.  Check the bedding daily.  Remove wet or soiled bedding and replace it with clean bedding.

            The most important thing you can do when raising chicks in a brooder is to observe them.  Keep feeders and waterers clean and filled with fresh food and water.  Watch the chicks for signs of discomfort and adjust heat as necessary.  Don’t feel bad if you have to adjust things in your brooder.  Make changes as needed to ensure your chicks are happy and healthy.

Little chickens in a brooder on the farm.

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More about Shelby DeVore

Shelby is an agricultural enthusiast that shares her love of all things farming with her husband and two children on their small farm in West Tennessee. She is a former agriculture education teacher and is also the author of the blog Farminence, where she enjoys sharing her love of gardening, raising livestock and more simple living. You can see more of Shelby's articles at:

    1. Our nine chicks are ready (7 weeks old) to be moved from our basement brooder to the outdoor coop, but I am not sure about what temperature they can tolerate. It can still get chilly at night here in Maryland. Will a heat lamp be enough to to keep them sufficiently warm?

      1. Hello Alan,
        The heat lamp should be sufficient for their age. If weather changes you will need to change that as well.

        Thank you!

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