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Guide to Raising Chicks and How to Set Up a Brooder

You can’t stop looking at pictures of chickens, the sound of their cluck melts your heart, and you catch yourself daydreaming about cooking breakfast with freshly-gathered, blue and brown eggs. It is time for you to get some chickens! How do you get started? Do they sell chickens at the pet store?

I suggest starting with chicks. They grow up quickly and are such a joy to raise. You need to start by setting up a chick nursery called a brooder. My favorite brooder set up is a big, clear-plastic storage bin. The sides are nice and tall and it is easy to clean out.

chick brooder set-up

Setting up a Brooder

  • Storage Bin: Start with a clear plastic storage bin. Make sure the sides are tall. If you are getting several chicks then get the biggest one you can find. You will be surprised by how fast they grow.
  • Bedding: It is very important that chicks are kept dry and warm. I like to lay down several layers of newspaper with a good thick layer of wood chips on top of that. You can use shredded paper or sand as well. Just make sure that whatever you lay down stays dry.
  • Heat source: Chicks are very easily raised on their own, but without a mother hen to keep them warm they need a heat source. You can hang a heat lamp above the bin or buy an electric chick warmer to place down in the brooder.
  • Feed: Chicks grow very fast so they need a good, high-protein chick starter feed. Adding in some dry sand is also important. Chickens don’t chew their food. They need some grit or sand in their gizzard to help “chew” their food.
  • Water: Chicks love to scratch and peck right from day one but can be so messy. Placing a few small bricks (not taller than a couple inches) under the water will help keep their water clean. Make sure to watch them all get up and get water before you walk away. If they can’t get up on the bricks then place on the floor of your brooder until they are a few days old.

chick waterer raised

Now you need chicks

Chicks can be purchased locally at the feed store or ordered from a hatchery and come to you by mail. I prefer to buy locally because the feed store will only have breeds that do well in your climate. If you have a specific breed in mind then ordering from a hatchery is a great way to go.

Keep them warm

When chicks are comfortable they have a sweet little peep that is soft and pleasant. If they are noisy then something is not right. Usually they are cold or their bedding is wet. Keeping a thermometer in the brooder is an easy way to help regulate the temperature. You are aiming for 85-90 degrees under the lamp.

Another way to “read” the temperature is to watch their behavior. If they are all huddled under the lamp and not scratching and pecking then it is too cold. Lowering the heat lamp usually is all it takes to solve that problem. If they are all on the opposite side of the brooder and no one is under the heat lamp then the temperature is too warm. Raise the heat lamp a little. What you are looking to accomplish is the chicks milling around happily, some under the light and some not.

chick brooder set-up

Keep them clean

Aside from keeping chicks warm and dry with plenty of good food and clean water there is not much else a chick needs. In the first couple days you do need to watch out for pasty butt. That is where their poop is runny and sticks to their feathers instead of well formed droppings. If left uncared for it can build up and block their vent which can make them ill.

The good news is that it is super easy to take care of. Just make sure they are kept clean. Use a nice, soft cloth to clean the poop from their feathers. Be very careful to not pull the poop off. Pasty butt is only a problem in the first couple days and can be almost completely eliminated by making sure that they have grit available.

chicks outside

Move them to their coop

As the chicks grow you can slowly raise the lamp. Just watch their behavior and don’t let them get cold. When the chicks can handle 70 degree temps without being cold or crying then they are ready to be moved to their coop. Use common sense at this point. If it is February and 30 degrees outside then it is too cold outside for the chicks.

Eggs!farm fresh eggs

Now just love on those chicks and in five months you will be gifted beautiful, fresh, home grown eggs. When your hens are five months old that is when you will switch their feed from starter/grower feed to layer feed. Starter/grower feed has high protein to support growth and the layer feed has the calcium they need when they have started to lay eggs.

Chickens are one of the easiest farm animals to raise. Keep them warm, fed and watered and they will reward you with constant entertainment and fresh eggs. If I was allowed only one animal I would pick chickens every day of the week.

Your Turn!

  • What most excites you about backyard chickens?
  • Which baby animals have you raised?

Chicken Update

Thought I’d show you an update on the chickens!  They are now 3 months old.  Rhode Island Reds at the community garden I run.

Chickens In Their New Home

Recently I have moved the chicks, who are now all grown up, to their new home in the coop I built.  The first day was an adjustment for them because it was soooo hot outside, but they are doing well and seem very happy.

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