It’s physically impossible for me to plan ahead when we buy chicks.
I just can’t.
Even the years when I know we will be adding to the flock, I still seem to always jump the gun and run to the feed store last minute without much pre-planning. It’s a sickness y’all.
Take last week, for example. I called the feed store on a whim in the midst of a morning of homeschool to ask if they had chicks. I don’t know why I called. It wasn’t in the plan. I was supposed to be ordering chicks from Meyer Hatchery again. I’m just going to call it an out-of-body experience.
Anyway. They had a new shipment of chicks– hot off the truck.
My heart rate increased.
I called Christian, who was on his way home with the stock trailer from delivering a steer to the butcher.
“Uh, honey. So… the feed store has chicks. Do you want to swing by and see if they have any meat birds?”
And he agreed. (See? It’s his fault. He’s my enabler.)
He arrived and bought out their entire inventory of Cornish Cross birds (here’s why we like raising this breed for broilers), and then called to report they had a decent selection of layers, too.
I don’t need layers. But he was there. And they were there. And who can say no to that?
So he ended up bringing home 5 Cuckoo Marans (these are the ones that lay the dark brown eggs– eeeek!) and 5 Blue Laced Wyandottes.
Only 10. (To add to our flock of 25+. But who’s counting?) That’s pretty amazing self-control on my part, don’t you think?
The kids and I wrapped up homeschool and rushed outside to prep the coop. At this point in the ol’ homesteading journey, racing around getting ready for chicks feels pretty much normal. Been there, done that.
Anyway, the babies are doing well tucked away in their brooders (we separate the layer chicks from the meat chicks to avoid trampling). The chirping of babies greets me whenever I open the door to the coop, which makes it feel like spring might really arrive. I’ll never get tired of this beautifully crazy cycle of homestead life. Even if it does make me out of breath sometimes.
What Exactly is a Chick Brooder?
A brooder is simply a heated place or container that houses new chicks who aren’t hatched by a hen. While we were surprised by a hen who hatched her own chicks in the garden last year, most of our hens thus far haven’t been broody long enough to sit on eggs, so we are still reliant on the feed store.
You can buy pre-made brooder boxes, but in 8 years of having chicks, we’ve never used one–its way too easy to put a simple DIY brooder together.
We keep our chicks in the brooder for around 6-8 weeks, or until they are feathered and seem savvy enough to avoid the dogs and barn cats. Basically, you’ll know it’s time to leave the brooder when the chicks look more like adult chickens than cute little balls of fluff and start acting like sassy teenagers.
Chick Brooder Basics
No matter if you buy your brooder or decide to build one of these DIY chick brooders they will all need the same basic things. These chick brooder basics include a heat Source, chick feed, water, and bedding that will absorb moisture.
Things Your Brooder Should Have:
Heat Source (preferably a non-flammable option– read more about that here)
Newly hatched chicks can’t regulate their own body temperature, in the absence of a hen, an artificial heat source must be used. There are a few options for heat sources these days, the most common are heat lamps and brooder plates.
The amount of time your chicks will need a heat lamp will depend on the time of year you get them and what your climate conditions are. Chicks hatched in early spring may need a heat source longer than chicks hatched at the beginning of the summer.
Heat Source Temperature Control
I personally don’t use a thermometer in our DIY chick brooders, I watch the chick’s behavior and let them tell me if it needs to be adjusted. This article Brooding and Caring for Chicks has a great diagram showing a chick’s behavior when the brooder temperature needs to be adjusted.
Note: All heat sources should start out at 95 – 100 degrees and be reduced to about 5 degrees each week. You can control the temperature in the brooder by raising or lowering your heat source.
Your chicks should be fed a chick starter feed. The confusing part about chick starter feeds is that there are two types: Non-Medicated and Medicated.
- Non-Medicated Chick Feed is a normal chick starter with no additives.
- Medicated Chick Feed is feed that has an additive to help prevent Coccidiosis.Note: Coccidiosis is an infestation of a microscopic parasite called Coccidia. Most adult chickens have built an immunity to these parasites, but chicks’ immune systems are too new.
Should you buy Medicated or Non-Medicated Chick Starter?
Using medicated chick starter is another one of those controversial topics. Choosing whether or not you should use medicated chick starter is a personal choice. Like with anything medically related you should do your research and talk with a veterinarian for more information.
For more information about Coccidiosis and medicated chick feed take a look at these articles:
- Managing Chicken Coccidiosis In Small Flocks
- What is Medicated Chick Feed – Do I Actually Need It?
- Is Medicated Chick Feed Necessary?
Water is something that most people assume chicks need but don’t think much about. Chicks need access to fresh clean water all the time. When you are choosing your chicks waterer you should consider a few different things.
You will want to make sure the waterer provided is the right size for the number of chicks you have. If you find that it’s often empty you may need a larger water container or an additional one.
The waterer should be the right height for the size of the chicks you have. You want your chicks to be able to reach the water but not walk around in it.
- No Leaks
Make sure you don’t have a leaky waterer. A leaky waterer means wet bedding and less drinking water available.
Brooder bedding materials should help absorb moisture and be relatively easy to clean on daily basis (if needed). There are different types of bedding that can be used in chick brooders.
Different Bedding Materials that can be used:
- Pine Shavings (we use pine shavings to keep the chicks from slipping on the bottom and to soak up wetness.)
- Shredded Newspaper
Considering I’m pretty much the expert of last-minute chick preparations, here are 5 DIY chick brooders you can put together last minute (or almost last minute) if your yearly tradition involves impulse buying poultry like me. We’ve used all of these ideas at one time or the other, and they all work well.
5 Easy DIY Chick Brooders You Can Make
1. Stock Tank (New or Repurposed) DIY Chick Brooder
Cost: $60-$200, depending on the size.
Difficulty Level: Easy
This is probably my favorite quick DIY chick brooder option and the one we’ve used the most over the years. You can use either new tanks or repurpose old ones that leak and no longer work for holding water. Sprinkle some shavings in the bottom, add heat, and you are good to go. I also appreciate that I can haul the tanks out of the coop on sunny days, give them a good scrub, and let them dry in the sun. Sometimes you can even find old stock tanks at auctions or farm & ranch Facebook groups that will save you some cash.
2. Plastic or Rubbermaid Tub DIY Chick Brooder
Difficulty Level: Easy
A large plastic storage tote makes a quick DIY Chick brooder if you’re in a hurry. To keep chicks safe from cats, dogs, or inquisitive children, you can cut windows in the lid and cover the holes with wire mesh. Otherwise, if that’s not a concern, the lid can be left off entirely as long as the sides are high enough that the chicks can’t jump out.
If you have more than a handful of chicks, they’ll outgrow the tub within a couple of weeks, but it’s a good place to start if you’re in a hurry. (Or just use multiple tub brooders if you have a bunch of chicks.)
3. Dog Kennel or Crate DIY Chick Brooder
Difficulty Level: Easy
Every homestead needs a trusty dog kennel– ours has been put through the ringer over the years. It’s housed cats, puppies, baby goats, piglets, turkeys, injured chickens, ducks, and has been a DIY chick brooder. The biggest downfall I see to using a kennel as a brooder is that it can be difficult to set up a heat lamp inside, so you’ll likely need an alternate heat source, like an EcoGlow brooder (affiliate link), if you use this option.
4. Homemade Wooden Box DIY Chick Brooder
Cost: Free-$40, depending on the size and materials you use
Difficulty Level: Medium
After years of using stock tanks and random boxes and containers, Christian finally built a simple wooden DIY chick brooder area in our chicken coop and it’s been extremely handy. We simply used two sheets of repurposed scrap plywood to fashion a box in the feed storage area of the coop (this area doesn’t have adult birds in it). The sides are approximately 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall, which is perfect to keep babies from hopping out. It also works well as a chicken hospital during the rest of the year if we have a bird that needs to be isolated from the rest of the flock. Here’s a slightly more sophisticated wooden brooder box design that features a fully enclosed box with legs.
5. Kiddie Pool DIY Chick Brooder
The one drawback to using a kiddie pool is that the sides are short and it’s very easy for chicks to jump out, which can be deadly if they can’t figure out how to get back to the heat. Therefore, if you plan to use a pool, you will need to build taller sides for it by either surrounding it with cardboard or by using chicken wire. Otherwise, it’s a quick option that you can put together quickly if you’re in a hurry.
So there ya have it, my friends–five DIY chick brooder ideas to make your chick-buying impulses even easier. You’re welcome.
Are You Ready to Bring Home Your Chicks?
Whether your chicks were impulse buys from the farm store, planned shipments, or home hatches these 5 DIY Chick brooders are quick easy setups. No matter the chicks’ purpose (meat, laying, or show) they all start out the same. Remember your brooder should be a safe shelter that provides your chicks with all the necessary things for them to grow into healthy adult chickens.
As I mentioned earlier I believe that chicks are truly the gateway to homesteading they provide in so many different ways. Chickens provide us with food in the form of eggs and meat, they can also be put to work to help out with other aspects of homesteading (Save Time by Using Chicken Power on Your Homestead).
-> Chickens can also be a part of your plan to help fund your homestead dreams, those extra eggs can be sold for a little extra income. You don’t have to stop with chickens, you can use other things you are already doing to help fund your homestead. If you are interested in learning different ways you can fund your homestead take a look at my course The Self-Funded Homestead Here. <-
Other Chicken Posts You’ll Wanna Read:
- Homemade Chick Electrolyte Solution
- How to Prepare for New Chicks
- Raising Meat Birds: Our First Year
- The Beginners Guide to Setting Up Your Chicken Coop
Check out my Homestead Mercantile for all of my favorite homesteading tools and supplies.
Listen to the Old Fashioned On Purpose Podcast episode #109 for the Inside Scoop of Getting Chicks: