It’s physically impossible for me to plan ahead when we buy chicks.
I just can’t.
Even on 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 suppose 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.
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–it’s 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.
A brooder should have:
- Heat (preferably a non-flammable option– read more about that here)
- Bedding (we use pine shavings to keep the chicks from slipping on the bottom and to soak up wetness)
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 Tanks (New or Repurposed)
Cost: $60-$200, depending on the size.
Difficulty Level: Easy
This is probably my favorite quick 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, given 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 Tubs
Difficulty Level: Easy
A large plastic storage tote makes a quick 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 weeks, but it’s 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 Kennels or Crates
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, newborn chicks, ducks, you name it. 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
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 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
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 ideas to make your chick-buying impulses even easier. You’re welcome.
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: