How to Build a Better Brooder for Raising Baby Chicks

It’s amazing how quickly baby chicks grow and it can be a challenge to house them in a brooder that is large enough for them from week to week. I have used a number of different brooder types over the years from cardboard boxes to playpens, rabbit hutches and plastic tubs. I even used a toboggan once. Choosing the biggest brooder possible for the age of the chick is important as overcrowding causes behavioral and health problems that are easier to avoid than to remedy.
It’s amazing how quickly baby chicks grow and it can be a challenge to house them in a  brooder that is large enough for them from week to week.  I have used a number of different brooder types over the years from cardboard boxes to playpens, rabbit hutches and plastic tubs. Choosing the biggest brooder possible for the age of the chick is important as overcrowding causes behavioral and health problems that are easier to avoid than to remedy. Many, creative options can work for a brooder- the set-up is limited only by the imagination. Having brooded countless batches of baby chicks, my strong preference for a housing unit is a puppy playpen, followed by the humble cardboard box.Many, creative options can work for a brooder- the set-up is limited only by the imagination. Having brooded countless batches of baby chicks, my strong preference is the cardboard box.

Elements of a Highly Functional Brooder

1. Spacious (provides adequate elbow room for each occupant)
2. Safe (no fire hazard, keeps chicks inside & unwanted guests out)
3. Easy to move
4. Easy to clean or discard (eco-friendly is a bonus)
5. Inexpensive is always nice.

Extra large plastic tote brooder. This is a very impractical brooder design. Even two to three chicks outgrow it within a week.
Extra large plastic tote brooder. This is a very impractical brooder design. Even two to three chicks outgrow it within a week.
Rabbit hutch brooder.
Rabbit hutch brooder
Chicks instinctively know to use the poultry nipple waterers from day one.
Chicks instinctively know to use the poultry nipple waterers from day one

Plan on 2 square feet per chick in the brooder, which may seem excessive initially, but chicks grow at an astonishing rate and it is important to have adequate space available to them in order to avoid problems that result from overcrowding such as picking and cannibalism.

Rabbit cage brooder with horse stall pellet bedding, available inexpensively in feed stores.

Rabbit cage brooder with horse stall pellet bedding, available inexpensively in feed stores
Cardboard brooder condo with EcoGlow Brooder for warmth.
Cardboard brooder condo with EcoGlow Brooder for warmth

I generally brood chicks in stages, beginning inside the house, then moving to the basement or garage, then finally into a wire dog kennel inside the coop just prior to integrating the birds into the main flock. Cardboard boxes work best for me because they can be added onto as chicks grow, are easy to move, can be recycled, are free and because I use a Brinsea EcoGlow for warmth, they are infinitely more safe than traditional heat lamps.I generally brood chicks in stages, beginning inside the house, then moving to the basement or garage, then finally into a wire dog kennel inside the coop just prior to integrating the birds into the main flock. Cardboard boxes work best for me because they can be added onto as chicks grow, are easy to move, can be recycled, are free and because I use a Brinsea EcoGlow for warmth, they are infinitely more safe than traditional heat lamps.

THE BETTER BROODER

Here’s how I make a chicken brooder condo that will grow with my chicks:
I start with the largest boxes available at the time and line them with puppy training pads, which water-proofs the bottom of the box.
I start with the largest boxes available at the time and line them with puppy training pads, which water-proofs the bottom of the box.I cut out two windows between the boxes that are identical in size.
I cut out two windows between the boxes that are identical in size.Duct tape the boxes together at the four edges of the windows. This holds the boxes together and prevents bedding from falling through the gap when using pine shavings.
Duct tape the boxes together at the four edges of the windows. This holds the boxes together and prevents bedding from falling through the gap when using pine shavings.For a billion and one reasons, I use an EcoGlow Brooder, not the least of which is because heat lamps are supremely dangerous even when used properly. More about heat lamps versus this radiant heating unit on my blog here.
 Dog playpen brooder
This puppy playpen makes a fantastic brooder for baby chicks. In this photo, 6 of my adult chickens traveled with me to film a television show, but the playpen is an excellent brooder space for chicks too. The top zips closed to keep flying peeps inside. I do not recommend using a heat lamp at all, but especially not with a cardboard box or canvas playpen.
For a billion and one reasons, I use an EcoGlow Brooder, not the least of which is because heat lamps are supremely dangerous even when used properly. When the chicks are big enough to fly out of the brooder, I simply lay a piece of hardware cloth on the top of the boxes to contain them. In homes with cats or dogs, the hardware cloth should be installed much earlier to keep them out of the brooder.

I also use a poultry nipple watering system to keep chicks from spilling water in the brooder, which can lead to coccidiosis, a deadly disease, which is the #1 cause of death in brooder chicks. 
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Mary Cosner
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Mary Cosner

I'm getting my new batch of chicks next week!!! I use a big horse water trough to house the babies in the living room until they get too big.

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