Brooding Chickens

We received our second brood of chicks from Meyer Hatchery. This is what they looked like when they arrived, only one day old. Such cute little fluff balls!  For the first month we kept them inside the house in this large plastic storage bin with pine shavings for litter. Since we were keeping them indoors, we didn't use a brooder lamp as is recommended, but we did keep them in a small, well-heated bedroom where we could close the door and keep them warm and draft-free. We placed their brooding box next to a heating register and used a thermometer to check and make sure the temperature was just right for them. I'm not suggesting this is the best way to brood baby chicks, but I am saying we have successfully brooded two flocks in this heated room without a brooder lamp.

Note:  The sides of the brooder box should be about 18" tall.  You should not use a plastic or cardboard box when using a brooder lamp as the plastic could melt and the cardboard could burn. It is recommended that the temperature inside the brooder box should be at 95
° F. for the first week and reduced by 5° each week after that for about a month or until they are feathered in.

Baby chicks need to be kept warm and draft-free and have plenty of fresh water and chick starter food available at all times. Pine shavings make a good litter.  It needs to be changed every day.  (Cedar is toxic to chickens, and a newspaper-lined or bare surface is too slippery for their developing legs.)  Tip: These plastic storage containers are inexpensive; we bought two so we could move the chicks right into a fresh one while we took the other one away to clean it.

When they were big enough to start jumping up onto the rim of the container, we used a window screen on top to keep them from getting loose. We would often remove the screen to let them exercise. Look how much they've grown in just a few weeks!  By the way, it is surprising how much "dust" baby chicks can make. Everything in the room was covered with dust and down.  They scratch and "dust bathe" in the litter, and their baby down floats through the air as their feathers come in. The room needed a thorough cleaning from top to bottom after the chicks were moved out.

On warm days, we would take them outside for some fresh air and supervised exploration. This flock is a variety of breeds: one each of (clockwise from far left) New Hampshire Red, Rhode Island Red, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Delaware, Black Australorp, and Buff Orpington.  Note:  If your chicks have access to eating grass or other foods besides the chick starter feed, you should make some grit available for them to eat to help their digestion.

We built a pen in the garage for the chicks to move into once they were feathered-in and the weather was warmer.  At four weeks old, we moved the chicks into their new pen. This gave them much more space to move around and a perch that they could jump up on to roost. We switched to straw for their litter.

Tip: We would use a small rake to fluff the straw every few days, which allowed the droppings to fall down through.  We added a another thin layer of straw occasionally as needed to keep their litter fresh.  The chicks were only in this pen for four weeks.

We would open the garage door during daylight hours so the chicks could see the outdoors and receive some fresh air and natural light. We set the pen far enough back in the garage, however, so that they would not receive direct sunlight and get too hot.

Chickens are social creatures who embrace regular routines. From the beginning, I interacted with and handled the chickens every day so they get to know and trust me. You should always wash your hands after handling the chickens or their equipment, and children should be supervised around chickens, being instructed not to kiss them or put their hands to their faces. 

It is a joyful and rewarding experience to brood chickens.  This flock was ready to move into the hen house at eight weeks old.  See the post Vintage Hen House for details on the hen house design. They remained on the chick starter feed until they were 10 weeks old, when they were switched to a "grower" feed.  Then at 18 weeks, we started feeding them a layer mix.

To read more articles on raising chickens visit our Chicken Page.

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  1. I love the litte Peeps! Nothing is as cute as a chicks

    1. Oh I agree Lynn! I just HAD to go into the farm store and see the baby chicks!!

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