How to Set Up a Chick Brooder

Chicks need a safe, warm, controlled space to live out the first 6-10 weeks of their lives. Whether you are purchasing chicks or hatching your own, learning how to set up a chick brooder is the first step to meeting their needs and raising happy, healthy, productive birds. 

How to Set Up a Brooder for Chicks

It’s the time of year for chicks to start coming back to the homestead and I am so excited! I have new chicks coming from Murray McMurray Hatchery at the Chick Days event next month. We will be getting in some new layers as well as a batch of meat birds.

Before the chicks get here, I have to get their brooder set up and ready to go. If you are preparing a brooder for your own chicks, here are the things that you need to know. 

Choose the Type of Brooder

There are unlimited options when it comes to the type of brooder that you use. Pretty much any deep 4 sided-container that can have a heat source added can become a chick brooder. 

Some ideas include:

  • Cardboard box (just be careful with the heat source that you use)
  • Plastic storage tote
  • Playpen
  • Small tent
  • A shed
  • Wooden box
  • Brooder Panels

I use a DIY wooden box brooder with an open bottom. This box is 4×4’ and it comes apart easily for storage. I place a tarp on the floor of the brooder and add bedding on top. When I need to change the bedding, I move the chicks, carry the tarp with bedding to the compost bin, then replace the tarp and fresh bedding.

Wooden box used as a chick brooder

Optimal Chick Brooder Size

A brooder should be large enough to accommodate ½ square ft. / chick. 

For the first couple of weeks of a chick’s life she will only need a ¼ square foot, but during weeks 4-8, they will need ½ sq. ft each. So, unless you want to switch to a larger brooder halfway through, plan for ½ square foot each. 

My current brooder is 4’x4’ so I have 16 square feet of space. This means that I can start up to 32 chicks in this wooden box. 

Chick Brooder Bedding

Brooder bedding needs to be around 3-4 inches deep and changed at least once per week. You will want to choose a bedding material that is absorbent, non-toxic, and comfy for your chicks. 

Wood shavings

Wood shavings are good for brooder bedding because they are absorbent and they insulate well. 

Aspen shavings are the most highly recommended wood shavings because they don’t contain any known toxins for chickens.

Kiln-dried pine shavings are another good option. Pine does contain oils and compounds that can be toxic to chicks, but kiln-drying is said to mitigate the risks. This one is heavily debated so use your own discernment and research until you feel comfortable with a decision.

chicks sitting on wood shavings

Hemp Bedding

Hemp is an excellent, fairly new, option for brooder bedding. Hemp shavings are made from the stalk of the cannabis plant and it has no known toxins that could harm your chickens. 

Hemp bedding is very absorbent & soft and it contains a natural pesticide that repels mites, flies, and other insects. 

Construction-Grade Sand

Sand can be used in a chick brooder and in a chicken coop. Fine play sand should not be used because it will stir up too much dust, but construction-grade or “river” sand can be used.

Droppings can be cleaned out of the sand just like you would clean a cat’s litter box. You can use a large shovel-sized scoop for this without needing to remove and replace the sand. You will need to do this daily to avoid the sand becoming hard and compacted. 

Do not keep a heat lamp over the sand because it can overheat easily. A radiant heat plate can be used safely with sand. 

Wood Pellets

Wood pellets are a new favorite for many chicken keepers. These pellets are made from compressed kiln-dried pine. They break down into really fine pine shavings that are twice as absorbent as regular shavings. Wood pellet bedding can greatly reduce the smell of the brooder and it can be cleaned in a similar way as cat litter. 

Do not use these for Chick brooder bedding:

  • Cedar shavings, teak bedding, or treated wood shavings– these wood types contain toxins that can make your chicks sick or even kill them.
  • Newspaper– this slippery surface can cause spraddle leg.
  • Cat litter– this causes too much dust which can cause respiratory issues.
  • Straw– this is a good option for deep litter in chicken coops for adult birds, but it isn’t the best option for chick brooders. However, it can be used if you clean it very often to keep it from molding.

Optimal Brooder Temperature

The ideal temperature for the brooder is 95 degrees F for the first week. That temperature can be decreased by 5 degrees each week until they move outside. 

Take into consideration the temperature of the room that the brooder is in and make sure that the brooder is draft-free.

Choose a safe heat source to keep your chicks nice and warm. Read more about the pros and cons of my favorite brooder heaters in this post

chicks in a brooder with wood chips and heat plate

Chick Brooder Supplies

Chick Waterers

You will need a water source available to the chicks at all times. Chick waterers or drinkers typically come as a saucer base with a screw-on jar, but you can also use nipple waterers or chick cups. 

Chick Feeders

You can use a saucer feeder base with a screw-on jar or a trough chick feeder to keep your chicks well-fed. 

chicks on wood shavings with a feeder and waterer

Brooder Heat Sources

Your brooder will need a supplemental heat source unless it is in a room that is 95+ degrees F. I recommend using a radiant heater like a heating plate (I use the Brinsea EcoGlow) instead of a traditional heat lamp. Read this post for my reasonings and for other heating options. 

When Can Chicks Move Out of the Brooder?

Chicks can be moved outside when they are fully feathered, usually between 6-10 weeks of age. It is best to wait until the temperature outside is 50 degrees F or higher. If you have adult birds, be sure to slowly introduce the new chicks. 

Can Chicks and Ducklings be in the Same Brooder?

Older chickens and ducks can be kept together (as long as your drakes aren’t trying to breed your chickens), but I don’t recommend brooding them together. 

I have kept chicks and ducklings in the same brooder, but I placed a separator down the middle so I could have different areas for them. 

The reasons why I don’t suggest brooding chicks and ducklings together include the following:

  1. Ducklings need more niacin than can be found in chick feed. If they are brooded together, you will need to supplement the ducks’ feed with Brewer’s Yeast.
  2. Ducklings will try to splash in the water dish which can make the chicks damp and keep them from drinking enough. They will need a deeper dish to splash in and this poses a drowning risk for chicks.
  3. Ducklings are significantly larger than chicks. This means that they can trample and squish baby chicks. 
  4. Ducklings should not be fed medicated chick starter feed.

Pin “How to Set Up a Chick Brooder for Later”!

chicks in a brooder with a feeder and waterer
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