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Setting Up a Chick Brooder | Raising Chicks

Learn what is necessary in setting up a chick brooder. A brooder box requires a few item to help chicks thrive. There are many products for chicks on the market. However, not everything is needed. Here are tips for selecting a heat lamp for chicks, the best chick starter feed, and appropriate chicken bedding to use.

setting up a chick brooder for healthy happy chicks

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Over the years we have modified what we use in our brooder box countless of times. For example, the type of chick starter feed we use has changed. As well as, the type of heat lamp for chicks. The only thing which has not changed is the type of chicken bedding used in the brooder box.

The following information are suggestion on setting up a chick brooder. Select the material used based on how your property runs.

Selecting a Chicken Breed

Let’s get off topic for a moment. What type of chicks did you bring home? Did you select breeds which are prolific layer? Maybe a heritage breed? Or ones which are friendly around children? Did egg color play a factor in your decision?

What if you haven’t selected a breed yet and are seeking the best advise on what to bring home?!

Choosing the best chicken breed is much easier than many think. However, it can often be overwhelming for those who are new to keeping chickens. Begin with how many chicks you plan to raise.

Next, determine the amount of eggs you’d like to receive. Then decide if egg color matters. Before saying, no, let me tell you that in fact it kinda does matter. An egg basket is extremely beautiful with green, blue, and chocolate colored eggs in it.

You are now entering the world of being a crazy chicken person, enjoy it!

One of the most important factors is this, will children and chickens be raised together? There are breeds which are more docile and do better around children.

Remember, the suggestions found in this article are interchangeable among other poultry breeds and fowl.

Setting up a Chick Brooder

There are a plethora of options when it comes to selecting the right chick brooder box. Put your mind at ease, there is no right or wrong when it comes to selecting a brooder box. And in truth, just about anything can be made into a chick brooder, even an old entertainment stand.

Brooder Box

The size of the brooder box will matter. Chicks grow fast, selecting a small brooder box means a new one will have to be fashioned within a few weeks.

Also keep in mind, the number of chicks you plan to raise is an important factor when selecting the best chick brooder.

Rubbermaid Container

Rubbermaid containers work excellent as a brooder box. Ideally, an XL container can keep chicks up to a few weeks before they need upgrade to a larger space.

brooder box

Dog Crate

Wired dog crates as a brooder box works quite well. Prevent chicks and chicken bedding from escaping by wrapping the sides of the crates with material. Plexi glass or plywood is an ideal choice of material to use.

Galvanized Feeding Trough

A galvanized feeding trough is an excellent brooder box option for brooding chicks.

A large trough is capable of housing chicks from the moment they arrive to the day they move to the coop. Make sure to construct a cover to prevent chicks from flying out.

heat lamps for chicks is safe as long as they are properly secured.

Kiddie Pool

Kiddie pools work well in a pinch. Because of the height of most pools this is not an ideal item to use throughout the entire brooding process.

Coop Brooder

Sectioning off a small section of the coop in order to house chicks will also work as a chick brooder. It is important to not give chicks full reign of the coop. Too much space can cause chicks to become misplaced and may keep them away from heat, water, and feed for too long.

Keep in mind, many of the items suggested here do require a larger space once the chicks begin to grow.

Selecting the Best Chicken Bedding

There are a plethora of options when it comes to selecting the best type of chicken bedding to use. In a chick brooder it is important to select bedding which prevents slipping.

Choosing the right chicken bedding is important. This will ensure proper foot and leg development. Also, select bedding which is best at absorbing moisture and masking odor.

Brooder bedding should be between 2 to 3 inches thick. This depth allows for chicks to scratch and dust bathe without reaching the bottom of the brooder.

Depending on the amount of chicks being housed, a chick brooder will need to be changed roughly once a week.

Pine Bedding

The most common chicken bedding to use for a chick brooder is pine shavings. This particular type of shaving is practical, simply because it can be found at all feed stores.

It also helps to absorb order and waste almost immediately. Add the discarded material to the compost pile to create an organic product for the garden.

Chopped Straw

Chopped straw is another chicken bedding option to use in a chick brooder. It is exactly what it states, straw which has been finely chopped to be used as bedding.

Chopped straw works quite well in a brooder, however, it does not absorb odor quite as well as pine shavings do.

One thing to consider, wet straw can retain moisture if not changed regularly and can harbor a fungus called aspergella. This fungus can then cause a fungal infection called Aspergillosis which compromises the immune system of brooding chicks and adult poultry.

Chopped straw is also bio-degradable and an excellent item for the garden.


Another chicken bedding option is shredded cardboard bedding. This bedding works well in absorbing waste and liquid, and helps to control order.

Ideally, shredded cardboard should be used in a chick brooder, whereas the larger product can be used in the coop. Cardboard bedding in its larger form can cause newly hatched chicks to trip easily, causing potential injury to their legs.

Learn more about utilizing cardboard bedding for the coop before utilizing it.

Cardboard bedding is also bio-degradable and an excellent item for the garden.

chicken bedding out of chopped straw

Other Bedding

In a pinch paper towels, shelf liners, or shredded paper can be used in a chick brooder. Utilizing these types of chicken bedding will require them to be replaced daily, and they do not work to mask the order caused from the feces.


Sand is another option for a chick brooder, however, it is not something we use. Chicks have a tendency to consume anything it can fit into its beak, making sand a dangerous option. Consuming too much sand can cause the crop to become impacted which can lead to death. Secondly, the dust caused by the sand can also cause respiratory issues.

Finally, sand is not compostable and must be washed prior to utilizing in another brooder.

Unsafe Bedding

Due to the delicate nature of chicks, other poultry, and fowl it is important to avoid the following items in a chick brooder.

Cedar Shavings

Do not use cedar shavings. This type of chicken bedding contains natural cedar oil in the shaving. Cedar oil is extremely hot and can burn the skin and feet of your delicate, young flock. Not to mention, the oil released can lead to respiratory issues.


Unlike shredded paper or the other options mentioned above, newspaper does not absorb water or waste and can become quite slippery when wet. Additionally, mold grows quite quickly on newspaper once it becomes moist.


There are a few reasons as to why sawdust should not be used. The first, chicks have a tendency to consume sawdust. The second, it is so fine that it could end up in the chick’s eye. Finally, it’s messy. Very, very messy.

Provide a Heat Source

Since there is no mama hen available to keep the chicks warm, the job falls to you. There are two options available when it comes to providing heat. Well, three if you count a surrogate broody hen. The other options are a heat lamp for chicks or heating plates.

Choose wisely when selecting a source of heat. A heat lamp for chicks is an inexpensive purchase, but there are issues with the use of this item. Heating plates are much more expensive, but do an amazing job.

Heat Lamp for Chicks

Heat lamps for chicks can be purchased at many feed stores or online. Red and clear bulbs are available to be used with a poultry heat lamp.

As to not cause chicks to become distressed, infrared bulbs are highly advised to be used in a heat lamp for chicks. The red bulbs can be left on at all times, whereas the clear bulbs should be turned off nightly to allow the chicks to rest properly.

In an ideal poultry keeping world, two heat lamps for chicks would be used in a large brooder. A clear bulb for daylight hours and an infrared bulb for nighttime.

With that said, heat lamps for chicks are the primary cause of barn and house fires. The heat lamp can easily be knocked down allowing the bulb to overheat what it touches, causing a fire within minutes.

In order to reduce the chance of a heat lamp falling take all measures necessary to safely secure the lamp to a permanent fixture.

substitute a heat lamp for chicks with this heating plate.

Heating Plate

Heating plates are the safest option to use in a chick brooder. A heating plate, or hover heater, simulates a mother hen. This type of heat source provides the correct temperature needed for brooding chicks.

A heating plate also allows chicks to move freely through it, preventing them becoming overheated. As the chicks grow the height of the heating plate is adjusted to accommodate their size.

There is minimal risk for knocking a heating plate due to the the four posts which holds it up. If the heating plate does happen to get knocked over it runs no risk of catching the bedding on fire.

Brinsea makes an excellent heating plate called the Brinsea Ecoglow. I receive no commission for sharing this product, but simply want to share a brand I believe in with you. Receive 10% off any product on their website using the code, afarmgirlitm at check-out.

As a rule of thumb, heat will need to be provided until the outside temperature matches the temperature within the brooder. Or once the chicks have fully feathered.

Feed Options for Chicks

Selecting chick starter feed for growing chicks is not as black and white as it seems. There are a few things to consider when selecting a chick feed option.

Unlike adult birds, chicks will need to be offered chick starter feed free choice at all times in order to sustain their growth. Feeders must be kept full until they are old enough to leave the brooder.

Whole Grain

Whole grains are one of the healthiest feed options available for poultry. This type of feed allows poultry to receive the full benefits of the grains, verses partial benefits found in crumble or pellet feed.

One important tip, when offering whole grains as a chick starter feed chick grit must be offered as well. The crop cannot break down the whole grains without assistance.

Offer whole grains as a chick starter feed either dry or after it has been soaked for 24 hours. Soaked or fermented grains offer more nutrients than dried whole grains or crumble feed.

chick bedding options consist of pine shavings.

The process for soaking grains is extremely easy to do.

  1. Soak the amount of grains being offered overnight in water.
  2. Strain the whole grain chick starter feed prior to offering to the flock. Offer additional dried grains throughout the day.
  3. Discard any remaining soaked grains at the end of the day.

One the flock has graduated from chick starter feed, fermented whole grains can be offered. Fermented grains is a healthier option due to containing more nutrients and beneficial bacteria. Fermented items contain beneficial natural probiotics and can be consumed daily, whereas a synthetic probiotic cannot.

Soaked and fermented grains fill chicks, cutting the cost of the feed drastically. Plus, most of the fermented, or soaked, feed is absorb by the body. Why is this important? The amount of waste leaving the body is minimal.

Offering whole grains in partnership with other natural options will help build the immune system of brooding poultry.

Medicated or Non-Medicated Chick Starter Feed 

Chick starter feed (crumble) is available as both a medicated and non-medicated option. Most feed stores suggest medicated feed as a combative tool against the outbreak of coccidiosis.

Coccidiosis is especially dangerous to young chicks which are housed in a brooder. You see, the disease spreads quickly in a small contained space, making a chick brooder an ideal playground for the parasite known as, coccidia.

Medicated starter feed contains amprollium. Amprollium is a preventative drug that helps young chicks fight off the parasite until their immune system has a chance to mature. This type of feed can be offered to chicks who have not been vaccinated against coccidiosis. Also keep in mind, brooding ducklings should never be offered medicated feed.

Ducklings consume much more feed than other poultry. Consuming amprollium in high amounts can be deadly to growing ducklings. Ducklings should be fed a high protein non-medicated feed with an additional amount of niacin to support their rapid growth.

However, a natural preventative option is available for those who do not wish to use a product like amprollium. Preventing coccidiosis naturally in a chick brooder is as easy as boosting the immune system and keeping good livestock husbandry. This method is as effective as providing medicated feed, as long as, one is diligent in keeping up with the holistic routine.

Chick Starter Mash

Mash is made of ground whole grains and a few other ingredients. When purchasing mash it’s important to pick-up starter mash for chicks. Laying mash, or any laying feed, should not be offered to chicks.

Mash can be difficult to consume due to be ground, adding a little water to it creates an oatmeal like consistency making it easier to consume. However, mash mixed with water can go bad quickly. Whatever is not consumed right away should be discarded.

Much like fermented grains, make sure to leave a bowl of ‘dry’ mash as a free choice option for growing chicks.

Additional Supplement

Setting up a chick brooder requires, bedding, heat, feed, and the additional supplements mentioned next.


The decision to provide a more natural method when raising poultry begins in the brooder. Helping to build a strong immune system begins the moment chicks are brought home or hatched.

Herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage, nettle, astragalus, and garlic can be offered dried or fresh. Offer these items by sprinkling them directly onto feed, as a free choice item, or even infused in the waterer. Due to their gentle, yet, beneficial nature herbs they can be offered daily.

chick starter feed


It is not necessary to offer to chick who are consuming only crumble chick feed. The key word is, only.

Once other items such as herbs, grass clippings, and vegetables are offered, grit must be offered as well. The chick’s crop needs assistance in breaking down these items, making chick grit an ideal item to be used in a chick brooder.

It is important to not offer more grit than feed. There are two methods to providing grit. The first is to offer it as a free choice item, placing a bowl next to the feed. The second is to lightly layer it the feed in the feeder.

Keep in mind, chick grit must be offered for chicks that consume whole grains, even grains which are fermented or as a mash.


Treats such as cracked corn and scratch do not need to be offered in a brooder. These items are ideal for older birds.

However, items such as meal worms, worms, or dried black soldier fly larva are an excellent source of protein for growing birds.

Handling Chicks

In order to forge a relationship between poultry and keeper, make sure to handle chicks daily. Take care to wash hands between handling. Never handle chicks which are housed in separate brooders without washing hands each time.

Encourage, but watch closely, little children around chicks. A gentle squeeze can sometimes be a deadly one. Hand sanitizer can be harsh for chicks and should not be used prior to holding them.


The Homesteader’s Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook: Raising a Healthy Flock from Start to Finish is a great book to have on hand. This handbook is ideal for those who desire to raise chicken without the use of chemicals or antibiotics.

While your flock is young, begin planning for the next phase of raising chickens. 50 Do-It-Yourself Projects for Keeping Chickens is perfect for the individual who loves to DIY, recycle and reuse, or save money.

chicken bedding

Setting up a chick brooder is an extremely easy process. Selecting a brooder box based on the amount of chicks you are raising ensures a healthy and happy flock.

pin image with detailed information about heat lamps for chicks.

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    1. A chick should be kept in a brooder under heat until they are fully feathered or the outside temperature matches the temperature inside the brooder. Ideally, temperatures above 65 degrees (and fully feathered) are good to move chicks outdoors.

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