Chicken Brooders – Vital Elements Of A Good Brooder + How To Make Your Own

how to make a chicken brooder

You'll want to have your chick brooder set up and ready to go BEFORE your chicks arrive, so that you can put them straight into a warm and safe environment.

This is what we are about to cover in chapter 4 in our ultimate guide to raising chickens.

It's up to you whether you order your chicks first and then make your brooder, or make your brooder first then order your chicks, however we prefer being prepared and making our brooder beforehand!​

If you're hatching your own chicken eggs instead, learn more about it here first.

This chapter will teach you all about what makes a great brooder, and then we will show you how to make your own simple DIY brooder that will keep your chicks safe, warm and happy for the first few months of their lives!


The Basics Of Chicken Brooders

how to make a chicken brooder

A chicken brooder is basically an enclosure/area designed to raise baby chicks safely until they are ready for your backyard or chicken coop.

Your chicks will normally spend 7-8 weeks in your brooder before they are ready for the big world.

Ensuring your brooder is great is essential to ensure your chicks grow up to be healthy and happy egg-laying hens!​

What Makes A Great Brooder Great?

You'll see brooders come in many shapes and sizes which is fine, however there are 3 elements that every great brooder has in common:

  • A consistent source of heat (usually from a heat lamp or light bulb) - which does not present a fire hazard
  • An automatic feeder and water-er, which reduces the chance of the chicks pooping in their own food, and;
  • A place that is safe from predators (such as your family dog or curious children!)
Chicken brooder diagram

How Big Should My Brooder Be?​

As a rule of thumb, you will need about 2 square feet per chick, minimum. In terms of height your brooder should be 12 inches tall (at least) for chicks 1-3 weeks old however the recommended height is 24 inches to stop them hopping out once they are a little bigger and more confident (as they will attempt to fly at this point).

Does My Brooder Need A Lid?

​In 9 out of 10 situations the answer is YES.

If there is the risk of your chicks being attacked by a household pet, or a rodent, a lid is a good idea but it must be breathable and secure.

A great idea is to staple a window screen to the top of your brooder, or if you’re using a container, use the lid and punch a few holes into it.

Brooder Bedding - What Should I Use?

There are plenty of opinions out there based on what the best brooder bedding is. Here is what you should, and shouldn't use:

Great Brooder Bedding

  • ​Easy to move, whether around the yard or to a new house
    Easy to move, whether around the yard or to a new house
  • ​Sand
    Sand
    Stylish and looks great in any backyard.
  • ​Straw or hay
    Straw or hay
    Features an easy-access egg collection door.
  • plus-circle
    ​Paper towels
    Paper towels

​Bad Brooder Bedding

  • ​Newspaper - (will become slippery and soggy underfoot and this will make it hard for the chicks to stand – leading to feet problems)
    Newspaper - (will become slippery and soggy underfoot and this will make it hard for the chicks to stand – leading to feet problems)
    May not hold up against stronger predatory animals like coyotes.
  • ​Cedar shavings – releases a toxin that can be inhaled into the bloodstream by livestock
    Cedar shavings – releases a toxin that can be inhaled into the bloodstream by livestock
    May be too small if you have plans for a large flock.

The BEST brooder bedding choice is untreated pine shavings​

Tip: For very young chicks, add a layer of paper towel over the shavings for the first 2-3 days to stop them trying to feed on the shavings out of curiosity


Your Brooders Heat Source

Regulating the temperature is vital for raising healthy young chicks – and its best done with a heat lamp or a standard light bulb in conjunction with a thermometer (placed in the brooding box) so you can monitor and adjust the temperature accordingly.

"What’s the best type of heat source?"​

Specially made devices (The ‘eco-glow’ is the most popular at the moment) are becoming very popular because of their convenience; chicks huddle underneath it to get warm (much like they would do if there were a full grown hen around), and as the chicks grow you simply adjust the legs and increase the height – easy peasy.

ecoglow chick brooder

The threat of fire is totally eliminated as it works on the principle of radiant heat, meaning only solid objects (you chicks) will be warmed underneath it, and nothing else.

The downside is the price – starting at $70 and upwards, it can be hard to justify for first time brooders, however if you plan to continually raise chicks, investing in one of these is a worthwhile investment.

For a cheaper alternative, use a 250watt infrared heat lamp/light bulb available in most hardware stores for a few dollars.

chicken brooder lamps

Using a heat lamp is the most common option for brooder heating, however triple check that the lamp is 100% secure and that there is no chance that the bulb could end up on the bedding below - this is a quick way to start a house fire.

Best practices:

  • Using a red bulb instead of a white bulb will create a calming environment for your chicks
  • Screw the bulb into a spotlight reflector and clamp it in place, ensuring your bulb is far enough away from the edge of your box so that it wont start a fire
  • Warm your brooder up to the right temperature before adding your chicks (place a thermometer in the brooder where the chicks will be to monitor, not near the heat lamp)

How Warm Should My Brooder Be?

The tempreature of your brooder will need to be gradually reduced as your chicks grow older as they become less reliant on an artificial heat source and their feathers grow.

In the next chapter on how to raise baby chicks we give you a week-by-week guide on brooder temperature, so there is no need to worry about that at this stage, just focus on ticking off the following items from your brooder checklist:

  • ​Heat lamp installed over the center of the brooder for even heat distributio
    Heat lamp installed over the center of the brooder for even heat distributio
  • ​Heat lamp is safely secure and will not fall and create a fire hazard
    Heat lamp is safely secure and will not fall and create a fire hazard
  • ​Thermometer placed inside the brooder, NOT directly under the heat lamp but away from it, in a corner of the brooder.
    Thermometer placed inside the brooder, NOT directly under the heat lamp but away from it, in a corner of the brooder.

Feeders & Waterers For Your Brooder

chicks feeding

Image credit: Osman Kalkavan, Flickr

Now that your brooder is set up, it’s time to get your food and water dispensers prepared.

In the next chapter (how to care for your young chick) we discuss what you should and shouldn't feed your chicks.

Little chick feeders and waterers are very inexpensive (usually found ln the feed store or on Amazon which you then attach to any mason jar) and easy to set up, however you can easily set up a homemade feeder and waterer using peanut butter jar lids (for water) and empty egg cartons (for feeders)

chick feeder 2
chick feeder 1

Cleaning Your Brooder

Regular cleaning of your brooder is important as inhaling the fumes from their own poop is bad for your chicks health so do don’t be lazy when it comes to cleaning!

How often you should clean - when your chicks are young, every few days is fine, however once they get a little bigger you will need to clean the brooder every second day, or even daily. 

Use your nose as a guide – if you can smell the poop as you approach the brooder, its time to clean.

Best practices:

  • You’ll need somewhere to put them as you clean, so have a large cardboard box, or plastic tub handy or they will run off and go exploring!
  • Keeping a clean brooder is important; however don’t overdo it – if you keep their environment too sterile their immune systems may not develop properly.

Changing The Brooder Bedding

Ideally you will want to change the bedding once every day or two, however most people take the “when it looks and smells like it needs changing” approach.

The aim here is to raise healthy, disease free chickens, so the more you change it the better. If you are using straw/hay change daily as mold can become a problem, which will hurt your chicks.


DIY Chicken Brooders

Making your own chicken brooder is easy providing you ensure that the end result is large enough for your chicks, is safe from predators, has a heat source and has some ventilation.

Any type of box or tub will usually be fine, however here two simple yet perfect ideas for creating a quick and easy chicken brooder:

Make a Quick & Easy Brooder From An Old Animal Cage

rabbit cage brooder

If you happen to have an old rabbit or guinea-pig cage lying around you’re in luck – these make for a perfect chicken brooder as the wire cage provide great protection from threats such as predators and the risk of fire from a falling heat lamp.

How to set it up:

  1. Give the cage a good clean with disinfectant
  2. Line the bottom with newspaper
  3. Lay a 2 inch thick layer of pine shavings or sand on top of the newspaper
  4. Set up the light at one end, and the food/water at the other

FREE DOWNLOAD: EASY CARBOARD BROODER PLANS

We've put together step-by-step plans showing you how to make a simple brooder from cardboard boxes

DIY chicken brooder plans
  • Build time: Less than 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: super easy
  • Capacity: suitable for 6-8 chicks
  • What you'll need: 2 cardboard boxes (same dimensions), scissors or Stanley knife, heat lamp and cable ties, sticky tape.

Click the button below to download these DIY brooder plans 100% Free!

Congratulations - you should now have the perfect home to raise your young chicks for the first 8 weeks of their lives!

Onto the next chapter - how to properly care for, and raise young chicks..


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