Setting Up a Brooder for Chicks – A Complete Guide

When I first started thinking of getting chicks, I realized that I needed somewhere to raise them! Raising chicks requires setting up a brooder, having proper supplies, maintaining proper temperature and conditions for happy and healthy chicks. Here’s what I have learned and your guide to setting up a brooder for chicks.

setting up a brooder for chicks

I have a good friend who farms and she always has her chicks in a horse trough, so, I went to tractor supply and bought a horse trough for keeping my baby chicks safe. I have since learned that there are many different containers that can be used as a brooder for chicks and setting up a brooder for chicks is easy and fun!

I tell people all the time, chickens are the country version of watching the fish tank. They’re always moving around and are fun and relaxing to watch.

Setting up a brooder for chicks – supply list

Setting up a brooder for chicks – Brooder Container

Before getting chicks, or shortly after, you will need a brooder – the actual container the chicks will be raised in. It should be non-flammable, sturdy and have ventilation. While some people find great boxes to use, others have found that their heat lamp catches the box on fire and food, water and poop soak in and cause other issues. A brooder typically is made of a cleanable material and is large enough for growing chicks. The sides should be high enough that they can’t hop out, eventually they will learn to fly and you will need to cover the top, it should be easy to clean and not flammable.

Popular chick brooderoptions include:

  • Large metal or plastic horse trough/stock tank (seen below)
  • playpen (very popular)
  • large storage tote
  • Some people make a wooden frame and use poultry wire or hardware cloth, this is a great option if you’re handy!

setting up a brooder for chicks


Setting up a brooder for chicks – Maintaining Temperature

It is vital to keep chicks at the proper temperature based on their age. Equally as important is having a cool side to the brooder for chicks to escape to if it gets too hot. This is where a proper heat source and thermometer come into play.

Brooder heat source options include:

The poultry light bulb, my choice, seen above is probably the most popular. However, they have their own problems. They have been known to cause fires, fall and break and are hot to the touch. I have my poultry heat lamp + bulb anchored to a tripod that I use for my camera. This allows me to raise and lower it to adjust temperature and the wire around it prevents it from falling.

The brooder specific heater is something that sits in the brooder itself and allows the chicks to go underneath it and/or next to it when they want warmth. Similar to how they would sit under a Mama hen.

chicken brooder heater

Setting up a brooder for chicks – Food and Water

When you are setting up a brooder for chicks, you’ll want quality food and clean, fresh, often enhanced water. When I picked up my very first chicks, the woman at tractor supply handed me packets of save-a-chick electrolytes and probiotics. She said “These help prevent chick death.” And I thought… I’ll do just about anything to help prevent chick death!!

You want a waterer that isn’t too deep, chicks can drown, or if you have one that is too deep you will need to put marbles or rocks in it to prevent them from drowning. I like a one-gallon waterer, they make a small one for chicks but my chicks never seemed to be able to drink from it. The standard chick feeder works well, the ones I own have seen several sets of chicks and are going strong!

There are arguments for and against medicated standard chick feed. I use Kalmbach feeds, however, I have also used DuMor and Nutrena. Generally, if chicks are vaccinated from a hatchery people don’t lean towards the medicated feed. If they are non-vaccinated chicks from Tractor Supply or local breeders, people lean towards the medicated feed. I personally do not use it. The important thing is that it is specifically for chicks.

As the chicks grow, you may want to put your food and water up on a brick or flat stone to help prevent food spillage and the bedding from getting throw into the water minutes after you change it!


Setting up a brooder for chicks – Bedding 

The go-to bedding for chicks is pine shavings. I get large squares of pine shavings, not the fine stuff, from Tractor Supply. However, you can also buy compressed bales that hold a lot in a small space because it’s compressed. The bedding allows natural scratching and foraging, warmth, is comfy, and easy to clean and replace. Cedar is not recommended, the oil in the cedar chips can be deadly to chickens. I’m not sure exactly why, but I do know that it’s not recommended with chicks. At my local tractor supply the pine is often next to the cedar…I make sure to grab a square that isn’t touching it and also double check that I have the right product!


Setting up a brooder for chicks – snacks & grit

If your chicks are old enough to start snacking on foods like lettuce and grapes, you must provide grit for proper digestion. Now, my outside full-grown chickens have sand in their run. This allows them to have grit under their feet all of the time. However, my indoor chicks don’t have this sand and I provide a small bowl of chick grit. It helps process the food and prevents problems like impacted crop and digestion issues.

I can’t get a straight answer on what age/week is the best to start snacks. I usually offer around 5 weeks, one thing I’ve noticed is that my chickens will not eat anything they don’t want and aren’t ready to have.

From early on, Famer’s Helpers Baby cakes are our go-to snack! I have yet to have a flock of chicks who doesn’t absolutely love baby cakes. They are usually around $10 each at my local tractor supply but you can get a 3-pack more reasonably priced on Amazon!

You can always add some toys & activities for chickens. I’ve personally found that the food-based items are the most popular!

Once you have your brooder supplies you’ll want to start thinking about medical care. Be prepared for anything that comes your way by preparing a chicken first aid kit too!








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