How to build a chicken brooder from scratch

We've hatched a DIY plan for raising baby chicks.

Keep growing chickens happy and healthy in a DIY brooder. Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau

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I’ve always wanted to raise chickens, and this spring, I finally scooped up 12 adorable chicks from my local farm supply store. Four months later, I’m happy to report that my babies are quickly growing into happy, healthy chickens, and they should even start laying eggs soon!

Before I started raising chickens, I was a little intimidated by the process—however, it’s actually much simpler than I ever imagined.

For the first eight weeks, young chicks live in a chicken brooder. While there are brooders for sale, such as this one from Farm Innovators, there's really no need to spend money on one.

It’s extremely easy (and surprisingly affordable) to make a DIY brooder at home. Here's what you need to know.

What is a chicken brooder?

What is a Brooder?
Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau

Young chicks live in a chicken brooder for first eight weeks before transitioning to a chicken coop.

If this is your first time raising a batch of chicks, you may not be familiar with the term “brooder,” but it’s really quite simple. A chicken brooder is a space where you keep your babies until the chicks grow old enough to transition to an outdoor chicken coop. The brooder will keep chicks contained, warm, dry, and safe, offering the protection and comfort they would otherwise get from a mother hen.

As you can see, it’s a fairly broad definition, which is why brooders can be all shapes and sizes. However, there are a few key elements to keep in mind, including a spacious enclosure, a heat source, and ample food and water.

First, find a suitable container

Brooder Container
Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau

I used a metal stock tank to set up my chicken brooder.

The first thing you’ll need is a large container to house all your chicks. This will look (very) different if you’re getting five, 10, or 15 chicks than if you’re getting 50 of them.

When they’re first born, chicks each need around a half square foot of space, according to the University of Missuori. Naturally, they’ll need more room as they get bigger.

Unless you plan to move your chickens into a larger brooder after a few weeks, it’s best to plan for at least one square foot of space per chick. By that math, you’ll need around 10 square feet for 10 chickens, which might be a container that's 2 feet by 5 feet.

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You’ll see a wide variety of containers used as chicken brooders—in fact, you might even be able to use an item you have around the house. Brooder boxes are commonly made out of:

Many people use plywood to build an enclosure, especially if they’re getting a large number of chickens. Whatever material you choose, ensure that it's at least 12 inches tall to give your chicks ample room to stand and flap their wings as they grow.

As you settle on a container, you'll want to think of where you can place it in your home. It should stay in a dry, draft-free location, and keep in mind that chicks are quite noisy and often smelly. (To that end, your living room is probably not the best choice.) I set up my brooder in the basement, but a utility room or secure garage would work just fine.

You’ll also want to cover the bottom of the enclosure with a generous layer of pine shavings, which help absorb moisture and provide cozy bedding for chicks to sleep on. Avoid cedar shavings, which are toxic to chickens, and newspapers, which are too slippery and can cause development problems.

Invest in a heat lamp or other warming device

heat source
Credit: Getty Images / Stieglitz

A chicken brooder needs a heat source such as a heat lamp with an infrared bulb.

Once you have a suitable container in a proper location, you’ll need a heat source to keep the baby chicks warm for several weeks.

A less expensive option, a brooder lamp clamps onto the side of your container or a nearby object. These lamps are typically used with a 250-watt infrared bulb, and you’ll also need a thermometer to confirm it's placed close enough and at the proper temperature. However, you'll need to properly secure it—if your lamp falls into the brooder’s bedding, it can start a fire.

A safer but more expensive option is a heating plate such as the Brinsea EcoGlow brooder, which looks like an inverted tray mounted on four legs. This device produces low heat underneath its tray and doesn’t have any lights, and chicks are able to huddle under it to get warm. You can also adjust its height based on the age of your chicks.

Insert a food and water source

food and water
Credit: Getty Images / olli0815

Baby chicks need a food and water source in the chicken brooder.

Baby chickens need a constant supply of fresh food and water, and most people purchase a product like the Lixit chick feeder and waterer. (You’ll need two—one for food, and one for water.) This particular model has a narrow moat that prevents chicks from falling in and drowning. In my experience, chicks’ food and water needs to be changed once a day, as they love to climb around on dishes, getting both poop and shavings everywhere.

At first, you’ll want to feed them a chick starter-grower feed, which contains a high level of protein to help them grow. Many people also give newborn chicks an electrolyte and vitamin supplement.

Cover your chicken brooder as needed

Credit: Reviewed / Camryn Rabideau

As your chicks get older, they'll likely be able to fly out of the brooder, so a cover is often necessary.

For the first few weeks, your chicks will be too small to jump out of the brooder, but you may need to cover it if you have curious dogs or cats in your home. Hardware cloth is ideal, as it’s breathable yet sturdy. As your chickens get bigger, they’ll likely be able to fly out of the brooder, so you’ll want to cover it to prevent them from running amok in your home.

In no time, they'll be outdoors and laying eggs.

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