How to brood baby chicks . . . TheCityChicken.com way! This page is a quick primer. There are more details to be found on the internet, but this is for people who want their instructions to fit on a sheet of paper, not a whole book. I made this page so that you might print it out and take it with you to the feed store to reference what items you need to buy when it comes time to brood your chicks.
Chicks come in to your local feed store starting in March and are there through the summer. You can buy a small number of chicks if you buy them from your local feed store. If you live in the city, I'm guessing you're only going to be getting around 3 to 8 chicks. You can also mail-order chicks.
Get a large Rubbermaid-type
container. This will be your brooder. A "brooder" just refers
to the heated container or area the chicks are kept in. You should
really make two trips to the feed store if this is your first time getting
On the first trip, buy the following items. Have a store clerk help you find these things: baby chick grit, a 25 lb. bag of chick starter food , a simple thermometer to put in the brooder, a screw-on, galvanized waterer base and a screw-on, galvanized feeder base (these turn a glass Mason jar into a feeder and a waterer, so have two Mason jars at home), and a brooder lamp fixture and a brooder heat bulb around 125 watts. The cost for all the above items will probably be right around $50, including the chicks.
Take all this stuff
home, and set up your brooder. You are making a dry run
with your brooder before you buy your chicks, sort of like setting up an
aquarium before you buy fish. Put newspaper on the floor of your
brooder container (some folks say newspaper is bad for chickens feet but
I've never had a problem brooding on newspaper), and then put food in your
feeder, water in your waterer, hang the brooder lamp starting a foot above
the brooder top edge, and set the thermometer on the floor of the brooder.
Check the thermometer an hour after you set this up. Is it reading right around 90 degrees? That's right around where you want it to be. If it's too hot, raise the hanging brooder light. If it's too cold, lower it. My trick is to hang the light fixture from a screw in the ceiling, and use a piece of thin wire. That way, you can easily raise or lower the light. When you raise newly-hatched baby chicks, the temp in the brooder should be around 90 degrees. What you do is simply raise the light every week so that the temp on the thermometer is five degrees less each week. So, when your baby chicks are a week old, the temp in the brooder will be around 85 degrees. When they are two weeks old, you'll want the temp around 80 degrees, and so on.
Now your brooder is set up. You have feed, water, and heat. Now you can go back to the feed store and get your chicks whenever you want. Take them home and put them in the brooder and they should feel right at home. Sprinkle some food directly onto the floor of the brooder as well as in the feeder for the first few days. Always keep fresh water in the brooder; never let it run out. Sprinkle a couple of pinches of baby chick grit on the floor of the brooder daily. Sometimes manure will stick to a baby bird's bottom and essentially block up its cloacae, which can kill a chick. This is called "pasting-up." It is important to check for pasting-up daily for the first couple of weeks, and remove any pasting-up. Pull off dried manure gently or wash off with a cloth and warm water. Most likely you are raising up egg-laying breeds, but if you are raising Cornish Cross or other meat birds, feed these birds "broiler starter" feed. Follow the feeding directions on the package of broiler starter feed.
When your chicks
are about 5-6 weeks old, they should have nearly all their feathers
and you can put them in your wind and rainproof outdoor chicken
without any more heat. Also you will begin to notice how the chicks
act: If the chicks continually huddle under the bulb, it's too cold
in the brooder. If the chicks are keeping as far away from the bulb as
they can and are against the brooder walls, it's too hot.
If you're careful, you can put two week old chicks (are you tired of having them in the house yet?) outside in your chicken coop or chicken tractor...IF you have made the house part of the coop into a "grower pen." This just means you have sealed off the area of your pen which will be your future next box area temporarily, effectively making it into a brooder. You can hang a heat lamp/bulb inside this part (keep heat lamps far enough away from bedding material) and put two to three week old chicks out there, provided you've tested the temp with a thermometer to see if your temps are at least around 60 degrees, and maybe even warmer right under the heat lamp. When the chicks get older, then you can open up the house/brooder part to the outside run part, so that the chicks can come in and out of the brooder area at will. So when you get your chicks, get to work building your chicken tractor so you'll have it ready for them, in theory as soon as 2-3 weeks old.
Make sure you have commercially made "chick starter" as food in their brooder at all times. However, you can start feeding them your kitchen scraps after the first week if you want. I myself have put food scraps into a food processor and chopped it all up, and the chicks eat it right up. This will also teach them to recognize and like food scraps. I also start giving them grass clippings at an early age. I just use scissors and trim the grass into very small lengths.
Use care in letting your children handle baby chicks due to heath reasons...Read here regarding such health information: http://tinyurl.com/yec5y7l
Need more help? Ask over at
group! It's fun and folks are really helpful!
Here is a receipt from a reader who went to the feed store and bought everything they needed to get started with baby chicks.
Note such items as water container, chick feed, heat lamp, light bulb and themometer.
This receipt also includes five baby chicks.
This is essentially your start-up cost to get baby chickens.
Also, should you ever raise up baby chicks in the future, you already have a lot of the supplies.
Note that this start-up cost does not include the chicken coop the chickens will eventually live in. But you can buy a fancy coop for over a thousand dollars, or you can build your own for $50 if you use scrap wood and stuff on hand. So that part is up to you!
Have you ever been to a chicken show?
Yes, they have chicken shows, just like
they have dog shows!
They often take place at your local fairgrounds, so look at your fairgrounds schedule online, and I'll bet at least once or twice a year your fairgrounds hosts a chicken show.
They are free to attend, and it's very cool to see all the different breeds.
You will probably find some breeds you
really fall for! Here
are some of the big shows around the USA.
website was truly an inspiration.
I gleaned ideas from your site as well as a friend who built his own tractor.
I've enclosed pics. Thanks and keep up the good work."
--- Bruce B.
"Dear Katy, You've done a wonderful job with your website. Those of us who long for the country life, get a little glimpse into the day-to-day happenings of the city-fied chickens and their lucky caretakers. Keep up the good work. :) Thank you so much." ----Charlotte C., CA.
"What a fabulous site! I can't believe I didn't find it before I built my tractor. But, I guess it makes for variety! Attached are pictures of a 4-chicken egg-focused tractor! Thanks for building such a cool site!" ---- Robin E., Bellingham, WA
Katy…I was really happy to fall on your website. It is down to earth
and keeps stuff at a level that those of us on a low budget can relate
to. You are funny and you make the whole thing sound doable.”
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