Finding young, ready-to-lay chickens for sale is hard. When you do find them, they are often expensive, or you have limited breed selection. That means, if you want to raise chickens at home, there's a good chance you'll need to start them as chicks.
Chicks need to be kept in a safe space until they are ready to move into the full coop. This space, called a brooder, needs to be large enough so that they have room to move. But it also needs to be small enough that they don't get too far away from food, water, and their heat source.
Depending on your needs, brooders can range from single-use styles to those that will last a lifetime. Here are some different brooder styles to help you choose the one that's right for you.
DIY Poultry Brooders: For the Infrequent Brooder
If you only plan to brood chicks every couple of years and don't want to have to store your brooder between flocks, consider these options.
1. The Appliance Box
Large boxes used to package things like refrigerators, freezers, dryers, washers, etc. make perfect single-use brooder boxes. If you lay them on their long side and cut out the top, they have sufficiently high walls and lots of bottom room for your chicks to grow.
Since these are cardboard and will deteriorate quickly in contact with chicken poop and water, put a layer of plastic sheeting over the bottom of the box before you apply litter. This will also make clean-up easier when it comes time to remove the litter.
2. Kiddie Pool
As a variation on the appliance box, you can also use a kiddie pool (usually under $10) as your base, then wrap cardboard around the edges of the pool to make sides to contain the chicks. You could also wrap the pool with plastic lattice panels or scrap small grid fencing instead of cardboard for the sides.
The pool could later be used to make a dust bath if you need to make one for your run.
3. Large Tote
A large tote box is basically a plastic version of an appliance box. Often the sides are not as tall as for a refrigerator box. So, you may need to put a lid on the tote to keep chicks from getting out.
Some people make proper brooder covers by cutting out the center of the tote lid and lining it with wire mesh. However, you can also just lay stiff wire mesh on top of your tote and fix it in place with zip ties or a weight. Then, you can still use your tote and intact lid for other purposes when your chicks are raised.
4. The Bathtub
If you happen to have an extra bathroom in your house that doesn't get used often, you can brood chicks in your bathtub. Unless you have shower doors, you may have to fashion a lid to keep the chicks confined. Also, you'll want to cover the drain to prevent litter from getting trapped inside.
As chicks grow, their poop quantity increases. So, you may want to use your bathroom vent fan and change litter more frequently to keep smells to a minimum in this scenario.
5. Brooder Panels
You can also purchase disposable or reusable chick brooder panels. You can start with four panels to keep chicks close and warm. Then, you can expand to 8-10 panels to give more space as the chicks grow.
The disposable panels are made of cardboard and can be composted after use. The reusable panels are water washable and can be collapsed flat for easy storage. You can also use this concept to make your own panels using cardboard boxes or foam posterboard.
DIY Poultry Brooders: For the Frequent Brooder
If you'll be brooding more often, so that you can try different breeds or hone your hatching skills, then you may want to consider more permanent brooder solutions. Here are some DIY ideas for easy and quick to make brooders that will last a while.
6. The Converted Crib
With a little chicken wire and cardboard or plywood, a baby crib can make a great chick brooder. If you only plan to keep a couple of hens, you can even convert your brooder crib into a full-blown chicken coop when your chicks become chickens.
7. The Collapsible Play Pen
Similar to using an old crib, a collapsible playpen makes for a great way to repurpose baby care supplies on the homestead. Using plastic sheeting, like a paint tarp, protects the fabric and makes brooder clean-up easier.
This solution is collapsible too. That makes it easier to store when not in use.
8. The Stock Tank
Large size stock tanks make great brooders. That's why your farm supply stores often use them for that purpose to sell chicks. Unfortunately, stock tanks aren't cheap. However, if you use the stock tank to temporarily water other livestock, such as seasonal pigs, then consider timeshare.
Just start your chicks a couple of months before you'll need your stock tank for use with other animals. By putting your stock tank to use for brooding chicks during its off-season, you get more bang for your buck!
9. The IBC Tote
Those giant IBC totes that often get converted for aquaculture or other livestock use also work great as chick brooders. Their large size and affordable cost (bought used) makes them perfect for raising meat birds and laying flocks.
All you need to do is make an opening in the top of the tote. Line with litter and put chicks inside. Cleaning can be difficult with this solution. So, instead, plan to do deep bedding by applying fresh litter to old during brooding period.
When not in use as a chick brooder, the totes can be turned on their side and used as a shelter for other livestock like baby goats or piglets. These also make good rain barrels to collect water for your garden.
Alternatively, after brooding is over, you could use the IBC tote as a large worm or compost bin. The liquid dispenser at the bottom could be used to drain liquid and make compost tea. If you go that route, then you don't even need to remove all that dirty litter until you take it out as vermicompost!
10. The Dog Crate Do-Over
If you have a sizeable collapsible dog crate, you can easily convert that into a safe space for chicks by lining the bottom and sides with cardboard. Large dog carriers can also work.
DIY Poultry Brooders: For the Chicken Aficionado
If you are the kind of person who likes to add some glitz, glamour, and create personalized touches to your chicken keeping, here are some Instagram-ready ideas for you.
11. The Pie Safe Style Brooder
Once upon a time, when people didn't have refrigeration or air-conditioning, they used “pie safes” to keep their food, like a fresh pie, protected from insects and critters. These spaces allowed for good air circulation and were attractive too.
Authentic pie safes are in high demand in antique markets. So, you probably don't want to use a real pie safe to brood chicks. However, you can create your own using other pieces of furniture that have doors. You just need to cut out the centers of the doors and replace them with wire mesh.
Note: Even when your brooder is this pretty, you probably don't want to keep pies in it. Chick poo isn't so appetizing!
12. Armoire and More
Turn an old armoire into a brooder. Then, when the chicks are large enough, you can add a run and transform it into a full-blown chicken coop. You'll likely need to put a roof over your armoire to protect it from rain and other weather conditions.
Still, what an elegant idea this is for brooding and housing the sophisticated chicks in your life!
13. All Dressed Up With No Place To Go
Turning an old dresser into a brooder looks like a lot of work to me. But the results are amazing. What a way to raise your chicks in style! Plus, you've still got storage below for all your chicken accessories.
14. All New Kind of Entertainment Center
Taking an old, out-of-style entertainment center and turning it into a shabby, chic chick brooder is entertaining on so many fronts!
Not only will it keep you occupied building it; but you can then spend many hours a day watching your new chicks play and grow. So much better than anything on TV!
15. The Barnyard Brooder
Want to bring barn-style indoors? Then build a brooder that looks like a barn. Mine would have to be the classic “barn” red. But even in blue, this is a beauty!
DIY Poultry Brooders: For the Professional Chick Raiser
Whether you are a professional at raising chicks, or able to raise so many that you ought to be, then these ideas are for you!
16. The Four For One
Want to raise four new flocks at once? Then how about setting up four separate brooders spaces using this simple design? I can barely raise one age group at a time, but if I were raising exotic chick breeds for profit, this looks like a good idea.
This not only takes advantage of vertical space.; but it also allows you to check on your chicks all at once. Plus, you can keep supplies nearby and refill all feed and water bowls in one go.
17. The Built-In Poop Proof Brooder
This in-coop brooder not only offers a safe space for little chicks, but it also creates alternate roost space for chickens already living in the coop. Some chickens prefer flat areas over roost bars, so I love this idea.
Covered ceramic heaters would probably work better than lamps in this scenario. Also, I'd bet a nipple watering system, filled from outside the brooder would work well.
18. The Amazing Adaptable Brooder
This brooder design comes with wooden inserts that can be used to cut down on drafts when chicks are young. Then as chicks age, you can let in more air.
Also, you can put a top on this and move it to pasture to give your little chicks some greens. Finally, it works for rabbits as well as chickens!
19. The Dedicated Shed Plus Worm Bed
Confession time. This one is mine! I used to raise ducks for the market. So, I have a dedicated shed I use for incubation and brooding of all my poultry.
I am not a fan of cleaning up poultry poop, so I made a built-in brooder that is also a year-round worm bed. It's 4 feet wide by 8 feet long. I lined it with re-purposed polyethylene feed bags to protect the wood bottom. I also slanted the floor for drainage. Any liquid from the worms, or poultry droppings, drains through a screen-covered drain in the floor.
I keep worms in the bed year round. But, when I am brooding chicks or ducklings, I add more litter to protect the worms from those naturally born diggers. When not being used as a brooder, I use it just like a regular large worm bed.
Half of the brooder is covered with a wood top to give a sense of security to my little chicks and ducklings. The other half is covered with a chicken wire lid to allow light, air, and access for me to feed and water them. When I want to lure my babies out from the wood covered area, I feed them treats.
20. The Ohio Brooder
The Ohio brooder was a modern innovation in its time (patent application filed in 1927) that still works great today. It allows chicks a warm protected space for their early days. Then it also gives them access to the larger coop so they can expand their space naturally as they become less dependent on heat.
This design works well in enclosed coops and for large numbers of chicks.
Let the Brooding Begin
Whichever brooder style you try, remember to check on your chicks often. Beware of safety hazards like putting your heat lamp too close to flammable items or not giving chicks enough room as they grow. Fill your brooder with fresh litter often to keep chicks healthy.
Oh, and, have fun! Raising your own chicks is an amazing experience that can exciting and educational for the whole family/neighborhood/ book club or whatever network of people you want to share this with!