Sometimes it’s necessary to brood chicks inside the house, for example when an outbuilding doesn’t have electricity, when the outside temperatures aren’t warm enough. Here are my tips for brooding chicks inside the house, and a shopping list.
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HOW TO RAISE CHICKS IN THE HOUSE OR BROOD CHICKS INDOORS
- Size of the brooder: you need a BIG container for brooding chicks indoors, they grow unbelievably quickly. I have a series of weekly growth progression pics at the end of this post to show you just how quickly they grow. You need a bigger container than you think you might need. While chicks start out small, they are in the brooder for a month or more, and they get bigger fast. One-half of a square foot per chicken is the minimum recommended spacing for 1-6 week old chicks. This recommendation is actually cramped spacing for month-plus chicks. Crowding is unhealthy and stressful (and it can also lead to cannibalism). Our brooder: We have set up our indoor brooder using a 110 gallon black watering trough from Tractor Supply. This bin is roughly four feet by three feet wide and two feet deep. 12 square feet should be able to hold 24 chicks at one-half a square foot per chick until six weeks old (although that seems VERY crowded to me). We constructed a top out of 1/2 inch hardware cloth and lumber to keep the cat out and the chicks in… as they get to two weeks old, they will start flapping up to the rim of the brooder if it is not enclosed.
- Heat lamps can be a fire hazard: Consider another heat source. We use the Brinsea ecoglow, which has radiant heat from the underside of a small platform which the chicks crawl under, much like they would crawl under a mama hen. These also use much less electricity than a heat lamp. The Brinsea comes with thin cords, which our cat has a predilection for chewing, so we have covered the cords with split-loom tubing. I like that there is no 24-hour light with the Brinsea, so the chicks get a more natural day/night cycle from window lighting in our house rather than continuously as they would with a heat lamp.
- Keep it fresh: This should be a short and sweet month to six weeks of brooding chicks, and if this were a perfect world it wouldn’t smell. It will smell a bit as they get older, you will get definite whiffs of chicken poop even with daily cleaning. As chicks get older they, AND their poop, get larger and stinkier. The key is to not let the wood shavings get damp or wet, and to add shavings regularly to keep things fresh. Sift through the wood shavings to remove any wet clumps daily. Raise up your water source to keep shavings from getting wet, or use water nipple watering system. Add shavings to the top daily to prevent any poop accumulation or tracking. Wipe down the top of the Brinsea to keep the poop accumulation under control.
- Care and feeding: Chicks require multiple daily changes of fresh water (or you can use a water nipple system, which is the only way I have found to outsmart chicks from pooping in their own water), plentiful food, and frequent checking. Get the freshest feed you can (check for a manufacturing date on the bag and shoot for something within the past month).
- Prevent disease: Be attentive. Keep the brooder dry (see #5 above). Be aware of the possibility of pasty butt, an illness in the first week that is fatal if untreated, and easy to fix (if a bit gross), which I had to treat in three of our chicks. This cleared up quickly, and we did not lose any chicks because we caught it in time (EARLY), and gently washed the chick poop off using warm water, and drying them gently. We used a bit of apple cider vinegar in the water, gave them fresh foods in addition to the chick feed (greens and scrambled eggs) and the pasty butt cleared right up. Which brings us to #6, supplementing with fresh food, for the healthiest chicks possible.
- Supplement starter feed with fresh food: Fresh food is key to healthy chicks. Chicks will eat broccoli, lettuce, chopped apples, scrambled eggs, oatmeal… give them healthy leftovers to pick at, but remember to also provide chick grit if they are eating any extras other than the starter feed or crumbles. We found that ours love the cores and seeds from sweet peppers. We also think that supplementing with fresh food was a big factor in preventing illness and boosting the health of our chicks.
- Perches: Add some half-inch dowels for perching practice–in Week 2, we put up a roost bar made of a wooden garden stake, set higher than the water and feed containers, and off to the side (whatever is below will get incoming chicken splatter). Scatter some feed into the bedding so they can forage.
- Happy chicks are quiet chicks. The noise level is relatively quiet; we hear contented cheeping and some fluttering and wood chip scratching. If you are hearing a lot of noise, investigate to find the cause. Some chick breeds can be louder than others in my experience, but always investigate noise and try to identify the cause.
- Cleanliness: Be very careful about washing your hands after handling items from and in the brooder, and wash and rinse any chicken dishes in the bathroom or sink away from food preparation areas, not in the kitchen. Chicken poop really is best kept far away from your kitchen sink and counters.
- When in doubt remember, this too shall pass. It’s a 4-6 week brooding period, not a permanent fixture in your home. Yes, it can be dusty and smelly and even noisy. Enjoy it while you can! Happy chicken days ahead! These chicks in the pics are now all grown. Want to see these chickens all grown up?
Shopping List for indoor brooding
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- Large container with ventilated lid (we used a 110 gallon black stock tank ($70 at Tractor Supply) and made our own lid out of 4-ft wide hardware cloth and 2×4 lumber to keep the cat and dogs out and the birds in).
- wood shavings for bedding
- waterers and feeders – waterers should be a no-drown type for the first couple weeks. we also had water nipples inserted into the plastic cap of soda bottles filled with water, hung upside down from the hardware cloth of our lid with a metal shower curtain ring looped through the bottom of the soda bottle.
- heat source: we recommend the Brinsea ecoglow to avoid fire hazard of heat lamp and natural light brooding (affiliate link)
- chick starter feed (to be followed by grower pellets at 6 weeks)
- chick grit
- supplements: Apple cider vinegar to add to water, fresh greens (lettuce from the supermarket), and eggs to scramble for food supplementation to prevent pasty butt
- A good book about keeping chickens. We recommend Harvey Ussery “The Small Scale Poultry Flock.” He also has a great web site The Modern Homestead
- A coop because if you don’t already have a coop, you need to get one together ASAP, these balls of fluff grow faster than you can imagine, doubling or tripling in size each week. And a secure coop uses HARDWARE CLOTH, not chicken wire. Racoons can easily get through chicken wire, they just twist it apart.
HOW FAST DO CHICKS GROW?
And, if you are wondering how fast chickens grow, they grow QUICKLY. Here are some progression pictures, up until the chickens were about eight weeks old, and then a few up to four months (hover over to see the date of each pic):