Urban Chickens: Preparing the Brooder Box

And in a very strange turn of events, I have become a chicken owner.

My life is very different than it was this time last year. Instead of living in my beat-up downtown apartment, I'm planning a wedding a raising chickens in my suburban multi-bedroom house. It's weird.

I'm not really sure how it all started...the chickens, that is. But at some point, Brandon or I got the idea that we needed fresh eggs every morning, did a little research to see if we were allowed to in our neighborhood, and next thing I know I'm assembling a chicken coop.

But before you jump on this urban farmer craze like me, let me prepare you for what you're getting into.

Today's Lesson: The Brooder

Brooder? What the heck is that?

Exactly. It's a very strange container that you make to keep your chicks alive and warm until you can put them in the coop outside. Oh, I didn't mention the brooder is inside? Because it is. Like...in your bathroom or laundry room. For months.

Where do I buy one?

You don't. You make one. Although, if someone wants to get into the business of selling cute little brooders for 2-6 chicks, I'll be your first customer!

If you happen to have an extra stock tank laying around, use that. Don't know what a stock tank is? Then a trip to Target is in order because you need a Rubbermaid tub. Small enough that it keeps the heat in, large enough that is can hold the food and water containers, and the chicks.

But where do I buy the other supplies?

Amazon, of course. Here's what you need, besides the Rubbermaid tub:
  • zip ties
  • wire
  • small thermometer
  • hanging chick feeder
  • hanging chick waterer (both the feeder and waterer need to be specifically for chicks)
  • pine bedding or small wood pellets
  • large trash bags
  • chick probiotic powder
  • chick electrolyte powder
  • medicated starter feed
  • red brooder heat light
  • a metal lamp for said light
  • bleach
    • things you use when you clean with bleach (small bucket, sponge, gloves)
  • scissors
  • a drill if you have one...but you can improvise
  • a window screen or some other kind of chicken wire that is small enough they can't jump through, but can still breathe and get light

Don't worry, I have photos of everything. And yes, every single one of these items is available on Amazon.

When should I start building the brooder?

As soon as possible I recommend doing it at least a couple of days before you get your chicks. When and where to get your chicks will be addressed in another post. Part of the reason you want the brooder to be ready ahead of time is that you want to make sure you trust your heat lamp and its position to maintain a consistent 95 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature.

How long will it take?

Give yourself an hour.

Brooder Building 101

The Tub

  1. Bleach everything.
    • The tub, the feeder, the waterer.
  2. Line the bottom of the tub with a plastic bag.
    • You don't have to do this, but it's going to make your weekly brooder cleaning less messy.
  3. Put in at least an inch of pine shavings (or whatever bedding you chose)

The Lid

The lid is going to keep the chicks in, but it will also be where you hang your feeder and waterer.
  1. Measure the inside of the lid against the window screen you are using.
    • I was most successful with a long, skinny window screen.
    • This part is going to take some creativity on your part since you're likely working with different material than I am.
  2. Cut the inside of the lid out.
    • I'm going to do my best to try to explain this, but what you want is for the lid to still come on and off like it normally should, but for it also to have a wire roof so your chickens can breathe...work with me here.
  3. Poke some holes.
    • The idea here is to poke holes in both the remainder of the lid and the window screen so that you can zip tie them into place.
    • Use the drill so make holes in the plastic lid, DO NOT use the drill to poke holes in the window screen, it will ruin the screen.
  4. Put everything in place and zip tie!

The Light

It's for heat. Get it right because temperature is everything and the temperature of the brooder box is based 100% on the distance of the lamp. Try 20" away, but keep the light on for a few days and just keep track.

I got a lamp with a clip thinking I could clip it onto the side of the brooder box, but that's waaayyyyy too close, so I had to improvise. Temperature needs to be at a consistent 95 degrees when you bring the chicks home.

Optional Feeder/Waterer Trick

So the thing about chicks is that they love to perch on things, especially their food and water dishes. Not a big deal until they poop in food and/or water and you're stuck cleaning it up.

A good rule to go by is keeping that food and water off the ground, right around the height of the chicks' backs.

What I did was poke some extra holes in the lip of my brooder box and string a couple of wires across. I then hung the feeder/water from those wires using zip ties. The zip ties allow me to cut the feeder/waterer free when I need to clean or refill, but also allows me to adjust the height as the chicks grow.

Please Note: If you do this trick from the lid of the brooder box, it makes it a little tricky when you want to remove the lid to pick up the chick or access anything in the box. An alternative would be to poke holes in the side of the box itself and string the wire across that way.

What brooder box tricks do you want to share?

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