Confession: Until recently, we tended to our brooding chicks right in our home office.
Why? We spend most of our time in this room, so we can easily tend to the newly hatched chicks. Plus, it's just so fun to watch them while we're working!
This fun wears off by week two, however, when they have really started to grow and are capable of creating much more of a mess.
Mess = barn smell. Not exactly a pleasant odor to encounter first thing in the morning.
While browsing a chicken-keeping website recently, I was quite delighted to discover that it is possible to brood chicks outside.
I decided to try out what I had learned with a brand-new batch of chicks.
I assembled the supplies needed for the brooder, set it up just off our front porch where they could easily be monitored, and, at one week old, introduced 13 chicks to their new home.
Now eight weeks old, I have decided that brooding chicks outdoors is a win-win situation. For me, they are easier to care for and put up with. The mess and smell stay outside. For the chicks, outdoor brooding provides a more natural setting and a cleaner environment.
Here is what you need to give outdoor brooding a try:
1. Housing with Access to a Run
We have a small coop that we have used in the past for housing our meat birds. The coop is very simple: four walls with proper ventilation, a sloped roof that lifts for easy accessibility, and a door with a single latch. It sits on the ground and opens into a small, square, covered run. The top and sides of the run are completely covered with hardware cloth. We leave the coop door open and the chicks are free to come and go within the run as they please.
If you do not have a similar set-up, a large dog kennel would suffice. A large plastic bin turned on its side set within a safe enclosure would also work. Whatever you choose, the chicks need to be able to come and go from their brooder while being protected from any older birds or pets who may harm them.
Any openings in the fencing you use need to be small enough that the chicks cannot squeeze through and escape. Keep in mind that while chicken wire may seem like an ideal choice, a determined raccoon can easily tear it apart or even reach inside. Hardware cloth or dog run fencing fortified with an additional layer of hardware cloth is the best choice.
Whatever you choose, the run must be covered. I was glad of this one morning when I discovered a hawk sitting on top of our brooder, eyeing what he hoped to be breakfast. The chicks were frightened, but protected.
Be sure to situate your brooder and run close to an electrical outlet because you will need to provide…
The idea here is to mimic a mother hen. Her body provides the warmth growing chicks need as they come and go underneath her. While a heat lamp will work, a heating mat for pets is the best and safest choice. This option will provide a warm — but not hot — steady, constant source of heat. Wrap the heating pad in an old bath towel so the chicks do not come in direct contact with the surface. Drape the heating pad over the top and sides of a plastic shoe box or a tunnel crafted of wire.
The chicks should be able to come and go from under this “tunnel” just as they would their mother. Ours was fashioned from a tomato cage cut down to fit within a corner of the brooder. This has become their favorite spot to huddle together at night, as well as a warm perch during the day.
We use hay cut from our acreage for coop bedding. Whatever you choose should be dry, safe for chicks, and changed out often to keep their surroundings clean. I put the hay on the floor of the brooder, inside their tunnel, and draped over the top. The hay further insulates the tunnel and provides additional warmth.
As mentioned previously, when our chicks were a week old, I decided to introduce them to their new home. I initially placed them inside the tunnel so they knew where to go to keep warm. Their food and water was placed close by so they had constant access to it. In a very short amount of time they had acclimated to their new surroundings and were happily thriving.
Have you ever used an outdoor brooder? What has your experience been?
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