Like many first time chicken owners, I started my foray into chickens with a prefab coop. After two years passed we decided to expand the flock, so our hens moved to new, larger digs, and the prefab? Well, it went from this:
As seen in the photos above, this is the top section of our old prefab coop minus the ledge in front. As a brooder it measures 29" x 44.5" x 23" tall (8.96 sq ft) so good for 3 or 4 chicks through integration. The large access door hinges at the bottom so it can't accidentally close on a chick. The door also has a small cutout on either side at the top so I can run the power cord out without pinching it.
We're using a Mama Heating Pad and contrary to the conventional set up with chicks under a 250 watt red heating lamp 24 hours a day, these chicks, only 4 days old, are actively running around in 70 F daytime with nap breaks under the heating pad. It gets down to about 50 F at night so they tuck themselves in before dusk.
The brooder placement takes into account prevailing winds, so the new coop blocks most of the breeze while there's still enough of a gap between the two coops for some light and air flow to get through. Even with ventilation on all four sides of the brooder, I was able to place the heating pad in a spot between three solid wall panels.
With the brooder directly at ground level, I'm hoping my hens can get used to the presence of the chicks and vice versa, so that integration will go smoothly.
As an extra bonus this will do double duty as a broody breaker, as I normally break my broodies by isolating them away from the nest for a few days.
Week 1: Chicks stayed in the brooder.
Week 2: Chicks started getting restless so I let them out of the brooder for short periods of time. At first they just sat on the door. Didn't take long for them to start venturing forth, though they stayed close. Of my 3 hens, one ignored them, one more or less accepted them, and one pecked and chased them around. So the chicks only came out when I was around to supervise.
Week 2.5: I decided to start working more on integration and tried raising the brooder on bricks so that the chicks could run in and hide if they were being harassed by adults. While the chicks got the hang of it quickly, the plan backfired as the adults wanted to get into the brooder to get the food and water (so basically they just stuck their heads under the gap). So I went with Plan B.
Week 3 (Plan B!): I took some chicken wire* and made a 16 sq ft mini run around the brooder, so the chicks had outdoor space that effectively doubled the safe space they had access to. The chicken wire could be elevated using the brooder door and some bricks, allowing the chicks to venture into the larger run if they preferred, while still having a safe haven. Additionally there's 5 other structures inside the run, plus the run is split into two halves, so the chicks have a lot of options if they need to get out of line of sight from a harassing hen - see diagram below for layout. To prevent chicks from being cornered, all obstacles against a wall have extra openings cut out to give chicks an extra escape route.
* Use chicken wire with caution - chicks can get their heads stuck in the openings. Also note that even little chicks can easily hop/fly out of an enclosure like this, so cover it with something (a lightweight netting works), if you do not want them leaving the enclosure.
Week 4: MHP went away and got replaced by a practice roost, made from the original roost bar for this prefab screwed into some scrap wood for the sides. The chicken wire went away too. I replaced it with a wire closet shelf that's placed across the brooder entrance, but at a slight angle so there's a chick sized gap on either side. The wire shelf is kept in place with bricks and also hooked on the lip of the metal roof, with one end pushed into the chain link fencing to further steady it. I gave it a good push and pull each time I set it up to make sure it would not fall or be knocked aside.
Week 4.5: Brooder is officially closed and chicks now spend their nights in the coop, inside a portable dog pen as they're not interested in roosting overnight yet. Chicks are now willing to eat fermented feed as well. To minimize the hens pestering them while they eat and drink, I've placed food and water on top of a chicken jungle gym that the hens aren't using, but the chicks like to play on. There's 2 other feeding stations as well, so they have options if the hens do hop up.
Week 5.5: The portable pen is gone and chicks are learning to roost. For their safety, the pop door is currently programmed to open earlier than usual, in case they need to put some distance between themselves and the adults first thing in the morning.
After just two days, the chicks have not only figured out how to roost, but are up on the top roost with the hens!
Obviously the two sub flocks still have a ways to go before they're on equal footing, but roosting was the last major hurdle in integration, so I'm very happy to have it resolved before week 6.