Yes, You Certainly Can Brood Chicks Outdoors

By Blooie · Aug 16, 2015 · Updated Mar 11, 2016 · ·
  1. Blooie
    I brooded my first chicks the way most of us learned to brood the house, in a big box, with a heat lamp. It was a hoot at first, having all those adorable baby chicks right where we could watch them and hear their cute little peeps. Then came the dust. And the 24 hour peeping. And the mess from pine shavings and dumped waterers. By the time those first chicks were 2 weeks old I wanted them OUT of my house! They were stressed, I was stressed, and I wasn't enjoying them one bit anymore.

    Doesn't this look like a nice, natural way for chicks to get a good start? Bright room, lots of ambient noise, hot lamp, cramped quarters, no true nighttime! Ah, yes. The joys of brooding by the book. And it's so pleasant for the people in the house, too. Ken kept his tuxedo in a wardrobe bag in the closet just on the other side of the brooder, not visible in this photo. Even after a most thorough cleaning once the chicks moved out, we still found dust inside the pocket of that tux when he got it out months later. Yeah, that kind of insidious dust is hard to combat no matter how fastidious you try to be.

    We'd almost finished the coop and on April 1st, ready or not, out they went - at the ripe old age of 5.5 weeks. At that point it was them or me! The first night we put them out it got down to 20 degrees. I hooked up a heat lamp for them and then I spent the rest of the night jumping out of my warm bed, putting my boots and jacket on with my jammies (I was a true western woman fashion diva!) and grabbing a flashlight to check on them. Those stupid chicks were huddled in a cozy ball right in front of the pop door. The heat lamp was on the other side of the coop. They didn't even use it. They were fine. I, on the other hand, was freezing! I got up in the morning, after a couple of hours of broken sleep, and went out with my heart in my throat fully expecting to see frozen chicks. Surprise!! They were already up, had eaten, and were ready to go out into their makeshift temporary run. The second night was almost exactly the same as the first, with one exception. I only got up to check on them once - just once- and again they were sleeping soundly nowhere near the heat lamp. The next day the heat lamp came out. If they weren't going to use it I wasn't going to risk a fire and run up my electric bill. Um, and of course that night it snowed. And we got snow over and over again. Our last snowfall was on June 6th. In the meantime they just kept growing and thriving. That's when I began to doubt the absolute insistence on indoor brooding with precise temperature requirements for each week.

    I've covered Scout's story elsewhere on BYC. He was a broody hatched chick who suffered severely frostbitten feet when our temps went from a balmy 60 degrees to a bone chilling week of -17 and even lower in only 26 hours. He got his feet wet at the waterer and froze them. Not even the most protective broody hen could have done anything to prevent it, nor to fix it. So Scout came in for treatment. That was my first experience with using a heating pad cave, which I've also covered extensively elsewhere in the forums. When he was ready to rejoin the flock, I took his entire brooder outside, set it up in the coop, and formed his Mama Heating Pad cave out there. I propped open the door to his brooder so that he could fit to get in and out but the older chickens couldn't follow. It worked like a charm. He was able to mingle with the flock at his own pace. He grew and thrived, and became a handsome rooster we were so proud to see strutting out there. The last piece of the brooding outdoors puzzle fell into place.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Scout's entire brooder moved out to the coop. Scout all snuggled into his "cave". It was -4 degrees
    when this was taken.

    In order to brood outdoors for the first time, there are a few things you'll need. The first of these is courage. Yep, it takes courage to ignore all the warnings about keeping those little chicks indoors under a heat lamp. Conventional brooding sometimes makes it sound like you'll have your chicks inside until you find the first egg in the bottom of the brooder, and even then says you should only put them outside for an hour or so - as long as it's clear and sunny and the temps are 90 degrees or above. That's an exaggeration, of course, but boy, it sure seems like that's the message sometimes. But broody hens don't follow the book. Although the normal course of things call for them to set a clutch of eggs and raise chicks during the spring, our modern kept birds don't always follow that pattern. They'll brood chicks any time of the year and those chicks follow her around even on the coldest days. They'll run all over their environment, exploring, learning and dashing under her for a quick warm-up, and when it gets dark they burrow under her and sleep all night. Why do we do it so differently and believe it's better for them?

    The second requirement for brooding outdoors is creativity. Look around you. Do you have any pieces of old fencing that you can form into a cave? Old pillowcases and/or towels that are stuffed in the back of the linen closet? Get 'em out! Figure out how to best utilize them to make an imitation broody hen. You'll want it soft like she is, warm and dark. You'll also want the chicks to be able to duck in and out at will and climb all over their imitation mom, just as they do with a broody. Aren't pictures of broody hens with chicks tucked under, around, and a couple of them snuggled down on top of her just adorable? Wait until you see that happen with a Mama Hen you invented! Do you have last year's brooder box - you know, the one you spent hours crafting out of wood and hardware cloth or even taped-together cardboard boxes? Use it as the shelter point for your outdoor brooder, either by standing it on end and securing the sides of your outside enclosure to it, or taking it apart and using zip-ties to wrap the bottom part of your pen with it as a bit of a windbreak.

    And the final requirement is common sense. That's sometimes the hardest one to practice. It is essential to use your common sense, from start to finish, when brooding chicks outside away from your constant vigilance. Look at your brooder pen with a clear eye for detail. Is the coop or run secure from predators? Your brooder pen will only be as secure as the place where it's located. Are any sharp points covered or turned inward? Is the pen large enough? Is it in a sensible location in your coop or run? Can you easily access their food and water? How difficult is it to rake out soiled bedding and replace it? And does your common sense extend to looking at your chicks' setup and duplicating as closely as possible everything they would experience if a mama hen was raising them?

    You'll need to build a brooder pen. You can make this out of scrap lumber with hardware cloth or chicken wire (if it's located within a secure area already protected against predators) and make it as large as your coop or run can comfortably accommodate without crowding the rest of your flock, if you have one. For just a few chicks you can put a large wire dog crate, with hardware cloth layered at the bottom to prevent escapees, to good use - as I did with Scout. You want to end up with it being a large box, square or rectangular, depending on your coop or run's layout. I also strongly recommend covering the top. I've used landscape fabric attached to the top edge of the pen with clothespins in a pinch. Chicken wire or plastic fencing also work well. Since my run is covered, I eventually settled on attaching green plastic fencing from the "ceiling" of the run down to the top edge of the brooder pen so I could go in there and stand comfortably to work while keeping chicks inside and hens outside. Chicks are inventive with ways to get out, and older hens can become curious enough to fly over and into the brooder.

    If you are using Mama Heating Pad, remember that the cave will take up over almost 2 square feet (maybe more, depending on your cave) of the chicks' living space. If you are using a heat lamp, you'll need to make sure it's a safe distance away from the bedding and the sides of the pen, and secured, secured, secured! Personally I detest the things - it's artificial light all night long, which disturbs older chickens you might have, and it heats their entire environment, even if you try to provide "cooler spots" away from the light. Dust and dander gather on them, adding to the fire risk. So if you are brave enough to have read this far, please look at the link to Mama Heating Pad in the Brooder and go the whole 9 yards. End of lecture! You can also use your Premier or Eco-Glow, if that's what you have, but I tend to like the "cave" much better because it's closed on the sides and back, with only a small awning in front that they duck under to access the darkness, warmth, and security of the cave. At this point you aren't worried about aesthetics - you are out to build a safe enclosure within your coop or run.

    In our case we had an old dog exercise pen that I used to use back in my dog showing days. The first job was to cover the bottom couple of feet with hardware cloth - the bars in the pen were large enough for chicks to squirt out otherwise. It was a simple matter of laying out the pen, unrolling the hardware cloth over it, then zip-tying the HC in place. We set it up in the run so that it was opened all the way up and formed a rectangle that was much longer than it was wide. We took our old brooder box, the one we used in the house last year, set it up on its end, then attached the back side of the X-pen to it. This side was next to the outer fencing on the run. The access door was on the closer side, nearest the run door, and that's where I could enter the brooder and tend the chicks. The old brooder became a perfect wind block on three sides. We covered the floor of the entire pen and the floor of the upended brooder box with straw. Then we set up the wire frame for the cave, put the heating pad over it, and covered that with a towel to form that little awning that they like so much. The cave was also covered with straw, top, sides, and rammed in behind to hold in heat. The entire brooder pen took less than an hour and half to set up from start to finish.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Old brooder set on end, with the far side of the The straw frame on the floor of the enclosed box.
    pen attached.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Towel forms an "awning" at the front over the pad. The chicks settle in. It was 21 degrees out there .

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    A chick's eye view of the other end of their pen. They spent more time on top than under the cave.

    We brooded three batches of chicks outside this year. We wanted the chicks to have maximum space and we didn't think that the coop presented them with that kind of opportunity so our larger, plastic covered run was the logical choice. If your coop is large enough, then by all means, put your outdoor brooder in there. You need to have it where it is easiest for you to tend. If you have older chickens, I can't stress enough the importance of having the chicks where the older birds can see them day in and day out. The chicks carefully watch the adults as well and learn so much from them. You will be so glad you did this when it's time to integrate them into the flock full time. If these are your first chicks, by putting them outside from the start you have avoided all of the pitfalls of putting them out for the first time when they are older, including the stage where you beat yourself up wondering if they need a night light! They'll be accustomed to temperature changes, they'll have no problem with darkness, and they become strong and self-reliant from the start. You are in charge of their security and supplies. They do all the rest. They eat and play during the day, and they sleep at night. No training necessary! In our situation, when it was time for them to mingle, we put the big girls (and Scout) outside in the yard, then opened the side of the brooder pen just enough for the chicks to get out. They wandered around the run, then a few ventured outside. The older birds were curious, and when the chicks got a little too pushy they got well deserved reminder that they still had a lot to learn. If they got spooked or chilled they found the opening and went back into their pen. Snoopy or pushy older birds couldn't follow. Integration began under our watchful eye and it was smooth, without major incident, all because they were used to each other. Within a week I was able to keep the door to the chicks' pen open all day long, and the Bigs wandered in, snitched a little of the Littles' food, and wandered back out, whether there were chicks inside the brooder pen at the time or not.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Gladys (front) & Kat (back) check out the chicks. Always in sight, chicks and adults.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Pen opened all the way and Kat greets a chick while Scout takes his turn exploring the brooder pen.
    Mathilda explores.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    The chicks go outside to greet a new day. Thanks to the chicks and older birds always being "together", with multiple
    feeding stations and dual waterers, the chicks got plenty to eat, there was minimal bullying, and now as adults they all
    exist peacefully in the coop and run. We had total integration by the time each batch was 4 weeks old.

    And this peaceful scene is the result. They still squabble at times but it's usually just the Littles overstepping their bounds and they are quickly brought back in line.

    On the Mama Heating Pad thread, another strong advocate of outdoor heating pad brooding is azygous, and she has come up with a simply brilliant "portal" system. She cut small doorways into a couple of sides of her brooder pen. She then cut plywood "doors" that match the cutouts she made and that's exactly what they are - chick sized doors into and out of the brooder pen. When she's ready to start integrating the chicks with the older population, she just opens the portals. The chicks can run out to explore and run back in if the older chickens get a little too feisty. The adults can't get at the chicks food or follow the chicks in because the portals aren't large enough for them to squeeze through. At night she closes the portals. You can bet this portal idea will be incorporated into my brooder pen next year!

    Setting up an outdoor brooder pen also has other advantages, as if more were needed! I ended up with a broody just when the last of the chicks were already fully integrated with the flock, at the ripe old age of 4 weeks! So rather than take the pen down we simply removed Mama Heating Pad and put her nest full of eggs in its place. Instant safe place for her to brood and raise her babies without her being totally isolated from the flock. Then, just when I thought I could take the pen out and give the chickens the entire run back, I had a chicken who was injured. In she went until she was recovered enough to rejoin the others and again, very few re-integration issues because she wasn't kept totally away from them.

    The chicks' pen, re-purposed with a nest at the back in place of Mama Heating Pad, and Mama Agatha sitting on her eggs. Notice two things - since this was her first full day of actively brooding, we have landscape fabric fastened to the sides of the pen to give her time to settle in without the others upsetting her. This was removed after her third day of sitting tight. And above you can make out some green plastic fencing hanging down a bit. One of our snoopier hens, Mathilda, kept flying over the top into the brooding area. The fencing draped over the pen put a stop to that right quick.

    Brooding chicks outside doesn't have to be scary or dangerous. You simply provide them with a safely enclosed space, a source of heat, and food and water. I use a bucket with vertical nipples for little tiny chicks until they show me that they are strong enough to trip that trigger mechanism, usually for the first week. At that point that waterer gets removed, cleaned, and put away until the next time I need it, and they graduate to a bucket with horizontal nipples. Water stays clean, bedding stays drier, and chicks stay hydrated. Hanging the food and water at the far end of the pen ensures that they move out into the cooler areas of the pen regularly, getting exercise and encouraging fast feathering. As the sun goes down and the Bigs go into the coop to roost, the Littles snuggle down under or on top of Mama Heating pad and do the same. After a week or so I put a roost in there for them,and gradually raise it as they grow.

    This year's chicks were all brooded outdoors with temperatures in the teens and twenties. We didn't lose a single chick to illness, chilling or have any signs of distress in them. Two or three of the second batch of chicks we got came to us with pasty butt, which I treated in the usual way. But it didn't recur or happen to any of the others, and out of 23 chicks all were hale, hardy and healthy into adulthood. Have you ever seen broody raised chicks with pasty butt? Seems to me that it's another hazard of brooding indoors under constant, artificial light and eating 24/7 with no natural "bedtime" in their lives, although I have no scientific evidence to support my theory.

    The arguments in favor of brooding chicks outside are many: strong chicks experiencing as natural a beginning as possible; fast feathering; no dramatic change from being in the house for weeks to the place where they'll live out the rests of their lives; natural day/night cycles; and a reduction in integration issues. The bonuses for you are immediate, and among those are no dust and dander in the house, no cheeping all night long, no mess around the brooder, and a much more relaxed approach to raising your chicks. I have done it both ways, indoors and outdoors, and I can tell you firsthand that even during a snowstorm, these chicks not only survived, they thrived. And isn't that what we all want?

    Below I have provided a couple of links for further information:

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    About Author

    I have kinda become known as a "natural chicken keeper", applying common sense to raising chickens.
    MamaFish, FowlWitch, jp_over and 23 others like this.

Recent User Reviews

  1. feathermaid
    "Natural and Perfect!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 23, 2019
    I'm a strong believer in natural animal husbandry and even before I found your method I just knew there was something wrong with using a heat lamp. I felt so terrible about it I made a crude (MHP) version using a shallow cardboard box and a heating pad for my very first chicks to use at night because I just couldn't bear the light glaring on them all night. It was a hassle switching it out every day but I didn't know better then. It wasn't until after those chicks were grown that I actually discovered MHP hiding behind "normal" advice here on BYC and I jumped for joy! I wasn't wrong, woot!

    This method is actually more normal and natural than that old-fashioned-heat-lamp-garbage, so thank you so much for putting your experience out there! I've now successfully raised and integrated two more small batches of chicks using all your advice and common sense and also refer your articles and threads to new members whenever I can.

    I even built my new coop with a built-in brooder and their own run to make integration easier. Using ideas from you (and others) I made my own portal system and switch from HWC to that at about 3-4 weeks... I call it my Picket Fence Safety Divider. I've also brought the chicks out often to free range with the older girls with never an incident. Your ideas have greatly increased my own confidence in chicken keeping. Thank you so much!
    brooder-space2.jpg safety-divider.jpg
    together.jpg brooder-integration6-18 2.jpg
    sunrise.superman likes this.
  2. doublecrossranch
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 6, 2019
    I hope I can come up with something this great
    Blooie likes this.
    1. Blooie
      It’s not as hard or scary as it sounds.....well, okay, yes, it’s scary. The first time. But I just got a shipment of chicks today and guess where they’re going tomorrow! LOL
  3. MagpieDucks
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Apr 30, 2019
    Blooie likes this.
    1. Blooie
      That is exactly the response I was hoping to get! Thank you!


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  1. K0k0shka
    Hi @Blooie! I just saw this article, along with the others describing outdoor brooding and mama heating pads. I'm so glad I found it in time! I was going to brood right in the dining room otherwise :eek: thinking the kids would enjoy having the chicks nearby to snuggle and socialize with... Now I'm rethinking all of that. Your system seems so much more practical, both for me and for the chicks. I do have a couple of questions, which I couldn't find direct answers to in the various threads. Most of the threads and posts talk about doing this when you already have an existing flock to integrate the babies with, but I don't. Will this work for first time babies? They'll be on their own out in the coop. Also, I work outside the home full time 3 days a week, and work from home 2 days a week. So I can be around to check on them 4 days a week (with the weekends), but on the remaining 3 days, there will be nobody in the house from 7:30am to 5:30pm... I don't quite feel comfortable leaving them out there unsupervised for that long, especially at the beginning. Or am I worrying too much? I live in Boston and it stays cold throughout the spring here, though not as cold as I've read other places get. Occasional dips below freezing, but rarely ever gets down to the teens, even at night. We tend to get a lot of snow in March, sometimes through April, but it's not cold enough for it to stick around during the day. Last frost is May 1-ish. How should I time the chicks for best results? Also, I was thinking of starting them indoors just for the first week or two, when they're most vulnerable, then taking them out to the coop in a setup like these threads describe. But I'll modify the indoor setup. No heat lamp (I was never a fan of the lack of nighttime darkness for the chicks!) - I'll use the cave, and I'll put the brooder in the basement, up on a tall table so we walk up to them and they see our faces and upper bodies, as opposed to a disembodied hand reaching down. The brooder will be a big appliance box with the top and front wall replaced with hardware cloth, so they can get light and see us, and it will open on the front for access, so no reaching down. Oh, and last question - the basement doesn't get a lot of natural light, so I could put a desk light or something on the table nearby and put it on a timer, to simulate daylight for them... Would that be a good idea? Sorry about the long-winded post... I'm still trying to make sense of all this and make good decisions, and you seem like the go-to person for this, so I hope you'll have time for a couple of answers :D Thanks!
  2. Newchickenguy84
    Update to my post. I do brood outdoors however make sure you have a back up plan. I just got some new chicks in last week. Last 4 due to my dog unplugging the heat lamp. So be careful when brooding outdoors and have a back up plan just in case
  3. SSFowler
    This was a great article. Makes me want to get more littles!
  4. FlockQueen
    I love this article...thank you! I have been doing this trial and error and feeling like i was the only one. I got some great tips from this and i can't wait to implement them!
      Blooie likes this.
  5. mike48851
    i got my first chicks a little over 4 weeks ago. They have been brood (brooded??) in the coop the entire time outside. The first couple weeks had some cold temps, below 20. I just paid close attention to them; noises, body language, huddling, etc. Now at almost 4 and a half weeks old and 75, they are out in the run just having a great time. They're out for about ann hour, and then go back into the coop and nap and then come back out. Today is by far the longest they have been out doors from the coop. I did have two heat lamps in my coop at the beginning and yes, I think both were probably necessary on a few of the nights. Same thing, had a few mornings where I woke up hoping they were still alive...and of course, they were doing great.
    So, I 2nd the fact that chicks do NOT NEED to be in a brooder in the home until however long you are supposed to.

    1. Blooie
      You bring up a good point that I didn't touch on when I first wrote this article...watching the chicks' behavior and body language when you're out there! Chicks huddle as much for security as they do for warmth, so sometimes it takes a bit to figure out if they're cold or if something spooked them. But listening to them helps - distressed cheeping is never a good sign! I stress that in the Mama Heating Pad thread, and when I post on other threads, but didn't even mention it here! Thanks for bringing that up!
    2. mike48851
      Youre welcome. Not trying to hi-jack your post, I just figure more information, or other experiences, can always help put things in to even a little more perspective!
      Blooie likes this.
  6. renenchan
    Ordered my Mother board to hang in my outdoor brooder. Family uses this and they are a few thousand feet higher in altitude and it works like a charm.... If I hang in one end of my brooder do I still need the little caves in your opinion?
    1. Blooie
      I'm not sure what a "mother board" is...are you talking about the Sweeter Heater? If that's what you have, and your temps are fairly moderate, you won't need the cave. In fact, I'd never recommend putting anything on top of a Sweeter Heater or any of the other commercial brooding plates out there. It's just the way I've always done it, and I like it, but other alternative heat sources don't need it. I like it because it makes the heat source so much closer to a broody hen.
  7. Newchickenguy84
    My First brooder was in a tub out in the barn until we got the coop up. Which was only 3 or 4 days. Then Put them in the coop 3x3 (store bought) with a heat lamp and let them be. All of them ended up fine. I agree no reason to have them in the house
      SSFowler and Blooie like this.
    1. Blooie
      Don't you think that they end up more confident and calm raised outside? I Do! I think it's because right from the start they grow used to outside temperature fluctuations, sounds and sights . Things that terrify indoor raised, older chicks when they are first put outside are just normal daily things to chicks raised with those things!
      SSFowler likes this.
  8. Doc7
    Excellent article that shaped the way I raised my first batch of chickens and will do so with my second as well.
      WannaBeHillBilly and Blooie like this.
    1. Blooie
      Thank you so much! I'm so glad it was helpful. I'm sure sold on it. Been 8 batches of chicks now, and hope that in the spring I'll be making it 9. I did switch over to @azygous portal door system, and that made it all even easier!
      WannaBeHillBilly likes this.
  9. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
      WannaBeHillBilly likes this.
    1. Blooie
      Wow! Not sure why it posted your question 10 times or so, but made for an interesting surprise! First of all, be sure that the heating pad you have does NOT automatically shut off after a couple of house. I use the Sunbeam X-Press heat, so the settings on mine are different than "high, med, lo". Mine starts at 6 and goes down to 1. As for telling you what to set yours on, well, fact is that I don't know. Without seeing photos of where your setup will be, or knowing what your temperatures are running where you'll be putting them, it's hard to give you a concrete answer. You can probably start it out on "med" and then just watch the chicks...if they huddle toward back and don't want to come out they are too cold. If they don't want to go in at all and huddle in a corner away from it, it's probably too warm. You can post photos on the Mama Heating Pad thread and we'll be able to help you better.
      WannaBeHillBilly and cherand7 like this.
    2. cherand7
      I don't know why it posted like that either. I think I can delete the others. Thanks for the response. I have so many chicks in the house maybe will help
      WannaBeHillBilly likes this.
  10. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
      WannaBeHillBilly likes this.
    1. Chullicken
      I set mine on high with the timer shut off. Make sure there is no timer or has the ability to be shut off or it will.
  11. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
  12. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
  13. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
  14. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
  15. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
  16. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
  17. cherand7
    I love this idea but I have one question..what setting do you use on the pad..low,medium or high?? I read a lot but couldn't find that info. Thanks
  18. J&Kfeatheredfowl
    I really would like to try the cave technique but there is no access to electricity where my flock is
    1. Blooie
      I don't know how you'd do it without access to electricity. If you can run an OUTDOOR rated, heavy duty extension cord and use electrical tape to cover each and every connection, I suppose it would work, but since I'm married to a professional electrician, every time I say the "E" word I get a dirty look! If you can run an extension cord, remember that the power output drops according to how long it is....if you have a super long cord you're device is getting less power. And that's hard on the device you are trying to run.
  19. 4 Georgia Hens
    This thread is AMAZING!!!! Do I need a heating pad? I'm most likely going to be getting 2 new silkie chicks. I want to try this!!!
    1. Blooie
      I'm so sorry I didn't see your question until now. If you want to do this, then yes, you will need a heating pad. You'll need one that either doesn't have automatic shutoff or one where you can bypass the shutoff completely by using a switch with "Stay On". Most of us use the Sunbeam Xpress Heat, available either at Walmart or Walgreens (but both places usually only have the small one) or on Amazon. Good luck! We have an entire thread, Mama Heating Pad in the Brooder on BYC if you'd like to check it out.
      4 Georgia Hens likes this.
  20. Chullicken
    Cave works great, I used it for the first time a few years ago out of pure fear I'd burn down a building and kill all my 'kids'. Minimal electricity, easy to set up and about 3/4 cheaper than a manufactured brand name chick heater. I did notice they seem to grow (In my case) slightly slower without that direct heat, but that is ok with me. I must remember to use a towel over the top of it though..little details I forget and it gets expensive replacing the heat pad. lol
    1. Blooie
      A towel and Press 'n Seal are your best friends! Fortunately the heating pad most of us use disconnects from it's cord and the entire pad can go into the washer and dryer. I am sorry I was late responding - I didn't see this comment and a few others until today.

      EDITED TO ADD: This format wouldn't let me reply to your second comment..had to edit this one. Please note that not all heating pads allow you to throw them into the washer like that - my Sunbeams DO, and the washing instructions were pretty clear. So check first!
      ilovechickens90 and Chullicken like this.
    2. Chullicken
      Finally! =) Oh ok, I have been removing the pad before the washer. I really wasn't confident electrical stuff should be in there.
      Blooie likes this.
  21. CorvusFarm
    Perfect timing here, as well. I just ordered a large batch of day-olds that will be here in mid-February. However, I am in California, so don't have to deal with the extreme low temps others here have described. I'll occasionally dip down into the low 30s, but 38-40 is the norm. Because of the number of chicks involved, I've ordered a Sweeter Heater for some of the reasons you've listed: more natural heat source, no 24/7 red light, adjustment to day/night cycles. I'd originally intended on using the greenhouse as my brooder, but seeing the images of your older hens with the younger chicks has me rethinking that approach. Power to my coop will be expensive, as that is a long extension chord. But I'm thinking it is worth the cost.
    1. Blooie
      Glad you saw the common sense in this entire approach. It is so much easier on the flock, the chicks, and you!! Do remember, though, that the longer your extension cord the more voltage drops and the amperage increases, which means your heat output is decreased and it can increase the stress on the heating elements in the pad. Good luck!
  22. The Phantom
  23. JarrodnJojo2016
  24. Blooie
    Sorry, I didn't see your question until just now. You need to find a heating pad that will allow you to bypass the automatic shut off feature, otherwise it will turn off every 2 hours. I use the Sunbeam X-press heat. It's available in two sizes, so I have one of each size, and it will say right on the box if it has a "stay-on" feature. When I'm raising a bigger batch of chicks (say up to 15 or so) I use the bigger one. For newly hatched chicks I take them from the incubator to a small brooder I have indoors for the first day or so, until I know they are eating, drinking, and know where to go for warmth, so then the small one comes in handy. The link to the pad is here, in case you can't find it Walmart where I got one of mine:

    One of our other members, Henless, uses a Sunbeam that doesn't even have auto-shut off and will turn itself back on to the last setting in case of a power outage:
  25. Dinosaur Gal
    Can you use any heatpad for the Mama Heating Pad? Or is there one that would be better?
  26. grandbayou
    the cheap storage bins at the dollar store work good too
  27. Chickie Little
    I would love to see more photos of the coop you have. It looks interesting.
  28. Blooie
    Thanks! Inspiration? Gee, what a nice thing to read! One of the reasons Mama Heating Pad works is because the heat source is right at their backs. Chicks have no trouble keeping their undersides warm - they just squat down. But their backs are where they need the heat. I'm trying to visualize your heating box and if the heat is too high from them they won't stay warm enough. I'm very familiar with North Dakota weather, having grown up in Eastern South Dakota. Now I'm in Northern Wyoming and we regularly see winds in excess of 60 mph. I"m not on a hill, but there are no leaves on the big trees we have to block that wind from hitting the run all of the time. Even then I still keep one part of it open for ventilation. Chicks have done great out there even during a Wyoming blizzard or two...or several!
  29. Zone3Dakota
    Woops!!!!, i recall that the 'wooden box heating pad' was designed for heating waterers! I may have even found it at a chicken site.
    Also, i did like the idea of a brooder in the plastic covered run, but we are in NW North Dakota on top of a hill, a really windy hill, with no shelterbelt... will need more time to work on that idea!
  30. Zone3Dakota
    You are an inspiration!

    I am testing out a product that i purchased a few years back from a pigeon site, cannot recall which one, now.
    Anyway, it is basically a heating pad that is enclosed inside a flattish wooden box. These are made so that a nest can be put on top, for breeding early/cold season squeakers(baby pigeons) There are a couple of heat settings.

    A few minutes ago, i placed this unit inside a black wire kennel that looks like Scout's pen(above). Our 'Scout pen' has a raised wire bottom and there is a plastic pan that came with, that i put atop the raised wire. Then the 'heatingpadbox' was put in...just fit inside the door to the pen, whew. Atop that went a chunk of cardboard to keep the heating pad box drier The cardboard is a little wide, so it makes nice sloping sides, but not the front and back. I may need to put more cardboard in the back to keep the little tykes from falling out of the wire bars, but since i don't know how this project is going to work, i can do that later if it's a 'go'. plopped a thermometer in the middle and covered the wire pen with an old comforter.

    Have not gotten to the 'surrounding brooder' part, yet. May set a temporary one in entry to garage that has heated floor, but would like a nice solid area in future hen house.
  31. Blooie
    I have recently learned that Sunbeam makes a heating pad that has the features we want, such as being able to turn off the automatic shutoff, with the addition of the pad turning itself back on to the last setting in the event of a power failure. I experienced a power failure during a bad snowstorm/high wind event here. When we went to bed winds were howling and the snow was blowing sideways. That was around 10:30. Hubby woke up at 2am to the sound of the power coming back on, so we had no idea how long it had been off! We bundled up, ran out to check on the chicks and turn the pad back on, and were stunned to see that they were just fine! The cave had been set up on a deep bed of straw, was packed with straw all around it, and had a deep layer of straw on top. That straw held enough residual heat, combined with the chicks' own body heat, to keep them safe. They were only a week old. I don't know how you'd incorporate a heat sink in a heating pad situation...I suppose you could put some bricks at the back of the cave, which would reduce the space they have under there. But you'd almost have to know when the power was going to go out to have things prepped and heated beforehand, like a water bottle.
  32. birds4kids
    Just a thought for those of us looking at getting chicks earlier than typical and using this method. To combat the hazards of power failure I am thinking try and incorporate some mass into "mama", bricks, concrete block, water bottle, something that could radiate heat and give them something to snuggle with should the heating pad shut down.
    I used the mama heating pad for some chicks with horrible pasty butt that I rescued from a feed store. It was AMAZING. The 5 chicks spent their first few weeks with their mama heating pad in a rubbermaid right at the head of my bed and I slept like a baby the entire time. No peeping at all hours of the night, no movements, just peaceful sleeping chicks all night long. Miracle if I do say so myself! This is such a great idea, thank you for sharing!!
  34. Blooie
    Thanks! I appreciate that. It sure worked well here, and it has for many others as well.
  35. RedBanks
    Thanks for the great article and info. It makes sense!
      Chullicken likes this.
  36. Blooie
    I apologize for not seeing your question sooner. I don't know if it qualifies as a "composting arrangement", but here in Northern Wyoming I use deep litter in both the coop and the run. The chickens seem to love to bury down into it when the cold winds howl, and they do just fine with it. As far as actively composting, well, that process slows down naturally here in the winter. For good, true composting, I think you need moisture, and when it's 20 below zero adding moisture to the litter is the last thing I want to do. So they snuggle in the dry stuff that's out there and don't seem to mind a bit.
  37. coop410silkies
    OK! I have thought on this and am enheartened. My silkies recently hatched out chicks, as did one of my "mutts" from last year's hatch, so I have a number of young ones that will need to overwinter outside. This article could be a lifesaver. All these chicks were hatched in Dogloos, and they have already survived some big - and cold - stormfronts. I have several Broodies sitting on clutches, and who knows, maybe there will be more. Am very thankful for this information and directions and contributions! FWIW: ALL my Broodies love the Dogloos and have had their most successful hatches in them. We pick them up at garage sales when we can find them cheap. Am wondering: has anyone used a composting arrangement to help heat a brooder - or coop - in extreme weather?
  38. perchie.girl
    I am going to do this with Guinea Keets when its time... of course with modifications for the desert...
  39. HennaRose
    This was timely. I've been thinking about moving my chicks out. I live in Florida, and I followed All The Rules with my first batch of chicks. They had their heat lamp on 24/7 for the first four weeks and then overnight only for the next three weeks, and at 8 weeks on the nose were outside. But it was February then, the garage was cold, and I was inexperienced and wanted to do it "right."

    It's August now. These babies are two weeks old and I think they only had their heat lamp on 24/7 for about three days. Then another few days of only on at night, and I haven't turned it on at all in a week now. They live in the garage, which is very dark, and they have a lamp for light (regular white light, not a heat lamp) but that's it. I don't like it. They don't get any adjusting from day to night, just on and off with the switch of the lamp. They don't get to be outside learning about dirt and grass and fresh air and their big sisters.

    I already have a converted doghouse that I planned to use as an "isolation coop" for ill or injured hens once I got a run built for it, but I see no reason why it can't be a brooder first. As soon as I can get lumber to build the run, I'll get them moved out. If you can do it in a Wyoming winter, I can absolutely do it in a Florida summer!
  40. MaryOos
    Winds blowing through? Chicks that froze? Common sense???? Sounds more like that example was "actually" outside rather than outside in a cozy coop or outside in a garage. Either that or it was a very poorly enclosed, drafty coop. My tunnel will be outside in a garage in a big, bulk size, cardboard potato carton from Costco. Those cartons have heavy walls, rounded corners to prevent corner trapping, and vent slots just the right size to run the plug and cord thru. Also gives double draft protection with garage walls and cardboard walls and at night I lay card board sheets over much of the open top as outdoor temps drop (which was essential in MI when using a heat lamp). With the momma method I might even cover over the entire top and keep just a very dim nightlight inside the brooder. My current chicks are 14 and 16 weeks old and I still keep a very dim dusk to dawn nightlite for them in case someone falls off the roost. ;)
  41. auntdover23
    I was going to brood a small flock of chickens for egg selling and meat, but I know certain family members wouldn't really want chicks [ More like tiny pigs/cows ] in the house stinkin up the place. This was totally game changer.

  42. Blooie
    I think that it is, auntdover23. They determine their own comfort level, they feather out quickly and evenly, and they experience natural day/night cycles from the start. Usually with shipped chicks that have just arrived, I set up a smaller cave in Scout's old dog crate indoors for the first 24 hours, just to make sure they aren't overly stressed from shipping, that they've had some water, and know what food is, then out they go the very next day. If I pick chicks up locally, they go outside straight from the car.
  43. auntdover23
    sounds like this method is the more natural way to go?
  44. fruggiechick
    Well if you can do it in wyoming I think I can manage this in Texas!!! Thanks for sharing because I hate brooding chicks in my bathroom!
  45. Miztruder
    Thank you for sharing such a well written article. Here I have been stressing about keeping the temps just so. I will rest better tonight for a change.
  46. Blooie
    Thanks, Bigwig. Yep, you absolutely have to use your head when chicks are brooded outside. Hence the reason I said to use common sense and use something like the old brooder box as a windbreak. Frankly, if your friend had a tragic event because of cold winds and didn't do everything he could to prevent a repeat, that's not exactly an example of common sense. My chicks were out during a full scale blizzard - we had winds in excess of 60 mph and the snow was blowing sideways. We checked the chicks and they were all under Mama Heating Pad, snug and warm, so we went to bed. Hours later my husband sat straight up in bed and said, "The CHICKS"! While we slept the power had gone out and the sound of it coming back on is what woke him. We bundled up and dashed out to the run. The one week old chicks were just fine. The heating pad had gone off when power was lost and had to be physically turned back on, but they cave setup held plenty of residual warmth and they were snug underneath.
  47. Bigwig
    Make sure there is no wind blowing through the brooder. A friend of mine once left their wood-framed, wire-sided brooder outside in 20 degree weather with high winds blowing. By the morning all the chicks were torpid and one had died. A week later there was an even colder night and all the chicks froze to death.
  48. LittleWhiteSpec
    This looks like sound advice to me and I will be trying it. I really like the fact that they go to sleep when it is bedtime. Great article and great writing!
  49. hotlipshens
    Love the setter :)
  50. coop410silkies
    This really appeals to me, and I will think on it some. Good article.

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