So You Want to Raise Backyard Chickens: 3 of a 5 Part Series

November 4, 2010


As the arrival of your chicks quickly approaches, you will need to create a brooder.  This will be their home for about the next 6 weeks.  For their first week of life, the chicks will need the brooder temperature to be about 95 degrees F.  This is maintained by your heat lamp.  As each week passes, the temperature is lowered by 5 degrees until you reach the outdoor equivalent or they are fully feathered.  When we had our chicks delivered in June, temperatures were already in the 70s outside.  At six weeks of age, they transitioned outside.   Our mid-July temperatures were in the mid-eighties at that point.  We only used the heat lamp with the 250 watt bulb for about 2 weeks.  After that, I used a regular household light bulb of various wattages in the heat lamp.  Some people create brooders in their bathtubs, living space, or sheds.  Just remember that chickens are messy, sometimes stinky and produce dust in this stage.  Thus, we set our brooder up in the garage.

Your brooder can also be a large cardboard box, a wooden box, or a galvanized metal tub.  I used a wooden box on loan from a friend for my six chicks.  It was about 2.5 feet by 2.5 feet and stood about 2.5 feet tall.  Depending on the size of your flock, you may require a larger enclosure.  On top of my brooder, I added an old guard from a screen door.  This prevented them from flying out or into the heat lamp.  Upon the screen door guard, I rested the heat lamp.  Remember that the goals of your brooder include keeping the chicks warm, providing fresh air, protecting them for predators like household cats and keeping them free from drafts.  These all must be taken into consideration.  Line the bottom of your brooder with large thick pieces of cardboard cut to size.  Upon the cardboard, spread newspaper.  Next add some fresh pine shavings about 2 inches thick.

The day before your chicks arrive, fill the feeder and place it inside the brooder.  The feeder should be filled with feed. You might also want to sprinkle a bit of chick grit around the base too. This helps for proper digestion.  When my chicks were about 3 weeks, I added a child-size shoe box lid filled with feed and grit.  My chicks enjoyed learning to scratch that way!  It also kept them entertained for hours.  They were practicing being big chickens!!  Remember that the feed will need to be refreshed daily as the chicks poop everywhere.

Next fill the waterer and place it on a level spot.   As the chicks get older they will explore.  They will spill the water and put pine shavings in the waterer.  Thus it will need frequent checking.  It is recommended that you check on your chicks about 5 times per day.  You never know what they will get themselves into!  As the chicks grew larger, I placed the waterer up on two bricks placed side by side.  This helped keep the water clean and they were less likely to spill it.  The waterer should be cleaned daily with white vinegar.  Keep in mind that you may need to change the water a few times a day based on it’s cleanliness.  It is very important to have clean water.  Dirty water can make your chicks sick.

Next test your heat lamp.  Place a thermometer directly below the center of the heat lamp in the pine shavings.  Hang the heat lamp about 18 inches above the pine shavings.  DO NOT rely on the clip to hang the lamp.  It must be secured in a different fashion to prevent fires.  This lamp gets HOT!!   Monitor the lamp for about 10 minutes and check the temperature.  If it it 95 degrees F, perfect.  If not, adjust it higher to make it cooler and lower to make it warmer. At this point, you are all set.  Now it is just a waiting game until your chicks arrive.


The post office will call you immediately once your chicks have arrived.  I mean this literally!  If your chicks arrive in the middle of the night, be prepared to go and get them right away.  Be prepared to be awake for a little while because you will need to tend to them immediately when you get home.  My call came in the afternoon.  I was so giddy.  When I arrived at the post office, they told me that I had a “peeping” package.  Sure enough, I did.  They peeped all the way home.  I did my best to peep back.

When you get home, do not open the box in front of the kids.   Sometimes, although rare, a chick will perish in transit.  If this happens remove the other chicks and after you tend to the live chicks, you should bury the dead chick deeply into the ground.  This prevents disease transmission just incase the little one was sick.  However, it was most likely the stress of the adventure that caused the death.  Be sure to call the hatchery and just let them know after you have addressed the live chicks’ needs.

Plug in your heat lamp.  Next, take each chick out individually.  First inspect the vent area.  If it is crusted over with poop, you will need to remove it.  This is called pasty butt.  Silkies are extremely prone to this.  If the crust is left, the chick will die.  I had to treat quite a few pasty butts along the way.  You will need to check all chicks for pasty butts everyday.  To treat pasty butt, you will need to soak a paper towel in warm water.  Gently moisten the poop.  Do not pull as you will remove the chick’s skin.  Gently work the water into the poop by rubbing it between 2 fingers.  Try to remove as much as you can so that the vent is exposed.  After you remove the poop, coat the vent area with neosporin.  You may need to repeat this over the next few weeks.  Think of it as bonding.

Immediately after dealing with the pasty butt, teach your chick how to eat and drink.  Remember, they will imprint on you as their Mother Hen.  Dip the chick’s beak into the water.  Make sure the chick drinks.  The chick will tilt it’s head up.  After the chick has taken a drink, dip the chick’s beak into the food.  Then release the chick and repeat with each additional chick in your new flock.  Watch the chicks drink and eat.  Watch their behavior as well.  Do some seem weaker?  Do some seem tired?  These are the ones that will require close monitoring for the next 48 hours.  It is possible some may still perish.  After they eat and drink they will nap like newborn babies.  Usually, they will nap together like a patchwork quilt.  Nuzzling closely and quietly, you can see their little bodies breathing.  It is so sweet.

You will frequently want to check on the temperature.  If the chicks are too hot, they will stay away from the lamp hugging the edges of the brooder.  If they are cold, they will huddle under the heat lamp.  If they are just right, they will explore and be spread all over.    Listen carefully to your baby chicks.  You might hear a pleasure trill!  It is the utmost sign of chicken contentment.  It is the purr of a chicken and it is the most adorable thing you will ever hear.

Click here for part 4.


Here are the chicks at 2 weeks


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6 thoughts on “So You Want to Raise Backyard Chickens: 3 of a 5 Part Series”

  1. Good luck with your town! It is funny how some towns are so harsh with their regulations. Try arguing that they are your pets. Sometimes, it helps the town realize that the area is not so black and white. I certainly see mine as pets vs. livestock. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. My wife and I just brought home our first chickies yesterday! We have them in a large (4'x2'x2') rubbermaid bin with a metal wire folding fireplace grill over them and it seems to be a good home. We just got done doing our first cleaning of thier home, amazing in 24 hours how stinky it got in that corner of the basement! My question is if we move them in our concrete block garage that stays in the 40's and 50' (live in Lexington, KY) will the 250watt bulb we got from Southern States be enought to keep them warm enough? Inside the basement the ambient temp is around 68 deg and the with the heat lamp ~ 2' above the top of the container the floor temp under the lamp is around 87 deg. The chicks are 2 weeks old. Thanks!!

  3. Hi Andy, I guess my answer is you will not know until you try. They are relatively easy to move at this point. I would be sure to keep the shavings about 3 inches deep and place a stick in there if they are thinking about roosting. Place a thermometer in the shavings under the heat lamp and test the temperature once set up in the garage. As long as they are draft free, they should be fine. Loud constant peeping indicates they are cold.

  4. I live in Deep South where it's just miserably hot to raise animals. It's easily 100 in the shade with 90% humidity. I want to move to a cooler territory, one more conducive to raising chickens. If you could move to any state you wanted to raise rare chickens or just any chickens, where woul you choose?

    • The beauty of the keeping chickens is that there are breeds to suit every sort of temperatures. Speaking chickens in general, there are breeds that are cold hardy and heat hardy. If you keep them in the South I would recommend heat hardy. The website, has a breed selection tool that can help you find chickens that will do well in your climate. Best of Luck!


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.