Home Chickens for Beginners Choosing the Right Brooder Setup for Your Chicks

Choosing the Right Brooder Setup for Your Chicks

by Jamelyn

Whether you are new to raising chicks or a seasoned pro, there are several different options for setting up your chick brooder.  There’s no one right way to setup your brooder.  The options you choose can vary depending on your budget, how much space you have for the brooder, and whether you will be doing this more than once.

In this article, I will compare different options for each of the key items you will need for your brooder setup.  

Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be better informed for what equipment will work best for your brooder setup!

Brooder Box

The brooder is the container where the chicks will live for their first few days or weeks of life.

The brooder is what will keep them warm and where they will eat, drink, sleep, and poop.

You can use any type of container for the brooder, but the main thing is that your chicks are able to stay safely in their brooder and that it keeps predators out.  The main predators of chicks are cats, kids, and rats.  

You want to make sure your chicks stay in the brooder because if they are able to escape they can get too cold and freeze to death.  A good brooder will have a high enough wall that will keep chicks from jumping out.

Our chicks stayed in their brooder for 3 weeks before we transitioned them to the outside coop.

There are several different options you have for your chick brooder.

Cardboard Box

The cheapest option for a chick brooder is a large cardboard box.

If you are looking for something that’s inexpensive, readily available around most homes, and you’re not sure whether you will raise chicks again, then a cardboard box might be your best option.

The main drawback with using a cardboard box is that it’s not very sturdy and is generally only good for one time use.

Chicks are very messy. They spill their food and water and will poop on their bedding. With all this moisture, it can leak through the bottom of the cardboard box and get on your floor.

Because of this, it will be important to make sure that you have the bottom of the box lined very well to prevent any messes.

If you plan on setting up your brooder in the garage or shed you will need to consider how you will keep predators out.

One option is you can make a screen out of scrap wood and hardware cloth and set it on top of the box.

We used a medium size U-Haul box for our brooder. We lined the bottom with several layers of newspaper and then added pine shavings for bedding (more on bedding options later).  

We set up our brooder in a spare bedroom inside our house and did not have any cover on it. We kept the cat out of the brooder box by just shutting the door to that room.

Plastic Tote

A common option for a booder for many beginners is a plastic tote.

A benefit of using a plastic tote is that after your chicks have moved out you can wash it out and use it for other things, like storing your chicken feed and treats.

If you plan on raising chicks more than once this might be a good option for you since it can be reused.

Another benefit of using a plastic tote is that liquids will not leak through the bottom. You still want to have appropriate bedding in your plastic tote but it won’t be as susceptible to leaks as a cardboard box.

A plastic tote can look a little bit nicer than a cardboard box if you plan on keeping your brooder in the house.

The lid that comes with the tote can be used as a cover for your brooder by cutting out the middle section of the lid and attaching some hardware cloth or chicken wire. This will help to prevent pets or kids from getting inside and will keep your chicks from jumping out.

Mesh Pet Playpen

I’ve noticed a trend with some people using a mesh pet playpen for their chick brooders.

The main benefit of using a pet playpen as brooder is that it zips all the way around and keeps the chicks securely in the playpen. It also helps contain any bedding materials that the chicks kick up.

This option for brooder might be best if you plan on keeping your brooder inside the house. It might not be the best option if you want the brooder setup in the garage or shed since it might not be as secure to keep out predators, like cats, rats, and snakes.

The playpen is advertised as having a waterproof polyester bottom, but it might be a good idea to set it on a tarp or a plastic tray to capture any liquids that leak through the bottom.


Choosing the right type of bedding is essential to the health and well-being of your chicks.

The bedding will be on the bottom of the brooder and needs to be absorbent to catch spilled water and poop.

It will also help you tolerate their smell because if you choose something that is not absorbent enough, they can get very stinky!

Pine Shavings

The most common type of bedding material for a chicken coop or brooder is pine shavings.  

Pine shavings are easy to find at farm supply stores and relatively inexpensive.

Since chicks will poop on the bedding it’s super important to choose something that is absorbent.

As your chicks spill water and feed and poop in their bedding you can add more pine shavings on top of the old bedding. This is referred to as the “deep litter method.”

Pine shavings are relatively easy to maintain, but if they start giving off an unpleasant odor you might consider replacing all of the bedding. Typically just adding pine shavings on top of old ones is an easy way to maintain the brooder.

We had a layer of several pages of newspaper underneath our pine shavings. Since we used a cardboard box for our brooder we thought that this would help prevent any leaks from going through the cardboard and onto our floor. (Our brooder never leaked on the floor.)

You do not want the bottom of your brooder to be newspaper by itself because it’s too slick for chicks to walk on. If the ground is too slick they can end up with splayed legs so you will need to add a type of bedding on top of the newspaper

Paper Towels

Some people will use paper towels as the flooring for their brooder for at least the first few days.

The reason they do this is because they like to be extra clean and to change out the paper towels several times a day. After a few days of doing this, then they will add in a bedding material like pine shavings.

I think this is just an extra step and like to keep things easy so we just used the pine shavings layered over newspaper in our brooder.

Hemp Bedding

You can also use hemp bedding for your chick brooder.

Hemp bedding is advertised as being twice as absorbent as pine shavings. This brand also includes an herb blend that is supposed to help your chickens relax.

A major drawback of the hemp bedding is that it’s expensive.

However, if you just use it for your chick brooder and do not plan on using the same material in your coop then it might be a good option.

Hemp shavings for bedding costs about $2.35 per cubic foot, while pine shavings cost $0.98 per cubic foot.

I have never used the hemp bedding but know of people who love it. If you’re interested in an option that’s a little unique this bedding could be for you.

This post only covered a few of the bedding options for your chick brooder. For more on bedding, check out 7 Types of Bedding for Chicken Coops.

Heat Source 

The next thing you need to consider for your brooder setup is a heat source.

Chicks are unable to keep their body temperature warm enough on their own for survival, which is why you will need to provide supplemental heat for the first few weeks.

Heat Lamp

The most common form of heat for a brooder is a heat lamp.  

A heat lamp will be your cheapest option for a heat source for your chicks.

A heat lamp will use a red incandescent bulb that emits heat. (You cannot use a fluorescent bulb because they don’t emit enough heat for chicks.)

If you plan on raising a large number of chicks a heat lamp is the most cost efficient because one lamp can heat dozens of chicks.

The major drawback that many people find with using a heat lamp is the risk of fire.

Chicks can be very messy when they scratch the ground of their brooder. This scratching turns the bedding into fine particles and kicks up dust. If the dust gets overheated, there is a risk of it turning into a flame.

Similar to any electrical appliance, if the heat lamp has any malfunction in the wiring it can be susceptible to overheating and starting a fire.

A quick Google search reveals many news stories of chicken coops that burned down due to faulty heat lamps.

If you check on your heat lamp regularly throughout the day and make sure that there is no damage to the cord you should be fine.

We used a heat lamp for our chicks, but many people feel more comfortable using a brooder plate because of a lower risk of fire.

Some people will use a thermometer to track the heat of the brooder. However, this is not necessary as you can tell the temperature of your brooder based on your chicks’ behavior.

If the chicks are huddled together, then the brooder is too cold.  

If the chicks are getting as far away from the heat source as possible, then the brooder is too warm.

We used a thermometer while also watching our chicks’ behavior to make sure the temperature in the brooder was comfortable for our chicks.

Brooder Plate

Another option for a heat source for your chicks is a brooder plate.

A brooder plate is a heat plate that is on four legs so that the chickens can crawl under the brooder plate to get warm. This heat source most imitates the heat that chicks would get from a broody hen.

A brooder plate works best when the ambient temperature is above 50 degrees, which makes them ideal to use when you brood indoors.

If you plan on brooding your chicks in a very cold garage or barn, then a brooder plate might not be your best option for a heat source since it will not be able to get the chicks warm enough.

Brooder plates can only heat a certain number of chicks (as many as can fit under the plate). If you plan on brooding dozens of chicks, brooder plates might not be the most cost effective option. You will either need to buy a large brooder plate or get several small ones.

Brooder plates can be difficult to find if you live in a small town or city so you might need to order them online.

We looked at getting a brooder plate once we got our chicks but could not find one in the town we live, which is why we just kept the heat lamp that we already had.

If we were to raise chicks again we would most likely go with a brooder plate and order it well in advance.


Now that you have the environmental aspects of your brooder setup you will need to figure out what to do about the chicks’ feed and water.

Chicks can live up to 72 hours after hatching on the egg yolk alone. After that point you will need to provide them with food in an appropriate feeder.

A good feeder will allow all the chicks to eat without piling on top of each other. You also want something that keeps the chicks from spilling or kicking out the feed and making a mess. In addition, you will want to avoid a feeder that allows the chicks to poop into the feed.

Round Chick Feeder

The most common type of feeder is a round chick feeder.

It that holds several cups of food and as the chicks eat from the bottom it refills the feeding holes.

This design works well at preventing your chicks from kicking out the feed since the edges are raised and the size of the feeding holes are too small for the chick to put their entire body.

Another benefit of this type of feeder is that it’s similar to what most chicken keepers will use for their chickens as they become adults. This way the chicks don’t have to transition to a different type of feeder as they get older.

A drawback with this type of feeder is that you might have some chicks that want to perch on top of the feeder.

When chicks are perched on top of something their poop will fall down and you might have an issue of poop ending up in their feed.

Tray Feeder

A tray feeder, or trough, is another type of feeder.

This type of feeder is great if you have a lot of chicks you’re brooding at once.

You can easily fit dozens of chicks on a tray feeder where you might not be able to get more than that one dozen around a round feeder.

A drawback with this type of feeder is that it is super easy for chicks to knock it over and spill the feed.

Since it didn’t store much feed, we had to refill it more often than a round feeder.

In addition, since it’s so low to the ground chicks can easily poop into their feed.

We bought a chick starter kit (similar to this one) and it came with this type of feeder. We used it while the chicks were young but quickly transitioned to a round feeder as they got older.

We did reuse this feeder for storing grit for our chickens once they were older and in the big coop outside, so it wasn’t a total waste.

If we were to ever raise chicks again we would not use this type of feeder and would instead use a small round feeder.


There are several options when it comes to picking out the best waterer for your chick brooder.

Round Chick Waterer

A round chick waterer is similar to the basic chick feeder.

The water is gravity fed and allows multiple chicks to drink water at the same time.

Similar to the round feeders, you will have to watch to make sure your chicks don’t roost on top of the waterer and poop into the water.

Many chicken keepers will add rocks or marbles to their waterer to prevent their chicks from drowning.

When your chicks are a few days old you will need to make sure that none of them fall asleep with their heads in the waterer because they can end up drowning.

A major drawback to this type of waterer is that it can be very messy.

Chicks can easily spill water out of this waterer and it can get all over their bedding and leak through to the bottom of their brooder.

We used a small round waterer for our chicks and added rocks to the bottom. Because our chicks would kick their bedding into the waterer, we would have to empty the entire thing outside and replace the rocks into the water several times a day.

Round Waterer – On Adjustable Legs

This type of waterer is similar to the one above except it’s on legs.

The major benefit of this type of waterer is that it might be more difficult for your chicks to jump on top of the waterer, therefore resulting in less poop ending up in their water. 

The other benefit is that it will be more difficult for your chicks to spill the water on their bedding, resulting in less mess to clean up.

You can adjust the height of the legs as your chicks grow taller, making it a nice waterer that can grow with your flock.

Quail Waterer

Another option for a waterer for your chicks is a quail waterer.

This type of waterer is great for chicks as it’s made for smaller birds and you won’t have to add rocks or marbles to prevent your chicks from drowning.

I was not aware of quail waterers before I got my chicks but if we were to ever raise chicks again we would definitely use this type of waterer.

Nipple Waterer

A nipple waterer is good if you are only brooding a few chicks at a time since you can only water as many chicks as as you have nipples.

This type of waterer is great at preventing messes since the chicks are not able to splash around in the water. They will not be getting the the floor of their border as wet

You will also not have to deal with rocks and marbles in their waterer which makes clean up easier than the round waterers.

Also with this type of waterer you will not have to worry about chickens roosting on top and pooping into the water since the water reservoir is closed.

These types of waterers will often come with two types of nipples: a yellow vertical nipples and red horizontal nipple. Many people find that their chicks are able to use the red horizontal nipple easier than the other one.

We made a waterer for our full-grown chickens using the red horizontal nipples. After we showed them how it worked, they all caught on pretty quick. It’s a great system for keeping their water clean.


While chicks can survive up to 72 hours after hatching on their yoke alone you can start offering them chick starter feed right away.

Chicks have dietary requirements that are met by feeding them a chick starter feed.

Chick starter is high in protein at about 20% protein, which supports the rapid growth of chicks in their first few weeks of life.

You do not want to feed baby chicks a layer feed because it is too high in calcium, which is hard on their kidneys.

There are a few different options you have when it comes to selecting the starter feed that you feed your chicks.

Medicated Feed

The first type of feed that you can choose for your chicks is a medicated starter feed.

The medicated feed contains antibiotics, or coccidiostats, that prevents chicks from getting coccidiosis.

All chickens are exposed to cocci but baby chicks are more susceptible to developing coccidiosis which is a contagious disease and lead to death.

The main risk of chicks contracting coccidiosis is in an industrial farm environment where there is high stress from cramped living conditions, reduced access to fresh water and food, and a build-up of manure.

For chicks raised in a brooder at someone’s house, the risk developing coccidiosis is very small.

I personally don’t know any chicken keepers who’ve ever had to deal with coccidiosis

During my research for this disease, I have found that if you practice good animal husbandry then your flock does not possess a higher risk of catching this illness.

The main ways to prevent your chicks from getting coccidiosis is to ensure that they have fresh clean water and that poop does not get into their feed.

Generally people who breed checks for their backyard are not going to be at risk for this illness because it mostly affects large scale chicken breeders.

Non-Medicated Feed

You can also buy chick starter feed that is non-medicated and does not contain any antibiotics.

This is what we fed our chicks from the beginning and they were very healthy.

I was not concerned about my chicks getting coccidiosis so I did not think that a medicated feed was necessary for my chicks.

My opinion on medicated feed is that it’s not necessary for a backyard chicken keeper. The medicated feed is needed more for factory chickens given their living conditions and it is given to all chickens, whether they are sick or not. I prefer to have a more cautious approach to medication and do not medicate “just in case.” Who knows, the medicated feed might contribute to antibiotic resistant diseases in chickens if they are given by default to every single chicken and we know what the similar situation with antibiotics has done with humans.

Organic Feed

There are many options for organic chick starter feed. This type of feed is typically more expensive than traditional starter feed.

The ingredients are going to be of a higher quality but that comes with the price.

If you are highly conscientious about feeding your chicks an organic diet then this feed might be the best bet for you.

To learn more about what to feed chicks from 24 hours after hatching to 18 weeks of age, check out What to Feed Baby Chicks After Hatching.

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