Setting Up Your Outdoor Chicken Brooder

Convenient Outdoor Brooder with or without Chicken Brooder Plans

Setting Up Your Outdoor Chicken Brooder

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Everyone needs an outdoor chicken brooder, and I’ll tell you why. I can’t stand having chicks in my house. There, I said it. I said what everyone wants to say but won’t say. The dust, the smell of chick poop (mostly when they are older), and the peeping just isn’t the most convenient thing. The cute chick stage from hatch to about seven days old is just fine. It’s when they reach the “I want to fly out of the brooder and poop all over everything” stage that simply isn’t for me. So, we created an outdoor chicken brooder.

What we didn’t realize is that we could utilize this brooder for so many other things as well! When you’re not using it for chicks, you can use it for a sick hen, a broody hen, and even a quarantine area. The best part is that you don’t really need chicken brooder plans to set this up, and it’s pretty empowering to learn how to make your own chick brooder. It can be as simple as utilizing a rabbit hutch or stock tank, or as complicated as building your own brooder in your chicken coop. Baby chick brooder ideas and options are all around you!

Types of Chicken Brooders

There are a few ways you can set up an outdoor chicken brooder. First, you’ll need to figure out what structure is good for you. Each chicken keeper will have different needs based on their location and property. Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Rabbit Hutch: Something as convenient as a rabbit hutch makes a great outdoor brooder. Wire flooring will make it convenient for you to keep the area clean, and you can often find rabbit hutches locally for a great price.
  • Small Coop: One of the quickest ways to set up an outdoor chicken brooder is to buy a small, pre-fabricated coop. Most of these small coops have chicken runs attached, which is a great way to get your chicks on pasture as soon as possible. These will cost you anywhere from $200 up.
  • Galvanized Stock Tank: Most commonly seen at your farm store during chick season, you can use these outside as well. Just make sure they are in a covered area out of the wind and elements. You’ll also need to make some type of sturdy cover out of lumber and wire so that no predators can get into the tank, including mice and rats. These will generally start at $85 and go up from there, depending on the size.
  • Old Doghouse: Our very first outdoor brooder was made out of an old doghouse on our property. We built it up so that a heat lamp could be securely hung from the ceiling.
  • Make Your Own Brooder: If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or you want to make your own brooder, that’s possible too! I’d recommend making sure your homemade brooder has wire flooring. Trust me when I say, this is a lifesaver. Wire flooring is even safe enough for little chicks.

What You’ll Need For Your Outdoor Chicken Brooder

There are a few things you’ll need when setting up your outdoor chicken brooder. Some are obvious things, and then there are not so obvious things.

Heat Lamp and Lamp Hook
While there’s some debate on whether or not you should use a heat lamp outside, we use a heat lamp in our chick brooders because we have chicks in an outdoor chicken brooder with temperatures as low as 20 degrees at nights. Along with the heat lamp, you’ll need a lamp hook. This is the only way to make it safe. Clamping your heat lamp on isn’t safe in any situation. You’ll need to secure the lamp onto the hook (by hanging it) rather than clamping the heat lamp inside of the brooder. We also prefer to use large livestock heat lamps with large cages around them rather than the common heat lamps you get from your farm store.

The safest way to use a heat lamp in any outdoor brooder is to have the heat lamp far enough away so that the chicks can’t jump into it, or to place a layer of wire between the lamp and the chicks.

Chick Bedding
Most popular, pine shavings are a great bedding option no matter the brooder. You can also use straw or organic material, like dry leaves, from your yard.

Feed and Feeder
Make sure you are using a quality feed for your chicks –– medicated or non-medicated is a personal choice, though we prefer non-medicated. Have your feed on hand and ready to go before your chicks arrive. Along with the feed, you’ll need a feeder or two, depending on how many chicks you have.

Fresh Water and Waterer
Always make sure your chicks have fresh water each and every day. We even add herbs, like thyme, to our chick brooder waterer.

Managing Your Chicken Brooder

Now that you have your brooder set up, it’s time to put the chicks into the brooder and begin the management process. One of the first questions often asked in an outdoor brooder situation is “when can chicks go outside?” With a properly set up outdoor brooder, your chicks can go outside as soon as they arrive. However, if I am hatching chicks, I typically keep the chicks inside close to me for about four days and then take them out to the brooder.

Once your chicks have been transferred to the brooder, you’ll want to check on them several times a day the first two days to make sure they are warm enough and acclimating nicely. If they aren’t warm enough, they will huddle together constantly. If they are too hot, they will stay away from the heat lamp or they will be panting with wings spread out. Adjust your heat lamp accordingly.

One of the most important things to remember with an outdoor brooder is the weather. If it’s extremely cold, you’ll need to check on your chicks more often. But if it’s summertime (which is really the best time for outdoor brooder chicks) then you’ll often find that you need to turn the heat lamp completely off during the day.

No matter what brooder you decide to utilize, you’ll find yourself wondering why you didn’t create an outdoor brooder sooner! The ease of transition from coop to flock is astounding, especially if you raise your new babies beside your existing flock. And the clean up is a breeze!

Put this on your chicken to-do list for the next time you purchase or hatch chicks. You won’t regret it!

Originally published in the February/March 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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