Hatching Time. 3 yellow Baby chickens in grass.

How do you prepare a brooder for baby chicks?

As we begin our winter thaw and look forward to spring, we start to think about how to be prepared for hatching of baby chicks.

How to Begin

New life represents the future of the flock and, as such, the health of these new chicks will be of upmost importance. Young birds are more susceptible to disease, similarly to how children can have more vulnerable immune systems than adults, so it's crucial to be ready of preparing for our very first chicks. One of the main reasons young chicks get sick is due to stress. For a young chick, stress can come in many forms: overcrowding, temperature (too hot or too cold), improper food, or poor housing conditions.

How to set up a chicken brooder for baby chicks? It is of utmost importance to turn the brooder’s heating unit on 72 hours before the chicks arrive. This will provide you an opportunity to notice any problems that may exist in the brooder, while also allowing the unit to reach optimal temperature before the chicks arrive.

Ideal housing for young chicks, allows them the ability to move closer to, or further away from, a heat source. It also provides them multiple ways to access food and water, and an enclosed structure that prevents drafts. The heat source is important when it comes to raising chicks. It needs to be monitored as well as adjusted to change with the needs of growing chicks.

"My chicks seem to absolutely love the Chicken Brooder Setup Design"

- Lydia P.

Starting Temperatures

It is recommended to start the chick brooder at a temperature of 93F. Use a thermometer periodically to test the temperature within the brooder at multiple spots. The 93F is just a recommendation and the chicks will actually provide the best temperature monitoring if you watch them closely. If they huddle under the heat source, then the brooder is too cold. If the chicks are seen only far away from the light, then it is too hot. Ideally, chicks should be spread out in the brooder, actively moving and exploring, with some chicks around the food and water, some under the heater, and some near the edges.

It is also very important to watch the chicks to see if they huddle to one side of the brooder indicating a draft. A draft could lower the temperature in the brooder so much that it could make the chickens more susceptible to illness, even though you have done everything right to ensure the proper temperature for the chicks. This is why it is important that the brooder is enclosed and free from drafts.


When deciding on housing, it is important to realize chicken and game bird become accustomed to the environment in which they live. Purchase a chick brooder / chick pen that uses drinking equipment similar to that which they will be using as adults. If they will be using an automatic drinker system in the laying cage, but are raised on a water bottle type feeder, they may not know how to use the automatic drinking system when the time comes. Dehydration will then become a threat. It is best to either raise the birds on an automatic waterer from start to finish or take the time to teach birds how to use the automatic drinker when they are moved.


Moving to the food chicks are being fed, it is important not only to buy the right food for new chicks, but also to make sure you have the proper food for all stages of a bird’s life. Young chicks are one of the fastest growing animals in the world, and due to their rapid growth rate, they need a higher percentage of protein in their diet compared to older chickens. When looking at egg laying chickens, young chicks require much less calcium than do adult layers, since they are not actively laying eggs. If they are fed the same amount of calcium as actively laying chickens, they could experience calcium overdose. This is why it is important to buy food specifically created for young chicks (starter feed) and not use laying hen food. Comfortplast brooding system is recommended.

It is also important to check the height of the feeders and waterers to ensure the birds can easily reach both. It is usually best for feeders to be on the ground for young chicks so they can reach the food easily.

"My chicks are warm and happy"

- Larry S.


It is especially important, when raising young chicks, to think about biosecurity. In a nutshell, biosecurity is taking preventative measures to reduce the risk of your birds getting sick. Since young chicks are more susceptible to disease, greater precautions should be taken. One simple biosecurity method would be to always check your young chicks before combining them with your older birds. The older birds may carry diseases that could potentially infect young birds. You can decrease risk by always checking your birds’ health and insuring you take biosecurity measures. An example of this would be changing your clothes and washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water after caring for older chickens and before checking in on young chicks. This will reduce the risk of spreading disease.

Another biosecurity measure you can take with young birds is to quarantine any birds that appear sick. Common signs of illness are: weakness, lethargy, coughing, and sneezing. When you see signs of illness, it is important to quarantine that bird from the rest of the flock. Your quarantined bird, or birds, should have no contact with the healthy birds. Also remember, chickens give off heat that is used to warm those around them. If you have a bird in quarantine, it is a good idea to increase the temperature so that bird is in a comfortable environment. It is also a good idea to check on sick birds after all the other birds so you don’t accidentally spread disease throughout your flock. If you must check on the other birds after having checked on sick birds, then you should change your clothes and shoes and wash your hands with soap and water.

Final Thoughts

While it is very exciting whenever new birds come into a flock, it is also very important to take precautions to ensure you are prepared for the new birds. By setting up the brooder ahead of time and checking the temperature, it can help reduce the risk of disease in your new birds. Taking these extra steps may require additional time now, but will save you time and money in the future and improve the welfare of the new birds coming into your flock.

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Written by Theo Derksen, M.S.

Poultry Industry Expert | Hatching Time

Theo received his bachelors in animal science from Cornell University focusing his research on increasing omega-3 fatty acids in chicken eggs for human consumption. Theo then earned his master's degree from UC Davis in animal biology where he focused on biosecurity and respiratory diseases in backyard chickens.