It seems like there is no shortage of ideas when it comes to the best way to house your baby chicks. Some people have a dedicated outdoor space, while others go as simple as a cardboard box setup somewhere in their house. But there is another option…one that’s actually pretty ideal.
Unless you have an actual mother hen who is already committed to raising your chicks, then arguably the best place to set up your brooder is in the garage.
Brooder: House Vs. Garage
Knowing what to do with your baby chicks can be a little tricky. After all, that fragile little ‘cheeper’ is depending on you. Educating yourself, as the adopted ‘mother hen’ will go a long way towards ensuring your new chicks make it to adulthood – where they can provide you with some delicious eggs. The following are some tidbits as to why the garage is probably the best situation for both parties.
In Your House:
A) Temperature Control
- The most obvious advantage for having a brooder in the house is the temperature. Baby chicks like it warm and the inside of your house is generally going to be warmer than a garage. However, unless you’re willing to set the thermostat to 90 deg., then the chicks are going to need a heat lamp.
B) Being close
- Another obvious aspect is that you are constantly with them. Being able to keep eyes on your newest ‘little ones’ is going to give you peace of mind. Every time you hear the occasional chirp, you’ll tell yourself that all is well. And if you haven’t heard anything in a little while, then a quick glance inside will give you the assurance that you’re looking for.
A) The mess!
- The amount of waste generated by a chick in the first couple of weeks is pretty negligible. But chicks grow very fast! And what might be have been a non-event, suddenly becomes a growing issue.
- It is highly recommended that you put some sort of bedding down for your chicks. There are many options for this, but most people will use soft wood shavings. These shavings will absorb the waste, giving your chicks something dry to walk on, and this is good for their health. However, these shavings will have to be removed and replaced more often as the chicks grow. And I can tell you from personal experience, these shavings will go everywhere!
- Some of the chick’s waste is going to get through the shavings that cover the bottom of the brooder. This will definitely leave a stain. If caught early, you may be able to address the stain. But how do you see a potential mar on your flooring, when it is covered by two inches of wood shavings?
- As the chicks get more active, they will use their wings more. This fluttering around will not only kick up shavings, but dust from the brooder. Any little breeze will carry that combination of dried waste and wood dust through your house.
- Also, you can also count on their food and water being spilled. That feeder will very quickly become a practice perch for your chicks and if it’s not secured, it will get knocked over. This isn’t so bad for dry feed, but it’s a real problem for the water. Not only will it seep everywhere, making a wet mess for the chicks to be in, but could leave them dehydrated if not caught quickly.
B) The smell!
- As mentioned above, the waste generated by chicks just a few days old is next to nothing. But their capacity for waste grows quickly. And chicken poo does smell! Maybe not as bad as a pig, but you have to ask yourself, is it really healthy for my family to live with a miniature chicken coop in the house?
C) The noise!
- Chickens, adult and young alike, are most active in the daylight. And with the chicks needing those higher temperatures, you may find your heat lamp acting like a makeshift sun. At first, their little chirps are somewhat endearing at 2:00am. But fast forward a few weeks and those tiny chirps will turn to angry squawks as the birds squabble with each other.
In The Garage:
A) The mess.
- Baby chicks make a mess and fortunately, if your brooder is in the garage then so is their mess! Any spilled shavings are easily swept up with a broom. The same goes for any spilled food or dust kicked up by the active birds.
- Any stains that will inevitably make it through the wood shavings will be on the garage floor as opposed to interior flooring.
B) The smell.
- If your brooder is in the garage, then so is their smell. This means that you are NOT having to deal with the odor of chicken poo in your house; you know, where you eat, sleep and live. Also, if you do happen to go a little too long between cleanings, then a quick open of the garage door will vent out the space.
C) The noise.
- Chances are, you will not hear the birds unless they are making a real ruckus – and they will from time to time. On the rare occasion that you do hear them, feel free to check on them as sometimes things do go wrong. But it’s doubtful that they should wake you up at 2am.
A) Temperature control.
- Chances are, your garage will be cooler than the inside or your home. And temperature is absolutely crucial for your new chicks. Fortunately, the same heat lamp that you would have used inside your home will still work in the garage (provided you have access to a plug).
B) Out of sight.
- You might feel a little antsy not having the constant feedback of chirping and scratching from your new chicks. In truth, I check my chicks every 2 to 3 hours after getting them out of the box. A hatchling’s health can turn really fast, so the extra concern is initially warranted.
Brooder: Outdoors Vs. Garage
Ideally, the best situation for your chicks is to have their mama hen raise them. Nature has a worked a long time in developing the best kind of parentage for these little fuzz-balls. And most often this rearing process happens somewhere outdoors. But a mama hen isn’t always available for this job and so the task of deciding where the chicks should be raised falls on the new foster parent… namely you.
If you have a space outdoors that you feel would be ideal, here are some things to consider.
A Brooder Outdoors:
- The inevitable collection of next year’s fertilizer is kept completely away from you and your family. That means no risk of stains, smells, or loud squawks to wake you.
- If someone in your family has allergies, then the dust that emanates from your outdoor brooder has very little chance of finding its way into your home.
C) Dirt floors
- The risk of stains is null as dirt floors don’t care. The chicks bedding will still have to be changed, but any water that is spilled will simply soak into the ground.
D) Already outside
- Acclamation to the outdoors is a minimal process as the chicks will already be used to the busy environment.
- Any animal looking to feed on the chicks – and that list is quite extensive – will be much more apt to spend what time is necessary to get to the them. This means digging holes, chewing through wood or even simply reaching through wire fencing in order to grasp at the chicks.
- Heat is crucial for the chicks, especially early on. Consequently, the outdoor brooder must have the ability to regulate temperature – not always an easy task for an outdoor space as it will feel the full effects of the weather.
- The chicks must absolutely stay dry! With their limited ability to maintain body temperature, a wet chick and a breeze is a very bad combination.
D) Out of sight
- The simple task of putting on shoes and a jacket might seem like a chore when you’re checking on your new chicks every 2 to 3 hours. Also, you are less likely to hear them if something goes wrong when they are not easily accessible.
In The Garage:
A) Out of the elements
- By design, a garage is built to withstand the elements. Anything inside should be protected from things like snow, rain, wind or even direct sunlight. Putting your brooder inside the garage, will allow you to take advantage of this.
B) Better Against Predators
- While a garage isn’t always guaranteed to deter predators, it generally does a very good job of it; especially if the garage sees a lot of activity. Hunters like fox or raccoon are not keen on human encounters and will avoid us if at all possible. You are sure to make a lasting impression on any intruder should it creep it’s way in your garage, only to have you open the door and say ‘hi’. Add to that the smells of lawnmowers and other yard equipment, and the garage becomes fairly unappealing for predators.
C) Ease Of Access
- It’s amazing how much the simple act of sliding on a pair of easy-on-boots can be a hassle. With the brooder in the garage, you don’t have to worry about that. Shoes or no shoes, a simple skip to the brooder and back and you’ve updated yourself on the chicks well-being.
- As previously mentioned, the bigger the chicks get, the more their wings kick up dust. And while this dust doesn’t move around your house so much as it would if the brooder was indoors, it will get all over your vehicles.
B) Loss Of Floor Space
- Depending on your situation, the right sized brooder shouldn’t prevent you from parking your car in the garage. However, it might move the lawnmower outside for a month or so as you wait for the outdoors to warm up.
C) Stains On Drywall
- Chickens poo a lot. And believe it or not, the poo will occasionally be shot horizontally. If your brooder is up against drywall, then make sure you have some sort of protective covering (we stand used pizza boxes up). Otherwise, any waste that gets shot out will leave a stain that just doesn’t clean up.
What Makes A Good Brooder – For Chicks?
A good brooder provides three things: heat, protection and space.
In larger operations, it’s not uncommon for farmers to hold chicks in multiple brooders. A small brooder is easier to heat, something the newly hatched really need. But as the chicks get older, they get rambunctious. So a brooder that is too small will actually cause stress as the birds begin to fight with one another. At this time, the chicks would get moved to a bigger brooder, where less supplemental heat is needed.
However, the average backyard hobby farmer isn’t going to raise chickens in these kinds of numbers. So it’s best to build a brooder that will function from the time your chicks arrive until it is time for them to leave.
We have found that for chicks numbering less than a dozen, a 2ft. by 8ft. brooder – running parallel to the garage wall – works perfectly.
When you hang the heat lamp, try and hang it towards one end of the brooder. The chicks will regulate their temperature by how close they sit in regards to the lamp.
For example, if you look in the brooder and the chicks are huddled directly under the heat lamp then they are probably cold. Consider lowering the heat lamp and possibly putting an old sheet over the unused section of the brooder. The sheet should cut down on heat loss and lowering the lamp will get them closer to the heat they so desperately need.
If you look in the brooder the chicks are far away from the heat lamp, then you know that they’re too hot. Consider raising the heat lamp or even turning it off for a bit. This is also a good time to make sure their water is full and easily accessible.
What is really great about the 2ft. by 8ft. brooder is the 8ft. length provides them a chance to run – and this is more important the closer they get to moving outdoors. While a 4ft. by 4ft. brooder might have the same area, the 8ft. length doubles the time they can run.
What Makes A Good Brooder – For The Hobby Farmer?
Quick to assemble/disassemble.
In our case, the chicks never stay in the brooder any longer than 8 weeks. We have found that this is the perfect time to ‘graduate’. The birds are still quite young, but the bulk of their growth is done. More importantly, depending on the breed, they should be completely feathered and capable of regulating their body heat.
So if there isn’t anyone using it, why let it take up valuable floor space in your garage?
For this reason, a brooder that is easy to put together and take apart again is only going to make your life easier.
While definitely having a purpose, a chicken brooder is no prized furniture. You may very well feel the urge to display it, but just remember, it’s going to have poo on it at some point. Consequently, you may not want to put a lot of money into it.
Remember, this is temporary housing for the chicks. Your goal should be to get them out of the brooder and into the backyard where they can eat bugs for you. So whatever you build, make sure that you can disassemble it and store it someplace out of the way. A cluttered garage just makes things difficult.
If you want to know how to build an awesome garage brooder (that looks better than the one in the picture), then check out How To Build The Perfect Brooder For Less Than $20.