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Temperature Chart and Supplies ~ Homestead and Chill

Are you raising baby chicks for the first time, or simply looking for some fresh brooder ideas and tips? This article will explore everything you need to know to set up a chick brooder, including the supplies needed, heater options, a week-by-week temperature chart by week, easy DIY chick brooder box ideas, size requirements, and more. With these tips, your chicks will be happy, healthy and safe in your care!

To learn even more about raising baby chicks, including food, water, and important health needs, please see: Raising Baby Chicks 101: The Best Beginner’s Guide.

What is a Chick Brooder?

A chick brooder, also known as a brooder box, offers baby chicks a safe warm space to live during their first most vulnerable weeks of life. A brooder is essential for chicks to survive without a mother hen, who would normally tuck the chicks under her body for warmth. The brooder contains their food, water, and a source of heat. It also keeps them safe from predators, including wildlife or pets.

An image of younger chicks hanging out in their chicken wire lined space. An image of younger chicks hanging out in their chicken wire lined space.

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Where to Set Up a Brooder

You can set up a chick brooder inside your house in a spare room, laundry room or bathroom – which will make it easy to maintain the right temperature and watch over the chicks. However, keep in mind that chicks create a lot of dander and dust, so it’s best to keep the brooder away from the kitchen, bedrooms, or main living quarters. We always run an air purifier in our brooder room to help keep the dust down.

You can also set up a brooder in a garage or other protected outdoor location (such as a shed or chicken coop) as long as it’s warm enough and shielded from the elements or temperature swings. If you set up a brooder inside a chicken coop, it’s important that the adult chickens do not have access to the chicks.

Plan to set up the brooder in advance, so everything is ready and waiting as soon as your chicks arrive. See a complete list of supplies and DIY brooder box ideas to follow.

An image of a large plywood square that will be used as a chick brooder idea. A heat lamp is on and suspended above the brooder to gauge the temperature at the floor level. A cat is peaking out of the brooder as it doesn't have chicks in it at this point.  An image of a large plywood square that will be used as a chick brooder idea. A heat lamp is on and suspended above the brooder to gauge the temperature at the floor level. A cat is peaking out of the brooder as it doesn't have chicks in it at this point.
We usually set up our chick brooder in a spare room in our house, with the door closed to keep the kitties out. (This was before the chicks arrived – the cats were making sure the temperature was just right.)

Brooder Supplies

The following supplies are needed to set up a chick brooder:

  • A brooder box, made from a sturdy structure or container. See DIY brooder box ideas below, along with size guidelines for how much brooder space to provide per chick.
  • A lid or cover for the brooder, to keep the baby chicks IN and unwanted visitors (like cats or dogs) out. Chicks will be able to jump out of the brooder or on top of the walls within a couple weeks! The brooder cover must be breathable and secure. Wire fencing like hardware cloth or chicken wire is a great option.
  • A heat source, such as a traditional red heat lamp (outfitted in a lamp fixture with a bulb guard), or a radiant heat plate. The pros and cons of both brooder heater options are explored more below.
  • Bedding: A chick brooder needs absorbent non-slip bedding on the floor. Popular brooder bedding options include pine or aspen shavings, hemp bedding, coarse sand, or chopped straw. Never use cedar products (which is toxic to chickens) or cat litter (which they’ll likely eat and could lead to intestinal blockage). Newspaper also isn’t recommended as it’s slippery and can cause a condition called splay leg. Weigh the pros and cons of various brooder bedding options here.
  • Food and water containers, like this simple set. Use small containers designed for chicks, which are most safe and take up the least room in their brooder. See our Raising Baby Chicks guide for more information about chick starter feed, adding electrolytes to water, and more.
  • A thermometer, placed at chick (floor) level in the brooder.
  • A short sturdy roost, such as the example shown below. This gives the chicks something to play on, as well as practice sleeping on a roost. Flat wide roosts are easier and more comfortable for chickens to perch on compared to round dowels.
  • Optional: other entertainment, like a small mirror. Yes, chicks enjoy looking at themselves! Some folks also put a small container of sand or dirt as a chick dust bath (doubling as a source of grit) but baby chicks don’t need grit when they’re indoors and eating their specialized chick feed only.
An above image of a rectangular space with a number of younger chicks in it. There is a radiant heat plate, feeder, and waterer inside the space. An above image of a rectangular space with a number of younger chicks in it. There is a radiant heat plate, feeder, and waterer inside the space.
A close up image of four baby chicks, two of which are standing on a short roost while the other two and standing in front of it. A close up image of four baby chicks, two of which are standing on a short roost while the other two and standing in front of it.

DIY Chick Brooder Box Ideas

You can make a DIY brooder out of a variety of materials such as a large plastic storage tote, metal tub or stock tank, thick cardboard, or a homemade plywood box. I’ve even seen folks use portable cribs (like a Pack N Play), old aquarium tanks, wire dog crates lined with cardboard, or a dog playpen to make a brooder. Any sturdy structure with a lid that meets the size requirements (explained below) will work! 

See this post for 11 Easy DIY Chick Brooder Box Ideas including more photos, inspo, and details.

A three way image collage of baby chick brooder ideas. The first image shows a small metal stock tank with chicken wire placed over the top and clamps used to secure it to the rim. The second image shows a similar stock tank with a wooden frame that is lined with hardware cloth as the cover. There are two handles that are attached to the lid so you can easily remove it. The third image is a longer stock tank with hardware cloth laying over the top of it. There are a number of chicks inside along with a feeder, waterer, and heat lamp suspended above. A three way image collage of baby chick brooder ideas. The first image shows a small metal stock tank with chicken wire placed over the top and clamps used to secure it to the rim. The second image shows a similar stock tank with a wooden frame that is lined with hardware cloth as the cover. There are two handles that are attached to the lid so you can easily remove it. The third image is a longer stock tank with hardware cloth laying over the top of it. There are a number of chicks inside along with a feeder, waterer, and heat lamp suspended above.
DIY stock tank chick brooders (Images via Pinterest 1, 2, and 3)
A two way image collage, the first image shows DeannaCat sitting in a portable dog pen with three baby chicks visible inside. She is holding one of them as it roosts on her hand. The second image shows two portable dog pens that have been connected together resembling a figure eight, they are being used as a large chick brooder. A two way image collage, the first image shows DeannaCat sitting in a portable dog pen with three baby chicks visible inside. She is holding one of them as it roosts on her hand. The second image shows two portable dog pens that have been connected together resembling a figure eight, they are being used as a large chick brooder.
In the past, we used plastic storage tote for 1-3 week old chicks, then upgraded to a large homemade plywood box. We’re getting 14 new chicks soon, and plan to use this portable dog playpen as a brooder (one when they’re 1-3 weeks old, then connect two together as they get older). It’s generous size, enclosed zipper top, and waterproof bottom (removable) make it the perfect easy and convenient brooder!

Size Requirements

FAQ: How much brooder space per chick?

When chicks are one to four weeks old, provide a minimum of ½ square foot of brooder space per chick. As they get larger (4 weeks and older) it’s best to upgrade to 1 or 2 square feet per chick. We typically start our chicks out in a smaller brooder (which is easier to keep warm and maintain) and then move them to a larger one at week 3 or 4. 

A three way image collage, the first image shows a large square box which was made out of plywood. There is a heat lamp suspended over the top while hardware cloth and a sheet are being used as a lid. The second image shows the floor of a brooder, the lamp is suspended in the middle while the chicks peck around at their feed and water. There is a small mirror and a temperature gauge located on the ground as well. The third image shows the space with slightly larger birds, a small roost has been added to their space. A three way image collage, the first image shows a large square box which was made out of plywood. There is a heat lamp suspended over the top while hardware cloth and a sheet are being used as a lid. The second image shows the floor of a brooder, the lamp is suspended in the middle while the chicks peck around at their feed and water. There is a small mirror and a temperature gauge located on the ground as well. The third image shows the space with slightly larger birds, a small roost has been added to their space.
These four chicks had a pretty generously-sized brooder. We built a 4×4 foot plywood box, but added a temporary wall in the middle to keep them contained to only half of the brooder (a 2×4 foot space) for the first few weeks. Once they got larger, we removed the middle wall.

Heater Options

The two most common chick brooder heater options include a classic heat lamp or a radiant heat plate. There are a number of pros and cons to both, explored below.

Heat Lamps

Heat lamps are inexpensive and effective, but must be used with extreme caution since they can be a fire hazard. It is crucial to hang them in a very secure manner so they can’t tip over or touch anything around them. It’s also important to be able to easily adjust the height of the light to increase or decrease the temperature in the brooder as needed – monitored with a thermometer on the floor of the brooder.

It’s best to use a RED heat lamp bulb for your brooder. Chicks need to sleep and rest often; clear or white heat lamps are too obnoxiously bright to have on 24/7. We use a sturdy drum cymbal stand to hang our light.

An above image of a large plastic tote with a heat lamp hanging above it. There is a small feeder and waterer on one end of the tote. This type of chick brooder is a good idea for very young chicks, however, they will quickly outgrow their space. An above image of a large plastic tote with a heat lamp hanging above it. There is a small feeder and waterer on one end of the tote. This type of chick brooder is a good idea for very young chicks, however, they will quickly outgrow their space.
A red heat lamp hung over a small DIY brooder made from a plastic storage tub. (Chicks will outgrow this within a few weeks.)

Radiant Heat Plates

Modern radiant heat plates are generally regarded as the safest brooder heater option, with virtually no risk of fire. They closely mimic the natural heat of a mother hen, where chicks can choose to duck under the heater when they’re feeling cold or go out to play once they’re warm enough.

If you use a radiant heat plate, you must also keep a light on nearby all times so chicks can find their food and water. They cannot see in the dark! A dim lamp is fine for overnight. 

While radiant heat plates cost more than heat lamps upfront, they are more efficient and require less energy to use. However, since the heat is concentrated around the plate (rather than warming the entire brooder) these may not be the best option if your brooder is located in a very cold location, like an uninsulated shed or garage in winter.

TIP: Choose a brooder heat plate that has a domed lid on top, which prevents the chicks from roosting (and pooping) on top.

Baby chicks are huddled underneath a radiant heat plate. Baby chicks are huddled underneath a radiant heat plate.
A large wooden box full of shavings and a radiant heat plate in the middle. There are four waterers attached to a side wall with feeder full of feed. A large wooden box full of shavings and a radiant heat plate in the middle. There are four waterers attached to a side wall with feeder full of feed.
Though radiant heat plates are “safer” (for fire), be sure to double and triple check they’re on and working! I’ve heard horror stories about one breaking, and the person didn’t realize it in time and lost all their chicks.

Chick brooder temperature chart by week

The temperature in a chick brooder starts out very warm (90-95°F degrees the first week) and then slowly decreases week-by-week as chicks become older and their feathers fill in. Check the thermometer inside the brooder (at chick/floor level) regularly and adjust the heat lamp height and temperature as needed. The chick’s behavior will also tell you if they’re too hot or too cold, discussed more below.

  • Week 1: 90-95°F (32-35°C)
  • Week 2: 85-90°F (30-32°C)
  • Week 3: 80-85°F (27-30°C). Start short trips outside on warm sunny days.
  • Week 4: 75-80°F (24-37°C). Gradually increase short trips outside.
  • Week 5: 70-75°F (21-24°C). We may start turning off the brooder heater during the day at this time, depending on the temperature inside.
  • Week 6: 65-70°F (18-21°C) Since our brooder is in the house, we often completely remove the brooder heater at this point.
  • Week 7: 60-65°F (15-18°C) In our temperate climate, we usually move the chicks outside by week 7. Learn more about deciding exactly when to move chicks outside below.
  • Week 8: 50-60°F (10-15°C) – Time to move outside!
A graphic of a chick brooder temperature chart which shows what temperature the brooder should be during each week of the baby chickens life. A graphic of a chick brooder temperature chart which shows what temperature the brooder should be during each week of the baby chickens life.

Chick behavior and temperature

A comfortable chick will be a nice balance of active and sleepy. They should be able to get closer or further away from the light (or heat plate) freely. Maintain their food and water near the edge of their comfort zone, so they don’t need to be too heated or chilled to eat and drink.

When they’re too cold, chicks may run around and chirp very loudly, or huddle together directly under the light. 

When chicks are too hot, they will try to move as far away from the heat lamp as possible, staying around the perimeter of the brooder or sleeping away from the light. They also act more lethargic and sprawl out (though baby chicks take a lot of naps regardless). When very overheated, chicks may also pant. 

A large cardboard box is being used for baby poultry. There are shavings in the bottom of the box with a heat lamp suspended over the middle of the box. The baby birds are huddled around the edge of the box as it may be too warm underneath the light. A large cardboard box is being used for baby poultry. There are shavings in the bottom of the box with a heat lamp suspended over the middle of the box. The baby birds are huddled around the edge of the box as it may be too warm underneath the light.
When I saw this image on Pinterest, my first thought was: I think those chicks might be too hot. See how they’re all gathered in the farthest corners of the brooder, away from the heat lamp?

How long do chicks stay in a brooder?

Chicks usually stay in a brooder for 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the time of year and temperature outside. Most chicks are fully-feathered by 6 to 7 weeks old, and may be moved outdoors to a protected coop if the overnight lows are not below 50-55 degrees at this time (considering a draft-free coop with bedding will be several degrees warmer inside, and the chicks will also huddle together for warmth). 

If overnight outdoor temperatures are around 45-50°F, wait until the chicks are 7 or 8 weeks old to move them outside. When overnight temperatures dip below 40-45°F, offer additional heat in the coop for a few more weeks.

Related: Learn more about how to keep chickens warm in winter or cold weather in this detailed guide. Also visit our Beginner’s Guide on Raising Baby Chicks for more information about moving chicks outside, including how to introduce and add new chicks to an existing flock.

An image of a coop window where four younger chicks are huddled around the window, looking at the outside world in wonder. An image of a coop window where four younger chicks are huddled around the window, looking at the outside world in wonder.
Our girls the first night they moved outside to the coop (about 7 weeks here).

Brooder Cleaning

FAQ: How often to clean a chick brooder?

It’s important to keep your chick brooder clean, especially to keep the chick’s food and water free of litter and poop. The number of chicks in the brooder will dictate just how often it needs to be cleaned. We pick out droppings daily, and then completely change the bedding once every week or two. Keeping the brooder clean will also help keep unpleasant odors to a minimum. Clean water containers at least daily.

A close up image from above of four baby chicks standing near their feeder. A mirror is nearby and pine shavings cover the floor, the walls being made of plywood.A close up image from above of four baby chicks standing near their feeder. A mirror is nearby and pine shavings cover the floor, the walls being made of plywood.

And that’s how to set up a chick brooder!

I hope this guide gave you plenty of useful information, tips, and easy DIY chick brooder ideas. Now, I’m sure you’re eager to get your chicks home and watch them grow! Learn 5-tell tale signs and more tips about when do chickens start laying eggs here. Finally, please enjoy browsing the related articles below, and let us know if you have any questions in the comments!


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DeannaCat signature, keep on growing.DeannaCat signature, keep on growing.

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