How Long Should Chicks Stay in the Brooder?

Welcome to a comprehensive exploration of raising chicks!

chicks in a brooder

How long should chicks stay in the brooder is a question often posed by backyard chicken farmers and chicken enthusiasts alike. The proper care of chicks requires careful attention to detail, appropriate temperatures, and accurate knowledge of the chick’s age and size.

In the diverse world of hatching and raising chicks, creating the right conditions for their early days is the key to helping them flourish and grow. Chicks will grow at a surprising rate. They don’t stay fluffy and adorable for long, so enjoy every minute of their tiny cuteness.

Keeping chicks in a brooder should mimic the environment created by a mother hen caring for her chicks. I’m amazed at how easy it is for hens to do all the things necessary for their little ones because, for a human, the process demands close attention to temperature variables and food requirements. Getting the brooding phase right, like how a mother hen behaves around her chicks, lays the groundwork for healthy and thriving chickens.

Overview of the Incubation and Brooding Process

The process of getting chicks from eggs to fluffy little creatures involves a series of steps. It’s not just about seeing eggs turn into adorable chicks, it’s about setting up an environment where these little ones can grow well.

Incubation Period

So, what’s incubation? It’s the process where eggs turn into chirping baby chicks under the warmth of heat lamps, humidity requirements, and proper turning. If this is your first time incubating eggs, you’ll want to check out our incubation post. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t succeed the first time around. There’s science involved that should seem straightforward, but when creating life, there are some undefined factors that can’t be controlled. My advice is not to give up entirely but to try again. Review the known requirements and be even more particular. Soon, you’ll have a small flock of your own.

Ideal Conditions for Incubation

Let’s talk about the conditions needed during incubation. Imagine a warm, cozy nest – that’s what we’re aiming for. The heat lamp serves as the heat source mimicking the mother hen’s warmth, and the temperature should be just right, not too hot or too cold.

Humidity is like a spa day for the eggs. The right amount of humidity in the air keeps the eggs from drying out.

Turning the eggs? It’s like giving them a little workout to prevent sticking issues.

The right food, for post-incubation, is another important ingredient to achieve success with this process.

Duration of Incubation

chick and clock

How long does this adventure last? The answer is pretty tight. Twenty-one days to 21-days and six hours.

Signs of a Developing Embryo

Ever wondered how you can tell if an egg is on its way to becoming a chicken? You can’t tell by just looking at them. And, since we don’t want to crack them open, we have to come up with another method.

The first step would be to incubate them for a few days. Next, you’re going to “candle” them.

Candling involves entering a dark room and illuminating the underside of the egg’s larger end with a bright light. If the egg is fertile, you will observe a dark spot near the middle, accompanied by the development of delicate, spider-like veins surrounding it.

Hatching Process

It’s not just about eggs cracking open and chicks popping out; it’s a meticulously choreographed sequence of events.


The first act in this avian drama is pipping. Picture a tiny beak breaking through the eggshell – it’s like the chick’s way of saying, “Hello world, here I come!” Pipping marks the beginning of the end of their shell-bound abode.


Now, we move on to the main event – hatching. It’s the grand finale where the chick emerges, often wet and a bit bedraggled, into the world. It’s a sight to behold and signifies the successful completion of their journey from egg to independent chick. The chicks will be wet but should fluff up soon.

newborn baby chicks

Importance of Patience During the Hatching Phase

In this process, patience is not just a virtue—it’s absolutely essential. If there’s one vital lesson for farmers and enthusiasts alike to take away, it’s to remember that hatching, much like good farming, cannot be rushed. The chicks will enter the world in their own time and fashion.

While it might be tempting to intervene and assist the struggling chick, allowing nature to take its course is crucial. When they finally emerge and are transferred to the brooder box, patience during this phase ensures that the chicks have the best chance for a strong start in life, with the warmth of the brooder’s box offering them a safe place.

Side Note: There is no way to tell if a chick is a male or female.

Transferring Chicks from the Incubator to the Brooder

Chicks generally stay in the incubator for 24 hours after hatching. This allows their feathers to completely dry out before they are moved.

Once in the brooder, they will need to be kept at 90-95 degrees for the first week. Every week after that, you can decrease the temperature in the brooder by five degrees to acclimate them to the temperature they will have when they move into the coop.

Setting Up the Brooder Environment

Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the brooder box setup. A waterer is an essential component in this setup, providing the chicks with a source of hydration. Please let us know if you have any comments or suggestions about the ideal brooder box setup.

In every sense of this backyard operation, from the brooder box to availability of water and feed, the key is to emulate their natural environment while providing a comfort level that ensures healthy growth and development.

baby chicks in a cardboard box

We use a trough for our brooder box. Hanging a heat lamp over one side allows the chicks to gather to get warm or move away if they feel too hot. We also provide a waterer and feeder with chicken starter. This is a specially formulated meal for baby chicks. At the bottom of the trough, we place wood shavings to help with the poop problem. The shavings clump together and make it easy to keep the chicks’ space clean.

If you don’t have a trough on hand, you can use a cardboard box or buy a brooder from your local chicken or farm supply store.

We keep our brooder in the basement because we have curious neighbor dogs with a shifty look about them.

Beware, chickens will quickly outgrow a brooder, and you’ll need a space to keep them outside sooner than you think. There’s nothing like turning the corner in your basement and finding a hen perched atop Grandma’s organ! If I could teach them to pay, I’d make a fortune.

Observation and Care

Now, let’s talk about the watchful eyes and attentive care needed during those crucial first hours of your backyard chicken livestock.

Be sure to monitor that temperature and adjust it as needed. Chicks don’t have proper feathers to help them regulate their body temperature, so they’ll need you to do that for them. Start with the temp at 95 degrees. Each week, decrease that by 5 degrees until you get to 75 degrees or the outside temperature. At that point, you can move them outdoors.

Providing Appropriate Feed and Water

Fueling our growing performers, who are busily exploring the sides of the brooder box, is a top priority. Ensuring a proper waterer and feeder placement guarantees their needs are met as they get accustomed to their new home.

For every 25 chicks, you’ll want to provide two 1-quart waterers per day. Place them out from under the heat lamp and make sure the water is at room temperature before serving.

For food, you’ll need about 1 pound of feed per chick per week.

Recognizing Signs of Stress or Illness

Recognizing signs of stress or illness is crucial. If a chick is lethargic, off its feed, or seems to be opposed to nesting with the others, it’s like being attuned to the subtle cues that tell us if our little fluff balls are feeling under the weather or need an extra dose of care.

If your chick is gasping for air, she may have a lung sickness and need medicine. Consult a veterinarian.

Importance of Socialization Among Chicks

Your chicks need socialization as much as they need their roost. It’s not just about flapping wings and chirping; socializing among chicks is crucial for their mental well-being. They’re flock animals and need other birds to be happy.

Cleaning and Maintaining the Brooder

Now, let’s talk about the behind-the-scenes work – from scraping the floor to replenishing the shavings– that encompasses cleaning and maintaining the brooder, whether it’s housed in cardboard, a horse trough, or another material.

baby chicken sweeping

Daily Spot Checks: Perform quick daily spot checks to remove any visible droppings or wet bedding. This helps in maintaining a hygienic environment and prevents the buildup of harmful bacteria.

Weekly Deep Clean: Undertake a more thorough cleaning at least once a week. This involves changing all bedding material, scrubbing surfaces, and ensuring that feeders and waterers are sanitized.

Adjust Cleaning Frequency Based on Needs: Depending on the number of chicks, the size of the brooder, and local conditions, you might need to adjust the cleaning frequency. A larger brooder or a higher number of chicks may necessitate more frequent cleaning.

Importance of Keeping a Brooder Clean

Maintaining a clean brooder is not just about aesthetics; it profoundly impacts the health and development of your chicks. Here’s why cleanliness is paramount:

Prevents Disease Spread: Regular cleaning helps mitigate the risk of disease transmission. Accumulated droppings and soiled bedding can harbor harmful pathogens. Keeping the brooder clean reduces the chances of your chicks falling ill. Not to mention, it helps the smell. If you have your brooder in the basement or garage, you’ll want to make sure the air stays fresh.

Optimizes Growth: A clean environment supports optimal growth. Chicks are sensitive to their surroundings, and a hygienic brooder ensures they can thrive without the stress of unclean conditions.

Regulates Temperature: Clean bedding allows for better temperature regulation. A buildup of waste can affect insulation, making it harder to maintain the desired temperature in the brooder.

Enhances Comfort: Chicks, much like any performer, appreciate a clean and comfortable space. A well-maintained brooder contributes to the overall well-being and contentment of your feathered friends.

Duration in the Brooder

You’ve got everything set up and are humming along when, all of a sudden, you start to wonder how long this will last. These hens are growing quickly and you don’t want them cramped or breaking free.

In general, you’ll want to leave your chicks in the brooder for 3-6 weeks. The reason there is a three-week variance is that the weather outside might be frightful, and you don’t want to toss three-week-old chicks out in the cold. However, there’s no point keeping them inside longer than necessary, especially if the weather is pleasant.

Feather Growth and Temperature Tolerance

As our chicks feather out, fluffed and puffed, ready for the roost, it’s a sign they are gearing up for the next act. Monitoring their feather growth and adjusting their location accordingly will help them be happy birds. Chickens are curious by nature and a new environment will stimulate their minds.

Gradual Adjustment to Outdoor Conditions

Imagine the chicks’ safe and cozy brooder is a cardboard box from which the bulb of comfort glows. Now, picture those same chicks outside, not knowing where to go for warmth and having to regulate their own temperature. Much like you put seedlings outside in the spring to acclimate them to the climate, you’ll want to gradually increase your chicks’ time outdoors.

Signs that Chicks are Ready to Leave the Brooder

baby chicks looking grown up and ready to go out into the world
  1. Feather Development: When chicks begin to exhibit well-developed feathers, especially on their wings and bodies, it’s a sign that they are growing sufficiently and becoming more capable of regulating their body temperature. Feathers provide insulation, and the presence of a full coat indicates readiness for the transition.
  2. Active Exploration: Chicks that show increased activity, curiosity, and a desire to explore beyond the confines of the brooder suggest a readiness for a larger living space. Active exploration is a positive indicator of their developing strength and confidence.
  3. Minimal Huddling: In the early days, chicks often huddle together for warmth and security. As they mature, you’ll notice less frequent huddling, and they may prefer to spread out or perch on the edges of the brooder. Reduced huddling signals their ability to regulate body temperature independently.
  4. Appetite and Water Consumption: Chicks ready for a larger space generally display a healthy appetite and increased water consumption. Their growing bodies require more sustenance, and a consistent and robust feeding pattern is indicative of their readiness to move beyond the brooder.
  5. Minimal Distress Vocalization: While occasional peeping and chirping are normal forms of chick communication, excessive distress vocalization can signal discomfort or stress. If chicks seem calm, content, and relatively quiet during periods of rest, it suggests they are adapting well and may be ready for a less confined environment.

Integration into the Coop

Not only is it important to gradually introduce your chicks to a change in temperature, but you’ll want to introduce them to the rest of the flock slowly.

hen and baby chick
  1. Establishing Pecking Order: Chickens have a hierarchical social structure known as the pecking order. When new chicks are introduced, existing flock members may need time to establish a new pecking order that accommodates the newcomers. Introducing them gradually minimizes aggressive behaviors and allows for a more orderly integration.
  2. Preventing Aggression: Existing adult chickens may view new chicks as intruders or potential threats. A slow introduction allows the adult chickens to gradually become accustomed to the sight, sound, and smell of the chicks, reducing the likelihood of aggressive behaviors.
  3. Minimizing Stress: Abrupt introductions can be stressful for both the established flock and the new chicks. Stress can negatively impact the health of the birds and hinder their ability to adapt to the new environment. A gradual introduction helps minimize stress and allows for a smoother transition.
  4. Ensuring Safety: Young chicks are vulnerable, and adult chickens may inadvertently cause harm if they perceive the chicks as competition or threats. Slow introductions give the chicks time to grow and develop, making them better equipped to navigate interactions with larger and more mature birds.
  5. Allowing Bonding and Familiarization: Gradual introductions provide an opportunity for the chicks to become familiar with the adult chickens and vice versa. This process allows for the development of social bonds, reducing the chances of aggressive encounters and promoting a more harmonious coexistence.
  6. Monitoring Interactions: Slow introductions enable caretakers to closely monitor the interactions between new chicks and existing flock members. This allows for prompt intervention if any signs of aggression or bullying are observed, ensuring the safety of all birds involved.

In summary, introducing chicks to other chickens slowly is a proactive approach that respects the natural dynamics of the flock, reduces stress, and promotes a smoother integration process. It’s a crucial step in fostering a cohesive and harmonious chicken community.

Final Tips for Successful Brooding and Integration

Now, let’s wrap up our avian production with some golden nuggets of advice.

Refine Your Skills: As someone responsible for your flock, honing your abilities in observation, patience, and understanding is invaluable. It involves guiding the everyday aspects of your chickens, from their social dynamics to routine activities like dust baths and adapting to different environments, such as the warmth of an indoor brooder or the outdoor coop’s temperature.

Temperature Awareness: Consistently monitor temperatures in both the brooder and coop, as it significantly impacts your chickens’ comfort and well-being. Recognize cues like clucking, which can indicate discomfort related to temperature. Adjustments can be as straightforward as relocating their space if it’s becoming too warm.

Nutrition Matters: Similar to a well-crafted script, providing a balanced and nutritious diet is fundamental for your chicks. It’s the foundation for their growth, development, and overall health. A healthy diet fuels their energy for natural behaviors like pecking and clucking.

Know Your Chickens: Understand the unique characteristics of each chicken breed. Tailoring your care to their specific needs ensures a smooth transition to the coop. Pay attention to their feathering patterns and behaviors, providing indicators for their readiness for coop life.

Wrap Up

We hope this guide helps you understand how long to keep your chickens in a brooder and how to make that time period an effective and healthy time for your chicks. Good luck with brooding, and if you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments.

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