Congratulations! Your eggs are hatching, you did everything right, and have a ton of fresh, downy babies. Good thing you have your brooder all ready to go, right?

Wait, no one told you about brooding?

This is one of the most common areas where new breeders have confusion, not only about what to do, but when and how to do it. There are many different methods for brooding chicks, and knowing which method is right for you can be a challenge. While we are listing all 3 methods here, most new breeders will follow either method 2 or method 3, as they give you more control over the brooding process, and allow you to have more interaction with the chicks as they grow.

Method 1: Let Mother Nature Do Her Thing!

Who This Works For: Established flocks with a known broody hen.

The Mother Nature method is only for breeders who currently have an established flock. If these are your first chicks, then this method won’t work for you simply because you don’t have a broody hen to do the work.

What You Need: Broody Hen, Hen quarters with nest area, Just hatched chicks/ready to hatch eggs, Chick Starter Feed, Feeder, Waterer, Fresh Water

How It Works:  There are a couple of different ways to do this, with some debate over which method is best. From our research and experience, we have found that it is best to use fake eggs under your hen to ensure that she is broody and ready to mother chicks. These should be set in her brooding nest at the same time you set your eggs. This will help her to get the timeline right, and reduce risk of chick abandonment or aggression. If you choose to incubate your eggs, you have two options on when to start utilizing the hen. You can replace the fake eggs with your ready to hatch eggs on day 18, and allow her to hatch the eggs and begin brooding the chicks. You can also wait until the chicks hatch and replace her fake eggs with the just hatched chicks. You will want to make sure she is kept in an area away from the rest of your flock so that she can focus on the task at hand, and not mix up nests if she goes to get food/water.

Either method you choose, you will want to do the swap at night so that there is less confusion. A sleeping hen is much easier to deal with than an alert broody mama hen. You can gently lift the hen, replace the fake eggs with either your incubated eggs or newly hatched chicks, and place the hen back on top. You will want to watch her reaction to the chicks, and definitely keep a close eye on them the next day to ensure that she is acting as a broody hen should. This would mean accepting the eggs or chicks as her own, not kicking them out, or showing any signs of aggression. If the hen does not accept your eggs or your chicks, then you will need to move them back to a hatcher for the eggs or into an artificial brooder for the chicks. This will need to be done at the first signs of aggression or abandonment to reduce the impact on your baby chicks.

Advantages: Easier introduction into the flock, less management time involved, inexpensive

Disadvantages: Only works with established flocks with a broody hen. Many breeds have had the broodiness bred out for higher egg production, as they stop laying when broody, so it may be difficult to find the correct hen for this project.


Method 2: Go Full Commercial!

Who This Works For: High Volume Breeders, or Breeders looking for a quick solution.

If you are in a pinch and don’t have time to create your own brooder, then this can be a great option for you. Brooder boxes typically come with everything you need, from troughs for food and water, drop pans, heat source, and attraction lights. Commercial breeders will often use one or several of these brooding boxes, called a battery when multiple are used.

What You Need: Commercial Brooder, Just Hatched Chicks, Chick Starter Feed, Fresh Water

Optional Accessories: Brooder Automatic Waterer, Drop Pan Paper, Brooder Stand, Casters, Brooder Expander


How It Works: A commercial brooder is pretty easy to use. The GQF Box Brooder is a great choice for new or experienced breeders. It is an all-inclusive unit that has troughs for feed and water along three sides, a radiant heater, and an attraction bulb so the chicks can find the heat source easily. The bottom is covered in steel mesh so that droppings can fall through into the removable drop pan below for easy cleaning. Ample food and fresh water should be supplied for the chicks to reduce bullying.

When using any type of brooder system, you will want to slowly reduce the heat. Typically, you will start at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit and reduce the temperature by about 5 degrees per week. You want to make sure that your birds have lost all of their down and have fully developed feathers before introducing them into your flock. If you are hatching a large number of birds, or hatching chicks at relatively close intervals, you may need a system that allows you to move the birds into a separate pen once they are big enough to no longer need the heat, but not yet ready to join the flock. This is called a Grow Off Pen, and is very similar to the brooder, but without the heating component. These are often used to free up your brooder for new chicks, or to prevent overcrowding and the bullying that can come along with it.

Advantages: Very easy to manage and setup, as all components are included. Upkeep over time is minimal and inexpensive, such as purchasing additional wafers for thermostat or replacement bulbs.

Disadvantages: Does not allow for a lot of interaction with chicks as they are enclosed in the box. Can also be expensive depending on the type of box brooder you purchase. May also require use of a grow off pen depending on your capacity.

Method 3: DIY, Darling!

Who This Works For: Most hobby breeders or new breeders.

This is the method that works best for many hobby breeders. Once you have the components for your brooder, they can almost all be stored and reused, with the exception of feed and bedding.

What You Need: Brooder Enclosure, Heat Source, Bedding, Just Hatched Chicks, Feeder, Waterer, Chick Starter Feed, Fresh Water


How It Works: Building your own brooding system allows you to design something that works for you and exactly meets your needs. The main components that will require some thought and research are the brooder enclosure and the heating element.

The brooder enclosure can be made of many different types of materials and designs. Some breeders recommend an enclosure without corners to reduce chick “pile-up” that can cause harm to chicks. The main component, however, is that it provide ample space for your chicks, as well as protection from drafts, and good ventilation. You could use something like a rubbermaid storage tote or even a cardboard box. One article we read suggested cutting an 18” wide strip of cardboard that could be curled into a circle for an exterior barrier. The choice is really up to you. Bedding is also an important component of the brooder enclosure. It will need to be changed frequently to reduce odors and the risk of disease. Typically this is about twice a week with spot checks in between. You may need to change it more frequently as the birds grow. You can use items such as shredded paper, wood shavings, peat moss, sand, or chopped straw. You will want about 2 inches of litter in the bottom of your enclosure.

The heating component also gives you multiple options. There are many types of radiant heaters that you can purchase to provide heat. GQF and Brinsea both offer radiant heaters for warmth that are intended specifically for brooding. You could also purchase a heat lamp to use instead. This would need to be hung above the brooder, and would need to be able to be adjusted to reduce the heat over time.


Advantages: Can get the exact components that you want, and suited to your space/needs. Can easily be expanded as chicks grow. Extremely easy to replace components if failure occurs. Allows the most interaction with your chicks. Can fit any size budget.

Disadvantages: Requires sourcing components and planning your brooder, frequent bedding changes, more time intensive.

Regardless of the option that you choose, giving your young birds the opportunity to grow in a safe and controlled environment is of the utmost importance. Just as you are responsible for the upbringing of your own children, you are responsible for the health and vitality of your chicks. If you have any questions about brooding your birds, or general incubation questions, please feel free to contact us at (800)259-9755. We will be happy to help! Happy Hatching!