Brooding chicks outdoors

Chick on ramp

I posted some photos of our cute chicks enjoying their outdoor brooder on facebook
last week, and several readers wanted to know more about the
brooder.  How was it made?  And wasn’t it too cold for chicks
to be running around outdoors in the middle of March?  I figured
I’d write the longer answer here on the blog.

Chick meeting dog

This is the third year
our outdoor brooder has been in use, and I’m 100% happy with it. 
Mark would prefer the transparent side be smaller and the whole thing be
a bit more easy to empty out at the end of the season, but those are
minor nitpicks in a brooder that has kept dozens of chicks happy and
safe from predators.  You can see
our thoughts during the design phase here, and the step-by-step building tips here

Outdoor brooder in the snow

But is it too cold for chicks to be outdoors?  In The Resilient Gardener, Carol Deppe writes:

“If allowed to waterproof themselves properly, ducklings can be out
foraging in their third week….  Chicks are normally kept indoors
the first six to eight weeks.”

Our homestead is anything but normal.  We generally move our chicks
into the outdoor brooder by the time they’re a week old, using Brinsea Ecoglow brooders
to keep them warm at night.  A couple of days later, as long as
it’s not raining or snowing, I open the door in the morning and let the
chicks run outside if they wish.  For the first week or so, they
generally just dabble their toes in the outdoors, sometimes going no
further than the ramp, but I think the early foraging helps them learn
to hunt their own food, and it definitely supplements their store-bought
rations.  By the time our chicks are two weeks to three weeks old
(depending on the weather), they’re usually spending most of their time
outdoors and are just coming inside for occasional naps and snacks (and
to spend the night).

Chick learning to fly

This kind of early
pasturing depends very much on the brooder being very tight,
though.  We turn the transparent side to face south in the early
spring, which heats the brooder up quite a lot on sunny days, and I keep
the door closed if it’s going to be bitter outside.  And although
it might to be pushing the envelope, our chicks seemed to be fine in the
brooder even when it got down to 18 outside a few nights ago.  The
nipple on their
EZ Miser did freeze, but it thawed right out the next day when I opened the door to let in the morning sun.

Of course, keep in mind
that we live in zone 6, where mid March is really starting to be
springlike, even during a cold winter like this one.  If you live
in Alaska, yes, March probably
too early to brood chicks outdoors.  And if you aren’t home to
keep an eye on the chicks, it’s not very safe for them to be running
around outdoors without your attention.  But if you live in a
similar climate to ours and work from home, chances are your chicks
would enjoy an outdoor brooder as much as ours do.

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