Brooding Chicks in the Winter Months
Most people think spring when they think about brooding chicks, but it is possible to brood chicks in the winter months, even if you live where winters are cold. Brooding chicks in December or January means you will have ready-to-lay pullets by April or May. There are a few special considerations you should plan for when brooding your winter chicks, but it can be done.
First, the brooder will need to be in a completely dry, draft-free barn or another outbuilding. It would be better for the chicks and your electric bill if the building is insulated, but it isn’t necessary if you use enough heat lamps to keep the tiny flock warm. Since the weather may not allow your chicks to move outside for several months, you will need to have enough room available in your brooder area to expand with the chicks as they grow. Begin with 0.5 square feet per chick for the first 3 weeks, then increase the brooder area to give them 1 square foot per bird until they are about 6 weeks old. After that age, they may need up to 3 or 4 square feet per bird.
Keep Them Warm
For a winter brooder heat source, I highly recommend building an Ohio brooder. The Ohio brooder is an inverted wooden box on short legs with heat lamps wired into it. The chicks can move in and out from under the heat source as they feel the need to warm up. The tricky part about using an Ohio brooder is to not allow the chicks too much freedom so they cannot wander away from the heat, get chilled, and then pass away from hypothermia. Again, expand the brooder as the chicks grow!
If you do not want to build an Ohio brooder, the hanging metal heat lamps can work, but you will need to use a lot more of them to adequately keep the chicks warm in winter. The efficiency of the Ohio brooder over the hanging heat lamps is that the Ohio brooder holds the heat down at the chicks’ level instead of letting the heat rise into the air like the hanging lamps will do.
Use a very thick layer of pine shavings in the brooder to act as insulation from the ground. I take the ground insulation one step further by laying down a sheet of rigid foam insulation board, covering it with a waterproof tarp, then adding a layer of shavings on top of the tarp before installing the Ohio brooder and chicks. Even if your barn or outbuilding has a concrete or gravel floor, insulating under the brooder litter can help keep the chicks warm more efficiently.
On very cold nights you may need to partially cover the brooder with an old comforter, blankets or a bath towel to help hold the heat in around the chicks. Just be aware that they need ventilation too, so don’t completely cover them tightly. And as always, be very careful using the heat lamps around flammable materials like blankets and wood shavings.
Deal With Freezing Water
When using an Ohio brooder to raise chicks in the winter, I find that the chicks’ waterers do not freeze if they are placed near the edge of the brooder, allowing the heat from the bulbs to warm the water. You want the food and water close by the chicks while they are young so that they find it easily. After the chicks are older and you increase the brooder space, the plug-in type heaters designed for use with poultry waterers work well for older chicks in winter. If you use hanging lamps instead of the Ohio brooder, you will probably want to use plugin waterers from day one.
Watch Our Video Coop Tour of Marie’s High Tunnel Winter Brooder House
With a little prior planning, it isn’t much different brooding chicks in the winter as compared to brooding them in the spring. As long as you have the space to accommodate them for a while longer in the winter months, you can be that much closer to eggs in the spring!
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