Fig. A: Cardboard-box brooder provides food, water,
bedding, and shelter for two Plymouth Rock and three
Light Brahma chicks, 2 weeks old.
Fig. B: Incandescent lamp with reflector keeps the
chicks warm, and a framed wire screen protects them.
Fig. C: The 5-week-old chicks huddle near the light bulb
when they’re a bit chilly.
flighty and skittish. If you want to consume more
than the eggs, you can choose a breed that’s also
known for its meat quality. Good dual-purpose
breeds for the backyard include Rhode Island
Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, and the big,
If you have a local feed store that sells chicken
raising supplies, ask for their advice on breeds
that do well in your area. They’ll also have good
advice on what to feed your chicks and adult
Many feed stores also sell chicks, or you can
buy them online (see makezine.com/go/eggs for
sources). Chicks typically ship via Priority Mail
when they’re 1 day old, in a perforated cardboard box
and in groups large enough to keep warm. The last
bit of yolk sac that a chick absorbs as it hatches
supplies it with enough nutrients for 72 hours,
so a fast trip through the mail is no problem.
Once you’ve chosen a breed (or breeds; mixed
flocks are fine), estimate how many eggs per
week you’ll get from each hen and decide how
many you’ll need. You might want to start out
with 1 or 2 extra, in case you get a rooster
by mistake. I’m told that chick sexing is
only about 90% accurate.
158 Make: Volume 13
Raise The Chicks
Before getting your chicks, you need a “brooder,”
essentially a large box with a heat source and a secure
top to keep pets and vermin out. I used a cardboard
box, after lining its bottom with packing tape to make
it water-resistant and cleanable (Figure A). To cover it,
I put a framed wire screen on top.
For warmth, you can use an incandescent lamp
with a reflector. A 60-watt bulb is fine for a small
indoor brooder. Hang it so you can adjust its height
(Figure B), and make sure the box is large enough
to have a “cool” side away from the bulb that the
chicks can move to if they get too warm.
In their first days, chicks need a temperature of
about 95°F, but you can reduce the heat by a few
degrees each week. Monitor the temperature with an
adhesive thermometer (check the reptile section at
a pet shop), and also watch the chicks themselves.
If they crowd under the light, they’re probably cool
(Figure C); if they avoid it, they’re too warm.
I used a chick feeder and waterer for their food
and water (Figure D). You definitely need a waterer
designed specifically for chicks. These ensure that
the little birds have fresh water at all times, but
aren’t deep enough for them to walk through and
become wet and chilled (or worse, drown). The