Brood Coops

On Saturday, March 30, thousands of chicks will hatch at Murray McMurray. Twenty-five of them will be shipped on the next day and arrive at my post office first thing on Monday morning, April 1. When I ordered the chicks in the middle of the winter, I’d had images of their arrival at the beginning of a new season, with fresh green grass on the lawn and crocuses coming up in the woodland. April Fools joke on me! This is what my front yard looks like.

snowy yard

Instead of putting the chicks into a heated brooder, I had hoped that I’d be able to sneak the chicks underneath a couple of broody hens, and let them raise the chicks up. A broody hen is awash in hormones that make her want to care for chicks, and she’ll do a very good job of it, keeping them warm, and leading them to food and water. Those plans are dashed. First of all, none of my hens are broody. I don’t think that they believe it’s springtime, either. Secondly, each broody hen and her batch of chicks need to be kept in a separate enclosure. Contrary to the heartwarming videos on YouTube, hens do not like to share. Not food. Not chicks. My friend Wendy has a lot of experience with mamma hens and chicks and she’s told me about the mayhem, the attempted abduction of chicks, and the bloodshed, when two fiercely maternal chickens live in the same enclosure.

The solution, and what was done in the days before kerosene (and then gas, and then electric) brooders were invented, was to put each mama hen into her own brood coop. These were small enclosures. The hen had access to food and water inside. She couldn’t leave, but her chicks were free to come and go at will.

This design is from a 1907 USDA publication.

box brood coop

This A-frame is another version. (Note that this is what these triangular shelters are designed for. They are not meant to be your flock’s permanent housing!)

1907 brood coop

I have spare rabbit hutches that I was going to turn into brood coops and put temporary fencing around. But, that doesn’t work in the snow. And, even if the ground was bare and dry, what with the weasels and foxes looking for dinner on my property, I couldn’t possibly keep such a setup safe.

Instead, when my chicks arrive they’ll be put into a traditional brooder with an electric heat lamp. With Steve’s help I’ve just set it up in the Little Barn. I’ll be doing numerous posts in the next few weeks to walk you through what I do, so that when you get your own chicks, you’ll be ready.

On April 1 the cam in the Little Barn will be moved into the brooder. ChickCam!

So, who’s getting chicks and when are they arriving?


  1. Can’t wait for ChickCam! How is Buffy doing in her private suite?

    • Buffy is doing fine. She seems quite content to watch the flock from her secure home with no anxieties over food, water, or bully hens.

  2. I am getting six chicks the middle of May. I am so excited you are getting your chicks first so I can watch and learn! Can’t wait for ChickCam! Also, thanks for introducing me to Lauren’s blog–I have been reading her older posts all day and I have ordered her book.

  3. Oh! the first diagram is just like the one my Gran used to use with her broodies and chicks …. I had a sudden rush of memories there! It was painted blue.

    One of my young hens (a hybrid who should know better) was doing a very good impression of a broody hen today. I really don’t want to do a hatch this year but Bryony may have other ideas.

  4. We have a new incubator on the way, our girls are stonewalling the broody thing as well. We did once have a pair of identical twin buff Bantam Cochin sisters who successfully and peacefully brooded chicks together, but with other hens you are right! We hope to have ours hatch on April 20th, we’ve been live webbroadcasting the hatch & the subsequent 8 weeks of chickhood every year since 2008, called ‘Chickam’, it’ll be here:

    Can’t wait! :)

    • What do you do with the 50% of the hatch that are boys? That’s the problem with hatching your own. BTW, what incubator did you get?

      • Terry, Velvet Sparrow is how I came upon your website. I watched her chicks hatch two years ago and it touched my heart, something I knew I must have. It’s so much fun, watching the eggs hatch and the live brooder box action 24/7 for weeks with sound. Oh, and the naming contest! Because of Velvet and You, I am on my way to becoming a responsible, protective chicken owner! Oh, in case you see this message, hi VS from piscesbobbie!

  5. No new babies for me this year! I will be enjoying yours! Maybe next year for me?

  6. I just had a broody Buff Orpington hatch out a duckling. I keep Ancona ducks along with a mixed flock of chickens. Goldilocks had been broody since right after Thanksgiving and nothing I did would break it up. I finally gave up and gave her some duck eggs to sit on in mid-February. I planned to use a rather rickety dog kennel/chicken wire pen enclosure inside my main chicken run for mom and baby, but I didn’t plan on it being this cold in late March! So mom and baby are in a kennel in my laundry room for the moment. :)

    If you want to see photos of Goldilocks and Prince Curly Fry (my kids had to name him), you can look at my FB page:

    • Oh, and I am expecting a shipment of Cream Legbar chicks any day now. My life is filled with baby poultry – just the way I like it. :)

  7. Great! Terry can teach me more and more, my baby chicks are 4 weeks old and doing great thanks to my chicken teacher! These chicks have brought me so much pleasure but like some of us its still to cold here in MO. to put them out so I will be broody for a wile longer. Ive been drawing up plans for my coop, Im so excided, Thank you!

  8. I took a quarter of a oatmeal/raisin cookie and hung it from a string in my chicks cage! They are loving it! This is only the third time they got something other then chick starter since Ive had them, Thanks to Terry they are not getting 3 cookies a day!

  9. We hatched a couple of sets of eggs with broody hens, both times we had a pair of bantams that raised them together, although one was definitely more of a mother than the other. I can’t imagine that my hens would put up with a brooder that her chicks could leave without her. Any time our baby chicks slippedthroughtne fence and the mother couldn’t get to them, she would freak out.

  10. I have 10 chicks that are 2 wk. old. I have them in an oval stock tank with a heat lamp, in a dance studio. The kids love to see how fast they grow! Terry, I saw your article in the 2nd Edition of Chickens Magazine. It was very good, and the magazine was very informative. It looks about the same in MO, as your Farm,…. snow and more on the way!

  11. Mama turkey hatched out 4 poults and 3 chicks that one of my chickens laid in her nest.
    It’s been really cold here, so its been a challenge keeping everybody warm.

  12. My chicks are now 3 weeks old, all happy and healthy, it needs to warm up in the next couple weeks so they can all go outside… I have had aHen brood chicks and while great the chicks were happy healthy well cared for by a hen who was very people friendly, but shielded the chicks from human contact even from me. all of the chickens are now pullets who are skiddish untrusting and very weary of people. unlike the brood before that were brooded by people who are very people friendly, lol if none of that makes sense, if you want your chicks to grow up to be human personable, hand brood them, if you dont care if they they may not be human personable, let a hen brood them…

  13. I have 20 coming the same week. 10 layers and 10 meat birds. I like to keep adding to my flock of layers…went a little overboard on the layers this year. As I get older I find I like a smaller batch of meat birds to process at a time. I always cuddle them and thank them for nourishing my family as I give them the best life I can. The first time was a little hard, but they were delicious.

  14. I ordered a dozen fertile eggs, as I ordered TOO LATE and didn’t want to be raising young pullets in the fall. (Order Early, my lesson learned after my first year of chicken keeping.) Legbars, speckled sussex and buff orps. What to do with the roosters? Ugh, I guess my neighbor will “take” them. I’m feeling guilty right now but roosters are part of the hatching process, whether we do it ourselves or the hatchery does it.

    Also, figuring out a way of separation so the feathered-out chicks can safely live in the coop yard until fully grown.

    Looking forward to chick cam Terry!

  15. I’ve been looking at all the ideas for decorating eggs and I have to thank you for the tip on the egg blower. WOW! So easy and clean! I will be blowing all eggs that will get broken anyway. I can use them at school and if I ever teach art. Love that tool! ( I bought 2).

  16. Kathleen thats beautiful!, I find my girls lay more when i thank them at night whhen i collect the eggs for great job thay did and that I am grateful for them.

  17. Terry, do you have experience with getting broodies to sit on fertile eggs? I have a broody buff Orpington who has set herself up in the middle of the coop (not in a nest). When I slip eggs under her, after a while she pushes them away or goes and sits somewhere else. Is there a trick to make her want to incubate them?

    • You can’t force a broody to go broody. And you don’t want her to brood in the middle of the coop with all of the other hens around. You could try putting her in a broody coop and see if that settles her down.

  18. I have mine already. they are in a electric brooder in the garage. My best broody hen (was broody most of the time) was killed by a hawk that figured out how to get past my netting. I was hoping to move them to the coop today but we are suppose to get 5-8 inches of snow tomorrow and then cold. So my wire dog crate set up with lamp is not sufficient in 20 degree weather. They will be fine for another week in the brooder and will have to go to the new set up next weekend.
    I got 8, 5 Americanas, 1 barred rock, 1 Welsummer and 1 Buff Rock. I finally started selling my eggs and the greenish Americana eggs are a huge hit with the “city slickers” I work with so I went for more Americanas this time.
    I am selling for $3.50/dozen. No one blinks an eye at the price. I never charged for them kind of just bartered but with the price of feed I started charging.

    • It’ll be my first year with the Americanas. I’m eager to see what they’ll be like. Around here no one blinks at $4 a dozen, and most ppl are charging $5. Organic eggs at the supermarket are going for $3 a half-dozen!

      • Terry
        One of nice things about Americanas is they are like a box of chocolates you never know what you are going to get. I have had them from solid white to one of the chicks I picked out this years is actually going to be a grayish color. The most common is brown with black markings, sort of like a Welsummer

  19. Well I got my 4 little girls into the garage and out of the house today! I have no idea what kind of chickens I have, Only that they are girls. Im in north MO and we are getting big snow again, I hope it will be ok for them to be out there, it stays around 40 degrees out there when its below freezing. I have the red heat lamp on them and I have two space heaters going. The thermometer saying 74 on side of cage now. I guess I will watch them to see if they bunch up! Lol Im a worried chicken mom, they are three and a half weeks old.

  20. Does anyone know if adult chickens can tell the sex of little chicks? Just wonder, my rooster is making funny purring sounds! LOL

  21. I am so excited about your broody cam. My 10 chicks arrive 4/9/13 so you will be one week ahead of me. This timing is great for me as a first time chicken owner!!! I will be tuned in as much as possible!! Thanks for all you do!!

  22. I am very disapointed, I got my chicks a few weeks ago from Tractor Supply, and by day 2 or 3 one of my little yellow pullets started weezing, sneezing, coughing, and sounded raspy as all get out… soIactd with my best intentions and seperated her and gave her antibiotics, and “saved” her, no more sneezing weezing coughing or raspiness… I could understand why she ws growing so ridiculouly fast I mean she is like double the size of the other chicks of the “same” breed and age, Terry you saw the pic on my facebook. I came the the conclusion last night, that she must be a broiler, The pullets were rite next to the broilers at TSC and some how the broiler chick must have gotten in with the pullet chick. its upsetting because I am going to be faced with the unpleasant task of culling her before she dies the unpleasant natural death the broilers have if not culled in time… whats worste is that she has become so friendly and loves the affection of being pet and shown attention… I am a vegetarian, and she has been treated with antibiotics, so me or anyone else eating her is out of the question. and after the extra effort i put in with her that would not be an option anyway.
    I have no issue with people eating chicken or anyother animal if that is the intention in which they were purchased I just happen to purchase this one with the intention of her being a pullet…

    • I bought 4 pullets from Tractor Supply the first of March and they all seem fine, I hope they are pullets. When I called the store people that worked there they said they didn’t know much about chickens but to call or come to store when a manager was in because they know a lot more then the other store help, so I did. LOL I hope they are all hens! I could see when I was there that the sales people didn’t really know the diff, they might have put some in the wrong tank. Ive seen where people were upset because they wont sell you under 6 chicks at a time but they sold me 4.

    • Jonathan
      If you broiler is a pullet give it time. I have had them live two to three years. They then went into a pot of soup so they may have lived longer. The pullets seem to have a better chance of a “normal” chicken life especially if given acces to the outside in which they can be active. It has been my experience that the much larger roosters have more issues with splayed legs and dropping dead from heart attacks. Although it does happen in the pullets as well. I’d give it a try and if it’s qualify of life is not there I would then cull it.

  23. Thanks Ken, I did decide that I would hold off on culling her till it became obvious that she was having difficulty. She is a big bird already significantly larger than the other. You have given me some hope with her…

  24. I could watch baby chicks all day. I find myself checking in on your hencam throughout the day starting early in the morning and there for the roost. Looking so forward to your chickcam. First week in May, I have an Austrolorpe, 2 RIR’s, a Delaware, a Buff Orpington, and a Barr Rock coming. So excited, can’t wait. Now that I’ve learned more about chickens, I have been wishing I had ordered a couple of Easter Eggers. Oh well, maybe next year. My hubby is on this little venture and we have had so much fun preparing. ( helps with the hubby if you let him build a tool shed on the side of the new coop….:). He is such a strong, burly man, but has the softest heart for little animals. Really humbling to see. Hope you’ll show us the colors of your eggs in furture when your Americaunas or Araucanas?, start producing. Love your little barn coop. Really lovely.