Keep Your Chicks Warm and Safe… Without Burning Down the House

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The smell of warm dry wood chips and the sound of calmly chirping chicks in their brooding area is one of my favorite parts of spring, but I’ll never forget the day I noticed smoke rolling into our laundry room curling from around the door to the garage and the sound of frantic chicks coming from our makeshift chick brooder. I rushed in to find the heat lamp had slipped from the board it was clipped to and the impact of the fall had caused the wire guard to also slip off. The light bulb was lying in smoldering wood chips. Thankfully, I arrived in time to douse the wood chips before they burst into flames. I also managed to ventilate the area before the chicks got sick.

chick brooder
That incident prompted me to seriously consider how to keep my chicks warm and safe without accidentally burning down the house. And a quick Google search reveals that homes and barns destroyed by heat lamp triggered fires are all too common.
Through a bit of research on the topic I found several safer brooding options:

1. Brinsea sells a line of “Ecoglow chick brooders” which provide radiant heat which the company says are safer and more efficient than conventional heat lamps since they use a 12 volt transformer. The company sells a 20 chick brooder for $94.99 and a model for up to 50 chicks for $189.99.

2. You can build an Ohio Chick Brooder. Though the concept was originally developed decades ago you can still get the directions published by the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in 1942. This roomy brooder will accommodate a good-sized flock, but I would definitely recommend adding a plexiglass viewing area in the top of the brooder so you can get a peek at your chicks without putting your head on the floor.

3. Set up a brooder in an insulated shed detached from your home. This proved to be a quick and easy option when I needed an immediate solution. I simply positioned my cardboard chick brooder border under a rafter. Then I used sturdy string to hang my head lamps from the rafter. This allowed me to tie the light up a little higher to keep the chicks from overheating  during warm weather. On cool spring days I could lower it to make the brooding area warmer.

With all of the above options it’s critical to provide a round border around the chick brooder area and monitor the chicks regularly. Many experienced chicken-keepers have learned the hard way that a variety of factors can cause temperature fluctuations in the brooder area. And if chicks begin to feel cool they will inevitably pile up in a corner to take advantage of the warmth of their fellow chicks’ body heat. Unfortunately those on the bottom of that heap can quickly suffocate.

Your chicks’ behavior will also tell you a lot about their comfort level. If they crowd together near the heat lamp or warmest point of another heat source it means they are a bit cold. Often a few will also be loudly chirping their displeasure with the accommodations. If they are pressing their bodies against the outer edge of the brooder area and are lying down, look a bit lethargic or are even panting they are dangerously warm and need the temperature reduced. A group of cozy happy chicks will usually be scattered throughout the chick brooder area with some eating and drinking, some running around chirping softly, and others content to doze off.

Do you have a chicken raising tip to share with our online community? We’d love to hear from you! Just send us an e-mail.

And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.

Winter Poultry Care

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Now that most of us are starting to feel the chill of winter we’ve made sure we have a cozy warm environment for ourselves. But what about your chickens? How are they holding up?

Ideally, your chickens have gradually gotten used to the cold as temperatures began to cool down throughout the fall. Overall, chickens are pretty hardy and naturally well insulated enough to handle winter. It’s the extreme – or sudden and unexpected temperature drop – that can really cause the problems.

That said, you do want to make sure your coop is draft free but still has some ventilation to get rid of moisture that builds up. If there are drafts or you get hit with a couple of sub-zero days, consider covering the north and east facing sides with temporary insulation, such as the plastic you use for windows, old tarps, blankets, quilts, corrugated cardboard, or bubble wrap (I’ve personally found that bubble wrap works better than the plastic kits sold at the hardware store). You can get inventive here and experiment with different materials you might come across. If you have a chicken run, put up a temporary wind block on the north and east sides as well. Again, this can be as simple as cardboard. Do keep in mind: chickens love to eat Styrofoam (go figure – never been tempted to try it myself) so if you use it, cover it with something. It won’t hurt them but you’ll end up with no insulation very quickly once they discover it!

If you’re desperate and don’t have electricity in your coop, you can fill plastic bottles or jugs about 75% full with very hot water. Don’t fill them completely so they’ll have room to expand if they freeze. Secure the lids and put them in the coop. They’ll provide a little extra heat for a short time.

Make sure your coops are predator proof since there’ll be hungry varmints on the prowl this time of year and make sure your feed is secured from rodents. If I was a rat and I knew there was a big bin of chicken feed I’d go for it so lock it up tight and in something that is chew proof, like a galvanized metal tin of some sort. Usually they are easy to find at the farmer supply stores.

Your chickens may not be able to get their usual dust bath due to frozen or muddy earth, provide them with an area filled with either wood ashes or sand. Throw in some diatomaceous earth to further help prevent parasites. If you’ve got the space, a shallow kid’s swimming pool works well as a container.

Since daylight hours are so short, birds spend more time on their roosts. If you use dropping boards, clean them more frequently.

Open the coop door and give your chickens the option of going out on sunny days, even if it is cold. Be aware that too much time spent standing or walking on the snow can cause frostbitten feet. You’ve probably heard before that applying Vaseline (or Bag Balm) to your birds’ wattles and combs can prevent frostbite. But according to University of Kentucky, it works in mild cold but does nothing when temperatures are sub-zero for a few days. When you do apply it, use just a thin layer. You can even coat their legs if you feel they’re at risk.

One of the most difficult aspects of winter can be dealing with frozen water. You can keep a spare one or two inside and switch them out as each becomes frozen. You can also add a mix of boiling water and cool water every few hours (the end result should be warm – not hot). Another trick is to put a warm brick or rock inside the waterer. It’s also okay to remove the waterer from the coop overnight to keep it from freezing. Your flock will be asleep and they don’t get up in the night for a snack or drink! Add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to their water to boost their immune systems. Vinegar freezes at 28 degrees so it may also slow the water from freezing.

Happy hens are healthy hens. And food treats and diversions do make them happy. Not that we’d ever spoil our birds (wink!) but if you’re so inclined, cook them up a nice hot mash or some oatmeal. If you’re using the oven, roast them a squash or pumpkin. But you don’t have to cook specifically for them. Just warm up the leftovers you were going to feed them anyway. Plain yogurt (especially if you can get it cheap when it’s near the expiration date) is good. Throw in a bunch of kale, which is extremely nutritious and winter hardy plant. Hang up a cabbage for them to peck at. Offer healthy treats like sprigs of millet, sprouts (easily and cheaply grown on your kitchen counter), whole or rolled oats, and sunflower seeds. Scratching for these in the litter provides hours of fun as well. Throw in an armful of hay. You can make a homemade suet block like you’d give the wild birds by using leftover cooked fats mixed with seeds, nuts and/or dried fruits. Give them a little snack before they roost for the night and they’ll have a bit more fuel to keep them warm. Sprinkle some garlic and kelp powder on top of their food for an immune system boost.

For more ideas, check out some of our past articles and tips:

(Ventilation and Insulation Tips):

(Fall and Winter Checklist):

(How to Winterize Your Waterer):

(Raising Chickens in Cold Climates):

Wishing you good luck this winter,


Roosters Crow In Pecking Order

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red jungle fowl crowing

Believe it or not, there’s still a lot we don’t know about roosters crowing even though, according to recorded history, they’ve been doing it since 2600 B.C.

We all know about the pecking order of our chickens – certain ones are the “top” in the group and tend to get to the food first or get to have the best roosting spot but according to a study published in Scientific Reports in July, the top ranked rooster is the first to crow every day.

Chickens are very social animals and the theory is crowing helps to announce their territory and avoid aggressive moves from other roosters.

Tsuyoshi Shimmura from Nagoya University in Japan studied groups of roosters and determined that the rooster highest in the pecking order determined when to begin the daily pre-dawn crowing with each rooster following after in order according to their rank. When the top rooster was removed from the group, the second in charge took over and filled his job, with each subordinate rooster, again in order, crowing next.

The timing of the crows is regulated by an internal biological clock, called the circadian clock. Although it can also be influenced by things like light and the crowing of other roosters, it’s mainly this 24 hour internal cycle that determines the time of the first crow each day. The scientists concluded that when in a group, roosters suppressed their own internal clock to accommodate the social rules of the group – in other words, the pecking order. So even though the second or third ranking rooster might feel inside “hey, it’s dawn and time to crow”, they won’t do it – not until the highest ranked has started the group off. The team also noticed that the highest ranked rooster crowed more often than the others.

Now Here’s a Bird That Stands Out From the Crowd! The Golden Laced Polish Chicken

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This bird’s wild feathered top hat, or bouffant, is probably the first thing you’ll notice about him. He bumbles around the chicken run, his feathered fringe partially obscuring his vision and causing him to bump into things and startle. The birds big personality is another noticeable trait, making this breed prized for their personalities as well as their ornamental looks. Largely a show bird, the Golden Laced Polish Chicken is one fantastic fowl that will surely add some pizazz to your backyard flock.

A Little bit of History

The Golden Laced Polish Chicken has been raised in Eastern Europe since the early 16th century and may have originated in the Netherlands. They were brought to the United States in the 1830s and 1840s and became quite popular by the 1850s due to their unique looks and decent egg-laying capabilities. Polish Chickens were admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1874; the Golden Laced Polish Chicken has never officially been registered with the APA.

Mainly Ornamental, But Fun To Have About

While it does lay around 120-200 small white eggs annually (sources vary widely here!), the Golden Laced Polish Chicken is mainly a show bird. It rarely goes broody and is admired for its wild crest of feathers. Bearded and nonbearded, this breed comes in a variety of colors. Because of their feathered crest, the bird can’t see that well and startles easily. However, the breed tends to be friendly if slightly flighty. If handled frequently and gently from a young age, this breed will grow into a friendly and gentle bird. Also keep in mind that this breed has been known to be aggressive toward others of its kind; plenty of living space is an excellent solution to this problem.


Due to their obstructed vision, this breed is an easy target for predators. Make sure that they have a wide enclosure that keeps them safe from prey. Loud noises startle them and they tend to run into things—be careful of your chicken’s living area.

Another consideration is climate. The Golden Laced Polish Chicken is not as cold-hardy as other breeds and if they drink water in winter (which they must do), ice may build on their crest.

This breed is widely available online from a variety of hatcheries. A simple web search will yield multiple hatcheries selling Golden Laced Polish Chicken chicks. In most of these hatcheries, chicks hatch from March through September.

This funny breed will offer some amusement to your backyard flock. The Golden Laced Polish Chicken is an instant conversation starter as well as a wonderful backyard bird.

Golden Campine Chickens

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One of the more interesting birds on the block is the Golden Campine. The Golden Campine’s striking golden head, white ears, perky upright tail, and beautiful barred body create an unusual and strikingly beautiful bird. Originally from Belgium, the Golden Campine is also an excellent layer. This rare breed would make a unique addition to your backyard coop!

Temperament and Characteristics

This beautiful bird lays around 150-200 eggs annually and while they are not generally raised for meat, they can certainly be dual purpose birds. Reports on temperament vary. According to some sources, these birds are friendly and fun to be around. Other sources claim that the Golden Campine is not affectionate, don’t care much for human contact, and are quite flighty. It must depend on the individual bird’s personality as well as the amount of human contact and interaction they have from hatching. Active, curious, and great at foraging, the small Golden Campine generally makes a fun and amusing bird to have around. There is a silver Campine variety too.

An Interesting History

The Golden Campine chicken can trace its roots to Belgium, where they’ve been raised for several hundred years. The first Golden Campines brought to the US arrived in 1893, but by 1898 the breed had been dropped from the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection because the breed was simply unpopular. The second attempt at importing Campines in the early 1900s failed to catch on too. The APA added Golden Campines to their Standard of Perfection in 1914 and they’ve remained a recognized breed ever since.

On the Verge of Extinction

The breed almost disappeared altogether after World War II, where even in Belgium the number of Golden Campines was extremely low. A few dedicated breeders brought this breed back from the verge of extinction.  In the US, the breed is in the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Conservation Status of critical. There are around five breeding flocks of 50 or less Golden Campines in the entire United States. It doesn’t help that the bird rarely goes broody. One way to help perpetuate this breed is to take any fertilized eggs your Golden Campine lays and put them in an incubator or get one of your other broody hens to hatch the eggs. Backyard farmers are this breed’s only real hope of continuing into the future.

Not Best for Beginners

If you are a beginner or want a friendly pet chicken, the Golden Campine is probably not the best bet. Flighty, susceptible to frostbite, and eager to fly, it is not the easiest bird to care for. If you have some experience with chickens, the Golden Campine is a great endangered chicken breed that would make a lovely addition to most backyard flocks.

The Hidden Dangers of Backyard Chickens

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From the wide news coverage and booming backyard chicken magazine and book market, one might think that backyard chickens were accepted in all corners of the United States with open arms and open-minded hearts. While raising chickens is indeed legal in the United States as a whole, it is far from legal in many cities and towns across this great nation. People who don’t follow their local rules and regulations or who set up a backyard coop in a restrictive city face some pretty serious consequences.

Criminal Consequences in Virginia

Natural News brought the story public in March 2013: the Virginia government is prosecuting a Virginia Beach homeowner with criminal charges because she raises backyard chickens for organic eggs. The homeowner kept a healthy flock of chickens with full blessings from her neighbors, but local officials had a big problem with her backyard birds. They claim she broke zoning ordinances. Despite support from neighbors and an appellate fight, she was strictly warned that chickens are not allowed within the city. She now faces serious criminal charges. To read more, check out:

A Woman’s Livelihood in Jeopardy in Connecticut

Amanda Kettle makes her living selling high-quality eggs and meat from her small farm in Connecticut. Her livelihood is in jeopardy because her 100-chicken-flock breaks town regulations limiting people to 2 chickens. Kettle farms on two acres, but town regulations require three acres per every two grazing animals. Kettle is required to relinquish many of her birds. A hearing is scheduled in the near future. To read more, check out:

Backyards, Not Barnyards in DC

Arlington is a hen-free county and they are adamant to keep it that way, even launching a new “Backyards, Not Barnyards” initiative strictly for the purpose of keeping back-yard chicken-keeping illegal within county lines. Why? The group sites the smell, waste, exposure to salmonella, and a likely increase in the rat and mouse population, just to name a few issues. The Arlington Egg Project works for the opposite goal, fighting for DC residents to have the right to raise backyard birds. As of now, raising chickens is still illegal in DC. To read more, check out:


No matter where you live, carefully check with your local guidelines and conform to them carefully. Keep up to date on changes. There’s not much worse than legal troubles to detract from the beauty of raising backyard chickens.

What Exactly is a Broody Hen?

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You’ve likely heard the term “broody hen” before. It’s well known within the chicken community that some chicken breeds are excellent broody hens while others are terrible. Yet, exactly what does it mean to be “broody?” Is this something man can influence, or is it something that is genetic?

Broody Chickens Generally Make Excellent Mothers

Broodiness is the natural tendency of a hen to care for her flock of chicks. Broodiness comes and goes in cycles; it is not a constant state of being. When a hen “goes broody,” she experiences a strong desire to care for and protect her eggs. She will rarely leave them, rather sitting on them to protect them.

According to James Kash in his January/ February 2013 Backwoods Home Magazine article “Broody Biddies Make Sense on the Homestead,” “Broodiness is an avian behavior that is frowned upon in the world of agriculture.” Why? Broodiness inhibits egg production. If you want a constant supply of eggs, not chicks, broodiness is not productive.

However, broodiness can also be very beneficial. If you’d like to increase the size of your flock, having a broody hen will do this inexpensively. You also won’t have to worry about incubating your eggs, because the hen will do this. Broody hens can maintain your flock, especially if you use some of your birds for meat. Mother hens are also good protectors of their young and teach them helpful skills, such as foraging. She’ll teach them to eat and drink and keep her chicks warm and safe at night.

How Can You Tell If Your Hen Is Broody?

If you suspect you might have a broody hen on your hands, there are a few signs you can look for to make sure. A broody hen will spend a lot more time at her nest or nesting box and will be very protective of it, fluffing up her feathers, pecking, or even making a growl-like sound. Broody hens tend to be irritable. Allow your hens to nest away from other pets and chickens, because they can be quite mean to any animals (or children!) who come too close. A broody hen may only leave her nest to eat, water, or defecate. She may even pull out some of her feathers. Are you seeing these signs in your birds? If so, you’ve likely got a broody hen on your hands.

Be careful, though, because not all broody hens are good mothers. Some will abandon their eggs or young chicks and if this happens, you’ll need a good stand-by brooder or an incubator to keep these chicks alive.

Some chicken breeds, like Cochins, Silkies, New Hampshire Reds, Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Dorkings, and Old English Games are very likely to become broody. This is a genetic thing and is much more likely in some breeds than in others. Hens cannot be made to go broody. In fact, broodiness is a trait that has been bred out of many chicken breeds because broodiness inhibits egg production and many in the agricultural business consider this a bad thing. The leghorn is an example of a chicken breed that very rarely goes broody.

If you want to increase the size of your flock, choosing a broody breed may be just the answer. Keep in mind that broodiness varies even within a breed and some birds are naturally better brooders than others. With a little bit of research and some luck, keeping broody hens can be hugely rewarding.

Buying Your First Chickens

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There’s not much cuter than a fuzzy yellow, newborn chick. Each spring, people are tempted to buy a few for their own backyard or to give them to loved ones as gifts. This is a terrible idea. They are adorable, true, but chicks are a huge commitment. Chicks have special heating and feed requirements. They grow into much larger and less cute chickens, which need a coop and a place to roam. Whether a gift for yourself or a friend, a chick comes with many strings attached: feed to buy, a living area to build and maintain, cleaning up after the chicken, veterinary care, and more. Not to mention the hassle the chicken may cause with your homeowner’s association! No matter how cute they are, resist the urge to liven your springtime with chicks. They do not make good Easter gifts.

If you’ve thought long and hard about the time and effort required to raise chicks and have already prepared your property for your birds, buying your first chicks can be one of the most exhilarating parts of chicken husbandry. Make sure that you have the knowledge to successfully raise them, a healthy and warm home for them, and that you’re willing to care for these birds for the next 5-7 years. Are you ready to make that commitment?

Online Vs. In-Person Ordering

Chicks can be ordered online and delivered to your home or purchased in-person from a farm or farm supply store. Online or catalogue ordering is a quick and easy way to choose your chicks. If you choose to order online, ask about the company’s shipping methods and fees, chick guarantees, minimum chick order requirements, and certifications.

Buying chicks in-person has a huge advantage: you’ll be able to see the condition of your chicks and check them for diseases. If any are in poor conditions or are sickly looking, you’ll be able to reject them instantly. Healthy birds should be alert. They shouldn’t have skin conditions, like bald patches or soreness and redness. Personally choosing the best of the flock will give you the best chance at successful chicken husbandry.

Also, remember not to get too many chicks. They are small now, but they’ll get much larger. Also keep in mind the number of eggs your chicken breed produces on average. Compare this with the number of eggs your family will realistically eat, the amount of space you have available, and the expense of caring for multiple

Caring For Your New Chick

For the first 5-8 weeks of life, chicks should be kept indoors in a brooder. Any sort of box, cage, or even an empty aquarium will do. Line the bottom with pine shavings or newspaper and keep the brooder warm with a light bulb and reflector. For the first week of life, the temperature must be kept between 90-100 degrees. For each week after that until the chicks have feathers, decrease the temperature by 5 degrees until you eventually get to 70 degrees.

Your new chicks not only need a sanitary place to live and warmth, but they also need a constant supply of water (make sure it is very shallow to prevent drowning) and a feeder. Feed them chick grit, which is specially formulated food for this stage of their lives. Check on your chicks several times a day to make sure they are warm enough, have food and water, and are not in harm’s way. Chicks require a lot of supervision!

Watch Your Chicks Grow

As your birds get larger and older, they’ll need more floor space per chick. They’ll also require more water and food and will be able to go outside in a safe, fenced-in area on a warm day. Once your birds are larger and fully feathered, it’s okay to start introducing them to their coop. If it’s cold at night, keep them in their heated
brooder during the evening hours. If it’s warm outside or if your coop is heated, you can keep your adolescent chickens in their coop. There is no one-size-fits-all age when it’s okay to transfer your chicks from the brooder to the coop. So long as your birds are healthy, feathered, and thriving, it’s up to you exactly when to move your chicks to their long-awaited home.

My Top 5 Reasons for Raising My Own Chickens…

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Today I thought I’d list some of the top reasons I personally think just about anyone should consider raising their own chickens…

(after reading the article, please share your own reasons for raising chickens by posting a comment at the bottom of this page! 😉 )

1. The eggs are healthier!

healthy eggs











Photo by artbystevejohnson

Eggs from properly raised “backyard chickens” are sooo much healthier than store-bought ones.

Chicken factory farms has one single goal: to make the chickens produce eggs as quickly and cheaply as possible. This results in an unvaried and unnatural diet and in many cases they will be given various hormones and antibiotics.

On the other hand, chickens that are allowed to forage freely, peck for insects and engage in their natural behavior will provide you with considerably healthier eggs, free from hormones or other unnatural substances and are brimming with nutrition!

2. The Taste!

Chickens eating a varied, nutritious diet will result in more flavorful eggs.

Many people who eat an egg from a properly raised “backyard chicken” will be surprised by the the strong flavors as well as the intense, almost orange color of the yolk compared to their store counterparts.

3. Garden Benefits!

plants in garden











Photo by celesteh

Chicken droppings enrich your compost. Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen. Added to the compost bin they add more nitrogen and improve your compost.

Chickens provide natural insect control. As they hunt and peck around the yard, chickens gobble up grubs, earwigs and other bugs, treating our garden pests as tasty, nutritious treats.

Even their scratching for bugs will benefit your garden by aerating the soil and breaking down larger pieces resulting in an accelerated decomposition process!

4. Chickens Are Fun & Educational

Chickens are extremely easy to raise. Essentially, all they need is space, food and shelter.

Believe it or not, raising chickens can also be a lot of FUN! Just like dogs or cats, every chicken has its own personality traits and just sitting down on your lawn watching them can provide a lot of entertainment 🙂

Lastly, raising chickens provides a great learning experience, for children and adults alike! You’ll also quickly notice how your values towards animals and the value of the quality of food and where it comes from change.

5. Freedom From the Industrial Food Industry

grocery shopping cart











Photo by qmnonic

In these uncertain times, moving towards self-sufficiency is a great goal and producing your own eggs is a great step in the right direction. If you’re into gardening, that can take care of a lot of your fruit and vegetables needs. Cows, sheep, and goats are too big and cumbersome for most yards, while chickens are small, relatively quiet, willing to eat just about anything, and they can produce a steady stream of eggs.

These are my own personal top reasons I love keeping my own chickens…

All the best,
John White

PS. Do you have your own top list? Share it here below by leaving a comment!