The Age-Old Practice of “Cold-Brooding” Baby Chicks

By Dalia Monterroso, The President of Chickenlandia

How did chicken farmers raise baby chicks before electricity?

I often sit and ponder about how things were done long ago. When I say “long ago”, I’m talking about before Amazon Prime, before iPhones, and even *shutters* before Netflix. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m so old I remember when kids’ television shows (think: Loony Toons) only aired on weekdays from 3 to 4 pm and Saturday mornings. We had to watch commercials and even remote controls were futuristic! Alas, sometimes the world I grew up in seems like a dream that never really happened. I wonder how my great-grandmother would feel about the world we live in today. And I wonder…how the heck did she brood baby chicks without an electric heat source?

My first batch of baby chicks!

Cold-Brooding Baby Chicks

When burning questions concerning chickens keep me up at night, I feel have no choice but to go down the chicken rabbit hole so you don’t have to. I must say, though, there really isn’t a ton of information online about brooding chicks without electricity. I found a few blog posts and videos about raising chicks off-grid, but most of what I could find was about heat lamp alternatives that still required power. Even my collection of mid-1900s chicken books mostly focused on wacky contraptions that, to be honest, seem pretty dangerous through my modern lens. But through it all, I did manage to piece together some nifty ways in which baby chicks can survive without heat. The practice is called “cold-brooding,” and if nothing else, understanding how it works could be extremely helpful in the event of a power outage.

Chicken Math gone awry!

More is Better

Chicken keepers like to joke about a phenomenon called “chicken math,” which is the tendency to get more and more chickens despite ominous looks from our spouses. If you decide to cold-brood baby chicks it’s important to know that more is actually better in this case. Under natural circumstances, baby chicks rely on their mother’s fluffy body to keep them warm. The younger chicks are, the more in danger they are of getting chilled. If there is no mother hen or artificial heat source available, baby chicks will naturally turn to each other for warmth and comfort. This is why it is best to have no less than a dozen chicks if you plan to cold-brood. You want them to be able to huddle together so that they can generate enough heat to keep from getting chilled.

Baby chicks hanging out indoors like they got it like that.

Your New Housemates

You may or may not know this already, but baby chicks generate a ton of dust, especially if they are being kept on shavings. Because of this fact, I often suggest keeping your brooder in an area other than inside your house, such as a garage or shed. This is not the best option for cold-brooding, however, because the ambient temperature needs to be at least above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If possible, it’s safest for your chicks to keep your brooder near your family’s heat source, such as a wood-burning stove or fireplace. Keeping them near your heat will be a much-needed layer of protection against becoming too cold.

Keep Them Cozy

I normally say that as long as there are no drafts or other dangers present, the more space you can give baby chicks the better. This is not the case if you are cold-brooding. Having your chicks in a smaller space (not over-crowded, but cozy) makes it easier for their environment to retain heat. In fact, some cold-brooding set-ups consist of two “rooms” for chicks, one small, very insulated compartment for chicks to go into, huddle, and warm up together, and another compartment with feed, water, and some space to stretch their legs. If you have your chicks inside where the ambient temperature is above 70 degrees, one area should work just fine. Many of you likely have a plastic bin that might be too small if you were using artificial heat but is perfect for cold-brooding. Having a smaller brooder will also make it easier for you to insulate their space by placing thick blankets over and around it. Of course, always make sure there is adequate ventilation and clean their brooder often to ward off any ammonia build-up.

Snuggle Bugs

Give them something to snuggle with

Baby chicks can generate heat by snuggling under or near something cozy such as a feather or wool duster, a wool blanket, or even a stuffed animal. Make sure anything you offer them is free of chemicals such as fabric softeners or artificial fragrances, as well as loose strings that they can get caught up in. You also don’t want to use a blanket so heavy that a chick could get stuck beneath it. Above all, use common sense.

If you are the diligent sort, you can wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and offer it to them to warm up near. If you decide to do this, just be sure you are checking it often and make certain it stays warm even overnight. Once your baby chicks get used to a heat source, you want to keep it on offer until they can be slowly weaned from it as they grow into their adolescent feathers.

Mama and LOTS of babies

‘Tis it Really the Season?

If you are considering raising chicks without heat, it’s best to plan that baby-raising according to the seasons. There is an important reason that mother hens normally go broody in the spring: it’s so her babies will hatch during an ideal climate when she doesn’t have to worry about them getting accidentally chilled. Even when you’re brooding chicks indoors, keeping the ambient temperature above 70 degrees can be more difficult and definitely more expensive in the cold of winter. This is why it’s better to hold off acquiring your baby chicks until later in the year after things warm up. In the Southern USA, there are times when the temperatures are so high in the summer that chicks don’t need additional heat even if you wanted to offer it! So, make things easier on yourself and your chickens. Remember: cold-brooding works best during the late spring and summer months.

A healthy, hardy hen.

Bullet-Proof Babies

Baby chicks that survive cold-brooding often grow up to be very hardy and healthy adult chickens. As with most things, though, there are risks to raising chicks this old-fashioned way. It is an unfortunate possibility that you may lose a chick or chicks because they became chilled or otherwise stressed. For this reason, my soft heart will always recommend using a mother hen or artificial heat source. However, I must acknowledge that not every person has access to heat lamps or heat plates, so I wanted to be sure this information was out there in an organized way. If you choose to cold-brood your baby chicks, I’d love to hear about it! Let me know about your experience in the comments.

This article is featured in my online course Chickenlandia’s Backyard Chickens 101 – A Chicken Course for Everyone! Find out more about this easy and interactive course by clicking here.

Chickenlandia’s NEW Book is Now Available for Pre-order!

I can’t believe it’s finally happening…

Words cannot express how excited I am to finally be sharing the pre-order link for my new book Let’s All Keep Chickens! which has been a labor of love for nearly three years. Since I became a Backyard Chicken Educator over a decade ago, I’ve been gathering the information I need to put it all together. For the months that I was actively writing, I would sit in my youngest son’s bed and type away as he fell asleep. That’s how I was able to get this done, by squeezing in moments to write whenever I could. It was hard, but it has been so worth it. You can find all the purchase options for Let’s All Keep Chickens! by clicking the link below:

Pre-order Let’s All Keep Chickens! here.

Aren’t chickens awesome?

This one is different…

At the risk of tooting my own horn, I have to say that I don’t think there’s another chicken book like this one on the market. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many great chicken books, some of which I have used in my own education throughout the years. But Let’s All Keep Chickens! is different because my goal is not only to share with you the ins and outs of chicken keeping but also to inspire you to use this age-old practice to enrich not only your life but also the world. I really mean that! 

The actual release date for the book is February 28th, 2023, just in time for baby chick season! Leading up to the release, I’ll be updating you via social media regarding any interviews I’ll be doing and any in-person events I may be participating in. It’s going to be a very busy and very exciting time, so make sure you’re following me on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Me and Gizmo sporting the same hair LOL

Chicken Keeping is for everyone.

I’m so glad we have found each other on this wild chicken adventure we’re on. I hope you will take a moment to pre-order my book and share the link with your friends. But even if you can’t buy my book or my online course, remember: there’s a ton of FREE content on my YouTube Channel and Podcast. And above all, remember that you are always welcome in Chickenlandia! 

Chicken Salad Bars and Other Renovations!

It’s been an exciting week in Chickenlandia! If you’ve been following my blog and YouTube Channel for a while, then you might remember last year when my friend Julie came and helped me with some renovations in the chicken coop and yard. Click play to see the fun stuff she did:

You may also remember that I had a hawk attack just before Thanksgiving. That was a really tough time and I almost lost Little Stinker! Thank goodness that Julie came over again, this time with her wife Kris, and put up some netting so that I didn’t have to worry anymore. Here’s a video all about that adventure!

Well, here we are on the eve of summer and there is still much to be done. About five years ago I had some salad bars installed in Chickenlandia. They worked great but the wood didn’t last very long and they needed to be replaced. I was also in great need of a ramp for my sweet new ducks, Angry Marshmallow and Mr. Robot, who are so short they weren’t able to get into the chicken coop no matter how hard they tried (their wings were clipped at their previous residence. Enter the ever talented and helpful Julie and Kris. Watch them save the day once more in this video:

Do you have any projects going on in your chicken yard and coop? Let me know in the comments!

The Conscious Farmer: An Organic and Biodynamic Farm

The Conscious Farmer

I’m back in to the full swing of things and bringing you another episode of Chickenlandia Stories! Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit Pollen Folly Farm, run by my friend Kelly Uusitalo and her husband Mike Hernandez. Kelly and Mike practice a method of sustainable farming called Biodynamic, which involves using all the components of the farm to create a running system that benefits the soil and all the food grown in and on it. It’s a very mindful approach, hence the name “The Conscious Farmer”.

Kelly Uusitalo, Organic and Biodynamic Farmer

Pollen Folly Farm

During my tour, we visited the chickens and got some expert tips from Kelly regarding biosecurity, coop cleanliness, predator proofing, and even egg eating! She definitely knows her stuff, which is why I refer to her as an “Advanced Chicken Educator” while I’m a “Chickens 101” educator. I love learning new things from her. But the real education began when we toured her many gardens, all utilizing biodynamic principals.

Row of biodyamically grown greens

Visiting Pollen Folly Farm and learning of the painstakingly efforts Kelly and Mike go through to grow conscious food was a real eye-opener for me. Not only did it inspire me to get closer to my own food (did I mention I grew my own starts for the first time this year?), but it also gave me hope for the world. Like many others, I have fears about where the world is heading, with industrial agriculture being at the top of a long list of offenders. But then I remember that for every worry I have, there’s someone out there doing the hard work to make things right. Thank you, Kelly and Mike, for fighting the good fight.

Take the Tour!

To watch the tour, see some awesome chicken footage, and of course, learn a few things, please click the play button below!

What are some things you are doing to make the world a better place? Let me know in the comments below!

How to Integrate Ducks with Chickens

If you’ve been following me here, on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, then you know that I recently had a little duck that was sick. Her name was Pringles.

Pringles was such a special little duck! I say “was” because unfortunately, she passed away the day after my family arrived in Toronto to care for my terminally ill mother-in-law. I knew she would likely die soon since she was old for a duck, but it was hard never-the-less. You can hear the full story here on my last Bawk Talk LIVE show:

We’ve been through a lot of changes lately here in Chickenlandia, but when one thing ends there will always be a new beginning. Enter my two newest Chickenlandia members, Angry Marshmallow and Mr. Robot!

New Call Ducks!

If you want to know why the little white one is called Angry Marshmallow, then check out this hilarious photo from right after I rescued her. She looks ANGERY! lol

Angry duck is angry!

As with all transitions, there’s a way to do it to make it the easiest for everyone. In this week’s Welcome to Chickenlandia video, I show step by step what I do to integrate new ducks into my flock. Since ducks don’t have as extreme a pecking order instinct as chickens, it’s fairly easy. But you definitely need to keep an eye on them and it works best if your chickens are already used to ducks in the flock.

Hahaha an oldie but a goodie from my flock.

So, without further ado, here’s my new educational video on how to integrate ducks with chickens. As always, be sure to do lots of research to find out if ducks are right for your flock. And make sure to watch them closely those first few days to make sure there’s no bullying.

Do you have ducks with your chickens? Would you like too? Let me know in the comments!

Return to Chickenlandia!

Henlo, Friends! It’s been a while. I’ve been in Canada for several weeks, saying goodbye to my dear mother-in-law. You may have seen my video about it on YouTube:

Needless to say, it’s been a rough few weeks for The Chickenlandia Family. But made it through and we continue to move forward while dealing with the huge loss. One comfort in all of this is that my mother-in-law suffered with illness for a long time, so when the time came, she was ready and left on her terms. This was how she would have wanted it.

Ardith Trapman, 1938 – 2019

Last night, we arrived back in Chickenlandia. How wonderful it’s been to be among my flock again! In this reunion, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am in life, and how no matter what the loss, there will always be new beginnings all around me.

Please check out this short return video and make sure to stay tuned on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And remember: You’re always welcome in Chickenlandia.

Chickenlandia Stories: Growing Veterans

I’m so thrilled to have a new Chickenlandia Stories this week! It’s been quite a while since I’ve shot one, with the winter weather really putting a damper on filming outdoors. But good things come to those who wait, and this latest episode is one I’m really proud of. I visited an organization called Growing Veterans and documented it all for you.

Growing Veterans is a non-profit organization who’s mission is to “empower veterans to cultivate purpose and belonging by growing food, community and each other”. I was invited there as a Scratch and Pecks Feeds ambassador to teach a baby chick class and tour the grounds with farm manager Joel Swenson.

I really wanted to write more about this episode, because I learned so much and there’s many additional things I wanted to add along with the video. But at the moment I’m in Canada dealing with a family emergency, and so it will have to wait. For now, please enjoy this episode of Chickenlandia Stories by clicking the play button below!

Hope to be back soon with more. Thank you for reading!

Easter Chicken Hunt!

The Chickenlandia Kiddos and I went on an egg hunt at a friend’s chicken farm! Check out the fun by clicking the play button below:

I’ll be back soon with more blogs for you. In the meantime, let me know how your holiday was (if you celebrate) in the comments!

A Chickenlandia Public Service Announcement!

Are you tired of explaining to your friends and family all the wonderful benefits of having chickens? Well, I’ve done all the work for you with this new Chickenlandia Public Service Announcement, Try Chickens! Watch it, share it, and most of all, GET CHICKENS! Just click the play button below. ;-)

What are your reasons for keeping chickens? Let me know in the comments below!

The Life of a Chicken Lady

Henlo, Frens! Well, this week has been a little up and down. We all ended up with chest colds which forced us to slow down and focus on healing. We’re on the mend now, which is good, and I did get a chance to create a vlog before the sickness hit! It’s all about my life as a chicken lady. I hope you enjoy That Chicken Lady Life on my YouTube channel. Just click the play button below.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel and click the notifications bell so you never miss any fun Chickenlandia videos. Stay tuned for a longer blog post next week, but in the meantime, let me know what your chicken life is like in the comments!

 

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