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Transitioning Chicks from Brooder to Coop


Transitioning Chicks from Brooder to Coop

Wondering when it’s time to begin transitioning your chicks from brooder to coop? The good news is if your chicks arrived in early Spring, the day is fast approaching. Once your chicks reach six weeks of age, are fully feathered, and can tolerate temperatures of 55 degrees without a heat source, it is finally time to move them to an outdoor coop. And trust me on this: You are going to be extraordinarily happy to get these noisy, messy, dirty birds out of your house! But before you can move them to a coop, you’ll first need to have a properly set up coop. 


Backyard Chicken Coops

Whether you build or buy one, your chicken coop will represent the most significant investment you make in your backyard flock endeavor. DIY coops constructed from recycled materials such as pallets can cost as little as a few hundred dollars. Pre-made coops from your local feed or farm store will cost between $300 and $500 dollars. Or you can buy “luxury coops” from specialty coop designers that range in the $3,000 to $6,000 dollar range. 


How Big Should Your Coop Be?

Adult hens require at least 3 square feet of coop space per chicken. The pen or run must provide at least 8 square feet per adult hen. You will also need to provide roosting bars with 8-10 inches of space per hen. 


Roosting Bars

As we said, your coop will need roosting bars for your chickens to sleep comfortably. 2x4s make great roosting bars. If you live in a cold climate, place your roosting bars with the 4” side up. That way, during cold weather, the bar will help to protect your flock's feet from below, and the chicken's body will protect them from above to prevent frostbite. 


Ventilation

Your coop will need adequate ventilation, even in the winter, so be sure to add venting, preferably near the coop's roof or, at the very least, above the height of the roosting bars. 


Nesting Boxes

Nesting boxes provide your flock with a safe and comfortable place to lay all those eggs you’ve been looking forward to. Nesting boxes should be approximately 1 foot squared, and you will need 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. Premade coops often come equipped with nesting boxes. 


Remember that the best-laid plans often fail when it comes to chickens, and you may find that your clever birds choose to lay eggs anywhere but the nesting box. Each Spring, when we do our big seasonal coop clean, our girls spend several weeks laying in the very back of the coop, requiring us to go to great lengths to reach those eggs. 


Bedding

There is a whole wide world of bedding options to choose from, and all of them have their pros and cons. You can use play sand, or even used coffee grounds. These are convenient for “scooping” poop, much like you would with a litter box, and they are also very cost-effective (free if you use coffee grounds!) 


Other options include pine shavings, straw, hay, and hemp bedding. Many people swear by hemp bedding. For our coop, we use straw in both the coop and the run, and at the end of each season, I add the straw to our garden beds to compost until Spring. 


Pens, Runs, and Yards

No matter what you call them, this is an essential area for your chickens to spend their time in, particularly if you aren’t free-ranging. However, even if your flock is free-ranging, you’ll still want to have a run or yard for them in the event that a predator or storm causes you to need to lock your flock up for safety. There are two basic requirements for your pen:


  • The run needs to provide a large enough space to comfortably house your entire flock, with at least 8 square feet per chicken. 

  • It should be fully enclosed, with a roof and fencing or netting walls to protect your flock from predators or storms. 


Oftentimes, premade coops will come with pens or yards, but you’ll want to check that the run is big enough for the size of your flock. If necessary, you can buy or build an additional run to supplement the one that comes with your coop.


A Bit About Predators

Everything loves chicken! From snakes who will eat your eggs to raccoons and weasels, foxes and coyotes, bears and mountain lions, and even hawks and eagles, and, chances are, if you have chickens, one or more of these predators will come looking for a snack. On our homestead, we’ve seen foxes, bobcats, coyotes, bears, and mountain lions all try for our girls. Luckily, our coop is built like Fort Knox, and (knock on wood) nothing has ever gotten in, not even mice. See our coop set up here.


If you have a low predator setting, you can probably get away with little more than a standard fence about 4-6 feet high, as long as the coop the birds sleep in is secure at night. If birds of prey are a concern, you’ll want to enclose the coop and run with a roof so that your flock will be safe from above.


Foxes, raccoons, and small predators require a floor in your coop/run so that these cunning creatures can’t dig, tunnel, or burrow into the area. Larger predators, such as coyotes, bears, and mountain lions, may require a fully enclosed coop/run and an electric fence to keep them at bay. 


Young Chickens
Young chicks adjusting to the coop

Transitioning Chicks from Brooder to Coop - First Flock

No matter how old your chicks are, wait until nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit before moving them outdoors. If this is your first year with chickens, here are a few tips to ease the transition from brooder to coop. If you are integrating new chicks into an existing flock, skip ahead.




Remove the supplemental heat:

At six weeks old, your chicks should be fully feathered and able to tolerate temperatures down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Before moving your flock outdoors, prepare them for cooler temps by removing supplemental heat several days before your planned move. 


Move the Brooder into the Coop:

If possible, help maintain consistency by carrying the brooder outside, placing it inside the coop, and allowing your flock a day to take in their new surroundings. If that isn't possible, you can also transport them in a large pet carrier. 


Release Chicks:

It's time to let the little fluffers out to explore! Open the brooder or carrier to allow chicks to explore the coop. Before leaving your chicks in the coop, make sure to show them the location of their feed and water. 


If You Are Free-ranging Your Flock:

If you plan to let your chickens wander outside the safety of their coop and run, they should be supervised until they fully acclimate to their surroundings. Remember, young birds make easy prey for predators. To start off, allow your flock short, supervised periods of supervised free-ranging time and work up to more extended periods. Ensure your flock has access to fresh, clean water at all times, whether in the coop or out. 


Transitioning from Brooder to Coop - Integrating into an Existing Flock

No matter how old your chicks are, wait until nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit before moving your new chicks outdoors. If you have an established flock and are integrating new chicks, here are a few tips to ease the transition and ensure you safely combine your birds for a smooth transition. 


Remove the supplemental heat:

At six weeks old, your chicks should be fully feathered and able to tolerate temperatures down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Prior to moving your flock outdoors, prepare them for cooler temps by removing supplemental heat several days before your planned move. 


Make the Move:

Chickens are really are tiny dinosaurs; the ugly truth is that they will not hesitate to cannibalize new birds if not introduced properly. Before trying to integrate, section off a portion of your coop and run; this is also called the “playpen” method. Place your new flock members on one side and your older birds on the other. By keeping them separate you can ensure that they get used to each other in a safe way before being placed in close quarters. Your two flocks should remain segregated for a minimum of two weeks. 


Release Chicks:

After two weeks, it's time to let them meet each other face-to-face. Remove the separation barriers slowly and allow the new chicks out to explore while you stay to supervise. You can expect that there may be minor squabbles as the flock creates a new “pecking order.” Monitor the situation for several days. If you find you have a bully, you may need to separate the older hen for a few days to ensure the safety of your younger birds. 


For Free-range Flocks:

If your existing flock free ranges, start by using the playpen method for a minimum of one week. On the day of integration, let the new pullets out to free range first before releasing the older birds. This places the focus on new surroundings rather than new flock members.


Again, expect that there will be disputes during the introduction period as a new pecking order gets established.


When to Switch Feeds

Just because your flock is old enough for a coop does not mean that it is old enough for layer feed. New hens will need to be kept on layer feed until they are 18 weeks old or just before they start to lay eggs. Too much calcium or protein too early can stunt their development and leave you with an unhealthy flock. 


If you are integrating new chicks into an existing flock, switch the entire flock to starter feed and provide free-choice supplemental calcium for your older hens. Chickens are smart enough to know when they need calcium, and with the free-choice method, your older hens will consume it as needed, and your younger hens will avoid it. 


Welcome to the Wonderful World of Chicken Keeping

Welcome to life as a chicken parent! Hopefully, this blog has given you everything you need to know to transition your new chicks from brooder to coop.  If you have any questions, we encourage you to leave them in the comments below. Be sure to check out our Chicken Keeping 101 section for more helpful beginner chicken tending tips and until next time, 



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Transitioning Chicks from Brooder to Coop

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