When getting chickens, many people wonder whether it’s possible to raise chickens indoors. While it is possible to raise chickens indoors at least during chickhood, keeping chickens inside as adults can be problematic.
So can you raise chickens indoors? Here are a few things you need to consider when raising chickens indoors:
- Baby chicks raised away from their mother must have a heat lamp for the first 4-6 weeks of life.
- Chickens create dust and strong barnyard smells.
- Chickens can be loud.
- Chickens cannot be housebroken.
There are many advantages to raising chicks indoors up until the point that they no longer need a heat lamp, but there are disadvantages too. Read on to find out more about the ins and outs of raising chickens indoors.
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Raising Baby Chickens Indoors
Raising baby chicks indoors can be a lot easier than trying to raise them outside. Many people raise their first chickens as day-old chicks mail-ordered from a hatchery or hatched from an incubator.
These chicks, while able to care for themselves from birth and find their own food and water, are still dependent on the mother hen for temperature regulation, and until they grow their own feathers instead of the fuzz, they are born with, cannot regulate their own.
This means that baby chicks left without a source of heat will soon become chilled and die. This can happen in a matter of hours, so it is vital that baby chicks always have access to a source of heat for at least the first four weeks of life, and longer if the ambient temperatures are cold.
Because sources of heat such as brooder lamps require an electrical hook-up, many people find it easier to brood their chicks indoors where they have easy access to an electrical outlet.
How to Raise Baby Chickens Indoors
The best way to raise baby chickens indoors is to get some kind of pen for them and install a brooder lamp inside of it. Here is a list of supplies you’ll need to raise baby chickens in an indoor brooder:
- Electrical source (for brooder lamp)
- Brooder lamp
- Paper towels
- Animal bedding (the kind for hamster and ferret cages works well)
- Chick feeder
- Chick waterer
- Chick grit (do not give until at least three weeks old)
- Chick starter food
- GroGel or some other nutritional supplement to add to water
For the first few days of the chicks’ life, this brooder pen should be lined with paper towels rather than any kind of bedding.
This allows for easy clean-up, allows you to monitor the chicks’ droppings for health problems, and also gives the chicks plenty of traction under their feet, so they do not develop balance issues such as straddle leg and other developmental problems early on.
Another reason for using paper towels rather than bedding for the first week is because when they are first born, chicks are still learning what is food and what is not food.
If they are with their mother, their mother teaches them this. Chicks raised without a mother in a brooder pen must figure it out on their own.
If you place bedding in the brooder pen before the chicks have had a chance to figure out where their food and water is, they may accidentally try to ingest the bedding instead, which can cause bowel impaction and death.
How to Introduce Baby Chicks to an Indoor Brooder Pen
When you first get your baby chicks, it is vital to introduce them to the brooder pen properly so they don’t become disoriented. Day-old chicks can live off of their own body’s stores of food and water for a few days after birth to allow for their clutch-mates to hatch, but if you’re getting day-old chicks from a hatchery or a farm supply store, they will need food and water right away.
It is important to introduce your chicks to food and water so that the chicks know where it is and can find it on their own when you’re not around.
The first thing when you bring your chicks into the brooder is to take each chick, pick it up, and gently dip its beak into the waterer. It’s important to be sure not to submerge the chick’s beak entirely, as you do not want it to breathe in water. This just shows the chicks where to drink.
You should also introduce them to food by taking a bit of starter feed and sprinkling it around on the paper towels at the bottom of the brooder to give the chicks something to peck at, and also by tapping your finger on the edges of the feeder to attract the chicks’ attention to it. This mimics the way that a mother chicken would teach her chicks where to find food lying on the ground.
Other Dietary Considerations When Raising Chickens Indoors
It is important when raising baby chicks that you keep them on a strict diet of starter feed for the first week or so, and only supplement their diet with a bit of crushed boiled egg yolk for added nutrients.
This is because the digestive system of the baby chicks is still delicate, and they cannot process other foods such as insects or plants. A major problem people run into raising baby chicks indoors is introducing other kinds of food before introducing grit, which means the chicks cannot digest it properly.
Once the baby chickens are at least two to three weeks old, you can introduce chick grit to them. This fine grit is ingested by the chicks and stored in their crop, where it helps to grind up the food that they ingest.
Chicks raised outdoors would ingest this grit as they scratched around in the dirt, but chicks raised indoors must have it introduced to them directly.
When the chicks are old enough to have access to grit, they are also old enough to start trying other foods, such as a bit of clean grass, shredded lettuce, mealworms, or chopped up berries.
Benefits of Raising Baby Chickens Indoors
There can be many benefits of raising day-old chicks indoors for the first few weeks of their lives. Here are a few of those benefits:
- Easy monitoring for health problems
- Easy temperature regulation
- Easier upkeep of the brooder pen
- More chances to bond with the chicks at a formative age
In their first few weeks of life, baby chickens that are being raised away from their mother are susceptible to a variety of problems and have to be monitored carefully.
With many of these issues, such as chilling or pasty butt, quick intervention is needed to prevent the death of the chick. Chicks that are raised indoors are kept under a more watchful eye, and it is easier to catch these problems before they become fatal.
Baby chicks are also vulnerable to being chilled and must be kept warm and dry. This is a lot easier to accomplish indoors than outside in a coop or barn, especially since many chicks are purchased in the spring when the weather is still volatile and can dip down into freezing temperatures at night.
In order to prevent feces-borne diseases such as coccidiosis, the following chores need to be performed:
- bedding in a brooder pen should be changed at least a few times a week
- the waterer should be cleaned and refilled daily
- the feeder should be kept clean and topped off
These chores can be much easier to manage when the chicks are close at hand indoors. Once the chicks are a bit older, they do not need as much oversight and can be more safely placed outdoors without supervision, but when they are so fragile and little, they need a lot of care.
Another great benefit to raising your baby chicks indoors is that you have more opportunities to handle and bond with them.
This is especially useful if you plan on keeping your chickens as pets, but can be generally useful even if you’re not, as handling the chicks at a young age makes them easier to handle as adults for veterinary care or simply to move them from place to place.
Disadvantages of Raising Baby Chickens Indoors
While there are some benefits to raising baby chickens indoors, there are also some disadvantages.
Even at a young age, chickens create a lot of dust, and their droppings can emit strong barnyard odors, especially if left under a heat lamp. Needless to say, you don’t want your living room to smell like a chicken house.
Chickens are also able to transmit several diseases to people, such as salmonella and E. coli bacterial infections. For this reason, it’s best not to keep them in close proximity to places where people eat, and you should always wash your hands thoroughly after handling them.
Baby chickens also make a lot of noise, especially if they are cold but also just in general. Their peeping can be pretty loud, so it’s not advisable to try and keep baby chickens near human sleeping areas.
The chicks can also be stressed out by loud ambient noise or people passing through in a high traffic area, which can make them more susceptible to disease.
The Best Option for Raising Baby Chickens Indoors
It is good to raise baby chickens indoors, but because of the disadvantages associated with it (dirt, smell, and noise), it is best to station your brooder pen somewhere that is temperature regulated and quiet, such as a garage or basement.
This will keep the chickens away from human eating and sleeping areas, where they might transmit disease or be bothersome with the noises they make.
Keeping a brooder pen in the garage gives you easy access to your baby chicks, while also keeping them out of the way of household traffic. Be sure to keep a secure lid on your brooder pen to prevent cats or other household pets from getting into the brooder and injuring or killing the chicks.
Can You Raise Adult Chickens Indoors?
While some people keep adult chickens inside, this is really not an ideal situation for either the chickens or the humans living in the house. Aside from the aforementioned noise, dust, and smell, chickens (like other birds) do not have a large intestine or any way to hold their bowels.
This means that when a chicken’s gotta go, it’s going to go wherever it is at the time. That includes your kitchen counter, the back of your couch, or wherever it happens to be at the time. This is one of the main reasons you don’t see many people keeping chickens as household pets.
Unless you want chicken droppings all over your house (which is obviously not a great option due to sanitary reasons) this means a chicken raised indoors either has to wear a diaper perpetually that must be changed multiple times a day, or must be confined to a crate or other enclosed area of the house.
Very few people have the patience to keep a diaper on a chicken, and the space that chickens require to be happy and healthy means that no chicken is going to be happy living indoors in a bird cage or dog crate. Keeping an adult chicken inside is not a good idea most of the time.
Chickens Need Other Chickens
Chickens are a very socially oriented animal and languish without the company of their own kind. This means it is cruel to keep a chicken on its own as a household pet, as interaction with humans does not take the place of a chicken’s interaction with other chickens.
If you think changing diapers on one chicken is bad enough, think about what it would be like to change diapers on three or more of them, every day, for the rest of their lifespans. And you’ll see why keeping chickens free-roaming in the house after they’ve grown up is not a good idea.
Transitioning Indoor Chicks to the Outdoors
It is a good idea to raise baby chicks indoors, especially if you live in an area that has inclement weather or temperature swings, but once the babies are covered in true feathers, they are likely to be getting cramped in the brooder pen.
If your baby chicks are too crowded in a brooder pen, this can lead to the following problems:
- Aggression between chicks
- Inability to regulate temperature by moving away from or towards the brooder lamp
Once baby chickens get to be about four weeks of age, they are ready to start stretching their legs and exploring. Weather permitting, this is the perfect time to begin introducing them to their outdoor coop, at least during the day when the temperatures are warm.
This will let the chicks expend some energy running around and give them some gradual exposure to coccidiosis bacteria in the environment. Chicks have to build up an immunity to coccidiosis, which is a bacteria type that is present in most of the soil.
At four weeks of age, baby chickens are still susceptible to being chilled, especially in cold or wet weather, so care should be taken to make sure that they are kept dry and warm. If the weather is wet, the chicks should be restricted to a closed coop until things dry out.
Problems to Watch for When Raising Chickens Indoors
The first few weeks of a chick’s life are crucial, and keeping a close eye on your chicks when they’re little is the best way to prevent problems moving forward.
The most important things you can do to protect the health of your chickens while raising them indoors are the following:
- Making sure they have fresh, clean food and water every single day
- Making sure their bedding stays both clean and dry
- Making sure the brooder is well-ventilated
- Making sure that the brooder neither gets too hot nor too cold (it should stay at around 96-98 degrees at all times)
Maintaining these conditions helps to avoid some of the problems that many new chicken keepers run into when brooding chicks inside. Chickens are bad about getting their bedding wet, and this can lead to both chilling and mold issues in the bedding that leads to respiratory illnesses such as aspergillosis.
Baby chicks are also notorious for pooping on their brooder lamp, their waterer, and their feeder, so these items in the brooder should be disinfected regularly to avoid contaminating their food and water supplies, which can lead to coccidiosis and other dangerous infections.
Raising Chickens Indoors Is Fun, but Requires Daily Upkeep
You can have a lot of fun raising chickens indoors, at least until they turn into unruly teenagers and it’s time to kick them out of the house. However, baby chickens require a lot of day-to-day upkeep, and neglecting this upkeep indoors can lead to bad brooder hygiene and a stinky house to boot.
However, with proper husbandry and good sanitation habits, you can raise your indoor flock to be happy and healthy from the first day they come home.