I originally bought this small manufactured cool to be our Silkie pen. But after seeing how handy it is with our teenage chickens I may decide to buy another one for next year’s teens.
A holding place for chickens after they’ve left the brooder but before they’re old enough to enter the adult flock. Ideally, something with a predator-safe run where they can experience the outdoors and get to stretch their wings.
If you’re only adding a couple of chickens to your flock each season, then you can probably grow them out in a large brooder. But if you’re adding more than 10 birds each spring, it might be worth it to invest in a grow-out pen.
Grow-out pens don’t have to be a manufactured chicken coop; you can save money by using recycled structures, large animal cages or something homemade.
Why a Grow-out Pen Is Useful
Reduce Indoor Messes
If you’re brooding chickens inside your house, you know how messy older chicks can be. Their scratching gets bigger, and their wings get more powerful, which means more dust flying through the air.
Chicks begin to fly pretty early on; in as little as 2 weeks, you can have lift-off with some breeds. If you don’t have a wire top on your brooder, you may find chicks escaping and pooping all over the room you have them in.
A grow-out pen creates a safe outdoor space for your growing chicks.
Free Up Your Brooder for the Next Batch
We usually have several cycles of chicks added to our coop each year. Sometimes I purchase chicks, and other times I hatch out some from our own flock. It’s not safe to brood day-old babies with 4-week old chicks. The older chicks will trample and peck the babies.
A grow-out pen frees up your brooder for different age chicks.
Promote Healthy Behaviors
Chickens do better when they can behave like chickens. The faster you can get them in a more natural environment the better they will do. Fresh air and sunshine are great at promoting healthy, happy chickens.
Control the Feed Type and Protein Level
Brand new baby chicks should be fed a starter feed with the protein at around 20% protein. At around 8-10 weeks (depending on the breed) they can be switched to a grower feed, around 15-16% protein. Adult laying hens and chicks over 18 months should be fed a layer feed at around 16% protein and added calcium.
A grow-out pen allows you to feed those teenager chicks the correct food, in size appropriate dishes without the whole flock gobbling it up.
If you hang your feeders or have some sort of similar setup, many times tiny chicks can’t reach a feeder meant for full-size chickens. As mentioned above, a grow-out pen allows you to provide feed in containers that young chicks can reach.
A lot of times young chicks have outgrown the brooder, but they’re still too small to defend themselves against a full-size chicken. Pecking order can be brutal; a grow-out pen gives your birds a little more growing time before they have to join the full-size flock.
Large chickens are picking on them
Anyone who’s ever kept chickens knows that it’s handy to have an extra pen. If you’re not using the grow-out pen for chicks, it can be used to separate an injured bird, or a broody hen, or a rooster who’s too aggressive.
When to Move Them to a Grow-out Pen?
I always look at my chicks and think, “Would Mamma hen still be sitting on them?” If they’re too big to fit under their mamma, then they’re safe to put outside.
Other signs, if they’re feathered out, meaning most of their down has been replaced by primary feathers.
They’re no longer needing a heat lamp. (Heat lamps can be set up in grow-out pens, with extreme caution, in freezing temperatures. It’s best to wait until the temperature is steadily above freezing to put young chickens outside.)