Ok, confession time.
When I say, “building a better brooder” what I really mean is, “build a cheap and easy brooder.”
Basically I’m assuming that if you are reading this you don’t currently own chickens. Or a coop. Or a farm. And I’m assuming that because as I write this, I don’t have any of those things either.
But all of that is about to change.
Whilst aboard the emotional roller coaster that is purchasing a first home, we decided life wasn’t exciting enough, and could use the addition of 12 fuzzy, future egg layers. Specifically, future SEA BLUE EGG layers.
That’s right folks. Blue eggs. Because white eggs are boring.
These beautiful blue beauties come from the Ameraucana Chicken Breed. A beautiful bird whose manifold qualities include
-Beard-Like feather tufts known as “muffs.” (Google it.)
We’ll get into this particular breed in a later post. But today, lets focus on what you came here for: the brooder box!
If you are planning on consistently hand-raising chicks year to year, it’s a good idea to invest in a sturdy, multi use brooder. This is not that brooder. This brooder is for those of you who, like me, plan on raising very few batches of chicks, and need a cheap, functional option. It’s a good idea to start this project a few days before your chicks come. I found inspiration for this setup from this post by The Easy Homestead and this pre-made lamp stand. I made a few modifications that I’m quite pleased with, so without further ado…
For this brooder, I used a plastic kiddie pool as the base, cardboard boxes for the walls, and a simple, PVC structure as a support for the heat lamp and other hanging objects.
A quick note here. Be sure to do your research before bringing your chicks home. It will make a life and death difference. There are a lot of sources out there. I found these info graphics from Chase Hatchery to be a good starting point. I’ll go into more detail about the basic chick supplies a little later, but for now, here’s what you’ll need for this project:
- One 45″ plastic kiddie pool
- 150″x45″ of Cardboard
- Nine 4′ lengths of 3/4″ PVC pipe
- Four 2′ lengths of 3/4″ PVC pipe
- Four 3/4″ 3-way PVC elbow fittings
- Four 3/4″ PVC 90° elbow fittings
- Two 3/4″ PVC Tee fittings
- Duct tape
- Box Cutter
1. Start by building the PVC support for your heat lamp.
Base: Start by building a square with four of the 4′ PVC lengths and the four 3-way PVC elbow fittings. Insert another 4′ length of PVC into the remaining opening on each for the 3-way elbows.
Top: Fit two tee fittings onto either end of one 4′ length of PVC. Insert a 2′ length of PVC into the two remaining holes on both tees. Finish the 2′ lengths off with an elbow fitting.
Attach the top of your PVC structure to the base by fitting the elbow pieces to the top of each of the four upright poles.
2. Start adding your chick supplies. It is easiest to set up your heat lamp, bedding, and feeders before you assemble the cardboard walls.
Basic Chick Supplies and notes:
- 250 Watt Heating Lamp – hang your lamp ~24″ off the ground in the center of your brooder.
- RED heat lamp bulb – Red light reduces aggressive pecking and makes it easier for the chicks to sleep at night.
- Thermometer(s) – As cozy as they look, a chick’s feathers are insufficient to keep them warm their fist 6-8 weeks of life. For the first week of your chick’s life, your brooder temperature needs to be kept between 90-95°F. Each week the temperature will need to be lowered about 5° until it reaches 70°F. At this point the heat lamp can be removed unless the temperatures outside the brooder are significantly cold. Keep an eye on your chicks throughout this process. They will be the best indicator of whether or not they are too hot/cold. Watch their behavior and adjust your heat lamp accordingly. If they are all clustered in the center, they are too cold. If they are spread far apart, trying to stay away from each other and the lamp, they are too hot. If they are evenly dispersed throughout the brooder, they are just right.
- Chick Starter feed – NEVER feed chicks scratch
- Bedding – Aspen shavings or sand are both safe options. BUT if you are hatching your chicks yourself, or if you are bringing them into your brooder at just a few hours old, you need to provide a grip-able surface for the new chicks so they can learn to walk. We elected to use puppy pads.
- Water/feed containers – Chicks need to be given access to clean food and water immediately. Provide one 24″ feeder and one 1 Gallon chick fountain for every 25 chicks.
- Chick Electrolytes – If your chicks are being shipped in, or if you will be transporting them to your home, they will be under a significant amount of stress. This stress can be lethal. In lay-man’s terms, electrolytes help the chicks to combat their stress and calm down quickly.
3. Assemble your cardboard walls.
Prepare your cardboard by lightly scoring it every 3-4″ with a box cutter. The idea is to cut though just the top layer so as to allow the sheets of cardboard to bend easily. This step is important because you need the cardboard to fit snugly around the kiddie pool, leaving no gaps which chicks could accidentally fall into.
Wrap the cardboard the around the full circumference of the kiddie pool. Enlist a friend to help you pull the cardboard tight and hold it while you duct tape it into place.
Cut a few flaps into your cardboard walls to provide adequate access to your chicks
4. Calibrate heat
As I mentioned before, it’s a good idea to start building your brooder a few days before you are ready to bring chicks home. That way you can adjust it to the perfect, consistent temperature before your chicks arrive. It can take several hours for the air in your brooder to become equally heated, and you don’t want to accidentally over or under-heat your chicks.
Attach your thermometer(s) to the inside of the cardboard walls near the base. Ideally they will be high enough that curious chicks can’t pull them down. I also placed a thermometer on the floor directly under the heat lamp, just for the calibration, so I could get a more accurate reading. Once your brooder has consistently remained at your desired temperature for 24 hours, you are ready to add your chicks!
Our chicks will be coming sometime this week, and we couldn’t be more excited. Stay tuned for post #2 in our Ameraucana Saga!