Homemade Chick Brooder

I’ve been wanting to build a box type (Ohio) brooder for years. Well, this year I got my lazy butt off the couch and made one. It cost approximately $40 Canadian and I already had a power cord.

If you know how to wire light fittings it’s a breeze, if not, get a professional Electrician to do the job. In fact, even if you think you can do the electrical work yourself, get it checked by an Electrician. Stay safe.

 

Materials Used

  • Two 8ft lengths of 12″ x 1″ pine – Sides, ends and top
  • One 8ft length of 2″ x 2″ pine – Legs
  • Two Ceiling Light Holders ( I used 3, it only needs 2 )
  • Two 1½” Standard Wiring Boxes
  • Electrical Wire and Power Cord with Plug
Attach two of the legs to one of the end pieces. I used screws but you could use nails. The legs should be flush with the sides of the board. Repeat with the 2nd end piece and the remaining legs.

Size

I decided to make my brooder 3ft x 2ft. From what I’ve read it will accommodate up to 75 chicks. I had 51 White Rock broiler chicks on order, so that size would be perfect. Why 51?  Well, the price per chick drops 50 cents when I ordered over 50.

The sides need to be 4 inches off the floor, so the four legs were cut to 15¼” long. That is 4 inches longer than the width of the pine board (11¼”). That’s correct, a 12″ board is actually 11¼” wide. What a rip-off!

 

Cuts

  • Four 2x2 legs  –  15¼” each
  • Two Sides/End Pieces  –  21″ long
  • Two Long Sides  –  36″ long
  • Two Top Pieces  –  36″ long
So now you have the ends completed. Next, you add the long sides to the ends.

For a brooder this size, you only need two lights, one at each end. I put three on mine because, well I’m an idiot.

Drill a hole where you want the wiring box to go, wide enough for the wire to pass through. The lights need to be as high as possible without putting the bulb too close to the top of the brooder.
This is the brooder with the wiring done. I ended up only using two of the fittings with two 75 watt heat bulbs. I got mine from Amazon for half the cost of my local supplier.

Top on and ready to go.

Homemade Poultry Feeder

Feeder Parts

You only need three parts to build your homemade poultry feeder.

  • A plastic pail.
  • A planter tray/saucer/holder. Whatever you call it.
  • Some wood

The Pail

I use a 19L pail for my feeder, but you can use any size you like.

I have a cunning technique for matching the pail to the tray. You might want to write this down. OK, here goes. When you’re in the hardware store pick the size of pail you need. Then carry it over to the gardening section and find a tray that is 4 inches (ish) wider than the base of the pail. Pretty good eh? Works everytime.

Do you need a lid? Well, I use a lid for my turkeys, but not for my chickens. The chickens use it as a roost and the lid gets covered in poop. If the thought of chicken poop on top of your feeder excites you go for it.

The Tray

As I mentioned above, the tray needs to be approximately 4 inches wider than the bottom of the pail. The tray needs to be at least 2 inches deep so the feed doesn’t come over the side. The one I got is 2¾” deep.

The Wood

Your homemade poultry feeder needs a base. We are going to screw from the inside of the pail, through the tray and into the wood. I am using two 12″ pieces of 2″x 4″ for this feeder.

Making The Holes

Next, I made holes in the side of the pail as close to the bottom as possible. I used a 1⅜” (35mm) hole saw drill bit. You could use a utility knife or heat up an old knife, but I don’t recommend this technique. The hole saw is by far the safest method. Remember, it’s hard to pick-up a chicken without fingers.

You don’t want to make the holes to big. I did that on my last feeder and the birds took full advantage of the free-flowing feed, 24 hours later it was empty and the feed was all over the floor of the coop.

I marked the centres of the holes 4″ apart with a black marker. The bottom of the hole needs to be as close to the bottom of the inside of the pail as possible.

Putting Your Homemade Poultry Feeder Together

Put your two pieces of wood together and place the tray on top. Then place the pail on top of the tray making sure everything is centred.

Put some screws through the base of the pail, through the tray and into the wood.

All you need to do is give it a wash, fill it with feed and put it in front of your birds.

How To Brood Baby Chicks

So the thought of those cute fluffy baby chicks has got you placing your order at the feed store. It’s not your fault, you’re not in control, they are! Those little chicks have a power beyond our understanding.

You’re going to pick them up at the feed store and as soon as you get in your vehicle, they’ll start. It’ll sound like cheep-cheep, cheep-cheep, but they’re shouting orders at you. Next, they’ll make you turn the heat on full blast with the windows up. I know this for a fact, they’ve done it to me, many times.

You’ll spend countless hours looking at them eating, drinking and sleeping. You know you should be getting dinner ready, but they won’t let you. Don’t worry, their powers start to fade at about 8 weeks and you’ll gradually get back to normal. So be strong, you can get through this ordeal, I know you can.

What is a Chick Brooder?

  • A brooder is an enclosure used for raising chicks. It can be a cage or a section off part of the coop.
  • It has a heat source.
  • Bedding, usually pine shavings.
  • Chicks have access to food and water.
  • Must be draft free.
  • Must be predator proof.

Basically, we want to replicate the mother hen. I don’t mean you have to dress up like one! Then again if that’s what you’re into, go for it, be happy. What we need to do is give the chicks warmth and safety.

 

Before The Baby Chicks Arrive

  • Make sure everything in the brooder area has been cleaned and disinfected.
  • Check that there are no drafts and no way rodents can get to the chicks.
  • Cover the floor of the brood area with a minimum 10cm/4” of bedding (wood chips).
  • Use brooder guard to keep the chicks in the heated area for the first week. Brooder guard is corrugated cardboard that creates an 18” wall around the heated area. It stops the chicks from straying and getting cold. Tip: put the brooder guard in place before you put the bedding down, it’ll sit better.
  • Heat – whatever you use, whether its a heat lamp or electric hen try to use two. Without heat, the chicks will die, so if a bulb stops working they still have a source of heat. I haven’t heard of the more modern electric hens failing yet, but all electrical things break eventually.
  • Set the brooder up 24 hours before the chicks arrive to make sure it’s all working. The initial temperature should be 32C (90F) at a point 5cm/2” above the bedding. I recommend using red heat lamps.
  • Feed & Water – provide chick starter feed and a fount with room temperature water.
  • Give the chicks continuous light for 3 days from a separate source if you are using a heat lamp.

Picking The Chicks Up

  • Get them to your car as quickly as possible. Drive carefully.
  • Once home, put them into the brooder. I put them in one at a time and dip their beak into the water. They usually start drinking right away.
  • At this point, they are in control, enjoy the ride.

1st Week

  • Gradually expand the brooder guard out to give them more room every day. At the end of the 1st week remove it.
  • After 3 days of continuous light, keep the light on during the day, off at night. Heat lamps must remain on all the time.
  • Gradually reduce the heat by 3C (5F) to 29C (84F) by the end of the first week.
  • Check the bedding, if an area of bedding becomes wet replace it.

After 1st Week

  • Raise the feeder and waterer weekly so the feed/water is at the bird’s chest height. I have some plywood pieces I place under the waterer and feeder each week.
  • Reduce the heat by 2-3C (4-5F) each week until you reach 21-22C (69-71F) by the end of the 6th week.
  • Once the heat is gone, congratulations, you did it!
  • At about 8 weeks their control over you is starting to fade. I know, you’ve done some weird things, I won’t tell anybody, promise.

Coop Design

Coop design is going to be one of your most important decisions. You’re going to live with it day in, day out. So the smallest problem is going to make you swear on a daily basis, or at least think about bad words.

I personally hate external nest boxes, yet 99.99% of companies that build coops have them sticking out. Why do they have to stick out? Either they do it to upset me or they have never kept chickens.

If you live where it’s hot all year and it never rains then go for it, be my guest. But ladies and gentlemen, if you get rain and snow then the nest box lid is going to leak. It’s going to wet the bedding in the nest box and your birds are going to get wet too. This will make you and the birds angry, trust me.

You need internal nest boxes, with an access door in the wall behind them. Simpler to build, great to use and no bad words from you or your chickens.

 

How Big Should The Coop Be?

I use 4 sq.ft per bird and if you are buying a coop make sure it will be big enough. So many companies claim their coops will house large numbers, but only allow 1 – 2 feet per bird.

4 Chickens – 4’ x 4’ coop
6 Chickens – 4’ x 6’   “
8 Chickens – 4’ x 8’   “
10 Chickens – 5’ x 8’   “
12 Chickens – 6’ x 8’   “
14 Chickens – 7’ x 8’   “
16 Chickens – 8’ x 8’   “

Length x Width = Square Feet ( 4 x 8 = 32 )

Square Feet divided by 4 = How many chickens ( 32 divided by 4 = 8 chickens)

These numbers are for Standard size (Large Fowl) chickens. If you want to keep bantam breeds I suggest 3 sq.ft per bird.

When I think about coop size I think about how the pecking order works. A bird at the bottom of the pecking order needs room to avoid the bullies. Cramped coops cause chickens stress.

 

What Your Coop Needs

  • Pop door – small door for the birds to go outside.
  • Nest boxes – one 12” x 12” box per 3-4 hens.
  • Egg door – eliminates swearing or thinking bad words.
  • Roost bar – 1 ft per bird.
  • Windows and vents that can be opened to control the coop temperature.
  • Clean out doors – Large enough to make clean out easy.

You need to position your coop so it gets direct sunshine through a window early in the morning. This will warm the coop up on cold days and the chickens will love it.

Drafts in winter are to be avoided, but in summer the birds will appreciate a cool breeze.

Chickens can easily live in cold temperatures, the thing they can’t deal with is excessive humidity. When roosting together at night the chickens create a lot of warmth that causes humidity in the coop. In winter this humidity causes frostbite on the bird’s combs. So a ventilation system that doesn’t allow drafts is needed.

 

Should your coop be on or raised above the ground?

From personal experience, I think coops need to be raised at least 18 inches. Why? Because small furry animals like to live under them.

In the past, I’ve had a rabbit or two under my turkey house, and rodents under my chicken coop. I don’t like rodents. If the coop was raised they wouldn’t have anywhere to hide. If you leave a small tight space, something is going to try and live in there. So raise your coop so the chickens can walk under it, take a dust bath under there, or go under to stay out of the sun.

I think that covers everything, if not contact me and I’ll be glad to help.

UPDATE:   I’m doing a Coop build, it’s going to be 6’x4′ for up to 6 birds. Build Your Own Coop

Should I Heat My Coop?

Should I heat my coop? Well, we all want to protect our birds during the winter. We want to keep them all snuggly and warm, just like us. The thing is they are already geared up to be comfortable and snuggly warm. They have what I like to call, “feathers”. Remember that word, It’ll come up again later.

Not all chicken breeds do well in winter due to their large combs freezing and getting frostbite. I’ve had some birds get frostbite and it isn’t pretty. They all healed up in spring, but it’s something that needs to be avoided as it can be fatal.

Lots of people heat their coops. Some add heaters to keep the temperature in the coop above freezing. I know some breeders that show specific breeds at poultry shows, they start incubating eggs in December (in N. America). By the end of January, they will have hatched 150+ chicks, just to get 6 birds that they can show. They have to have heat to be able to operate.

By the way, breeders of show birds are a great source for very inexpensive or even free adolescent birds. These are culls, the birds that don’t make the cut and can’t be used for showing. A cull, in this case, is a bird removed from the breeding process, although some do end up going to freezer camp.

Cons of Heating:

  • Heating can be expensive.
  • Warm temperatures will cause the birds to moult mid-winter.
  • The birds will rely on the heat.
  • Power outages will stress the birds if prolonged.

Here in Canada, we have 4 distinct seasons and winter can be brutal. In fall chickens go through a moult, replacing their “feathers” (There’s that word again). By the time the snow starts flying they have a full set of new feathers. If you have ever picked a chicken off a roost in -20°C weather, you will know how much heat they can produce. As long as they can cover their feet, they will be comfortable and snuggly warm.

Also, if you have ever picked an aggressive rooster up in -20°C weather, you will know, not only how much heat they can produce, but how much it hurts when they peck you. Just saying.

What Chickens need:

  • They need to be healthy and fully feathered.
  • Protection from wind and drafts, but lots of fresh air.
  • A bright coop that lets in sunlight.
  • Access to a covered run in winter or a large coop with 10 sq feet per bird.
  • Humidity must not exceed 60%.

Humidity is the elephant in the room (coop). High humidity combined with freezing temperatures is a major cause of frostbite on combs. Keep the humidity down and you’ll have happier healthier chickens. Even in summer, if you go inside a coop and the bedding is damp, that’s high humidity. Damp bedding produces ammonia, and that’s not good for the birds or you.

A cure for the humidity is an extraction fan linked to a digital humidity control unit. It sounds technical and expensive, but it’s not, it shouldn’t cost more than $100.

Most birds can deal with cold, but can’t deal with drafts and humidity.

Should I Heat My Coop?

That’s entirely up to you, just be aware that excessive humidity isn’t good.

Chicken Feed

Chicken Feed Explained

Chicken feed comes in different sizes and nutritional formulas for every stage of your chicken’s life.

  • MASH – a nutritionally complete poultry food in a ground form. Not my #1 choice, as the birds pick their favourite ingredients. I don’t like the waste.
  • PELLETS – basically they are mash that has been formed into pellets. All the ingredients in a pellet stay together, and the birds get all the nutrition they require.
  • CRUMBLES – are pellets that have been broken into granules. Used for chick feed.

The Nutritional value of the food you give your birds depends on their age:

  • 1 – 5 weeks – Chick Starter 20% Protein (Crumble)
  • 5 – 18 weeks – Grower Ration 15% Protein (Mash, Crumble or Pellet)
  • 18 weeks + – Layer Ration 17% Protein (Mash, Crumble or Pellet)

All these types of chicken feed are available in organic formulas. I personally haven’t used organic feed, all I know is it is more expensive.

Additional  Feeds used to supplement their diet.

SCRATCH – Scratch grain consists of varieties of whole, cracked, or rolled grains. Generally, scratch is scattered on the ground to supplement a balanced diet, it isn’t nutritionally complete. I don’t use scratch as my birds just eat the corn and leave the rest.

CRACKED CORN – As the name suggests, whole corn kernels that are broken into smaller pieces. I use it in place of scratch with no waste. It isn’t a nutritionally complete ration.

FERMENTED FEED – Chicken feed soaked in water for approximately 3 days. I use Mash feed and they love it.

SPROUTED GRAINS – Whole grains or seeds that are grown on water soaked material for a few days until they sprout.

 

Check with your feed supplier regarding nutritional values. Not all feed brands are made the same, but from my experience, they are all pretty close.