Friday, May 29, 2009

Building a chicken brooder

[This is a rewrite of an earlier post, with more photos]

I've been brooding hundreds of chicks each month in the past few years, and I've been looking for a better way to do it. I ran across an article that had chick brooder plans in it on Robert Plamondons' site. I looked at it and decided I'd give it a try.

Note: this brooder will cost you around $40 in parts, and about 3 hours of labor. It'll brood up to 300 chicks at a time, or a couple if that's all you have. I relate my experience and thoughts on building this, but it's up to you not to burn down your house or electrocute yourself, ok?

Ceramic bulb sockets, metal lamp boxes, switch box, switch and plate, box nuts (the things in the top right hand corner) and a cord end.

I had originally planned on buying some romex (standard household wire) for the wiring, but then realized that the plug wanted stranded conductors, and then, after looking at the price per foot of the wire that I could buy a cheap extension cord, cut off the end, use part of it,a nd have a ready-made plug at the end -- for about half the price of the plug I show here. So just buy a 25' light duty extension cord and use that.

Here are the tools I used. I use a nailgun because I have one.

Parts list:

qty 3 8' 2x4

1 sheet of 1/2" plywood (cheapest grade, chickens aren't picky)

2 ceramic light bases

2 metal light boxes. Do not cheap out with plastic boxes here. This can get hot.

1 switch, switchbox, plate

1 25' light duty extension cord

about 60 1 1/2" vinyl coated nails

handful of 3 1/4" framing nails

about 30 5/8" wood screws, bugle head

5 box nuts (fits into punchouts on box, 3/8" size)

2 250 watt infrared heat bulbs (I like one clear, one red for the reasons below)

20 crimp-on spade connectors

5 Tube-style crimp on connectors

5 round crimp on connectors

Crimp on connectors are required for the stranded wire you'll find in extension cords. they look like this:

You crimp them on the stranded wire. You could also tin the wire (coat it with solder) and make it a solid wire that way. You can't reliably attach the stranded wire to the fixtures; there will always be stray strands. So crimping or tinning is required.


Cut the plywood into 5 pieces. 1 4'x4' square, 4 1'x4' strips

Cut two 45" lengths of 2x4

Cut two 42 3/4" lengths of 2x4

Nail the 2x4s to the 4'x4' plywood piece, as shown.

Then trim off the little rectangle at the corner.

Next cut 4 16" lengths of 2x4, and put it together as shown below

The 2x4 legs are flush with the top of the 12" strips of plywood. You want a 4" gap at the bottom to allow the chicks to run in and out as they want. Later, when the chicks get older, you'll put bricks under the legs to raise the brooder. You'll use the longer framing nails to attach the legs to the brooder frame, the shorter to attach the plywood to the 2x4s.

You put a light on either side, facing each other. I mounted my light switch on the outside, so that I could turn it on or off. In thinking about it, I might build my next one with two light switches so I can individually control each 250 watt bulb.
This is the top view of the brooder. To use this thing, put it legs-down on a bed of wood chips or sawdust or whatever it is you put under your chips. Make sure that the material on the floor has at least 3" of clearance below the bulb. turn it on and let it warm up overnight. If you're paranoid (like I am) you'll do the first test outside.

The light bulb installed on one side
Both light fixtures installed, wire run to switch location on outside of brooder.

After 24 hours, I moved it into my brooding building, an unheated construction trailer. Air temperature was 38 degrees. The wood chips on the surface under this device registered 98 degrees, the air inside was comfortably hotter, maybe 104. I piled 4" of wood chips on top of the brooder for insulation.

The picture above is the first night with 500 day-old chicks. I took this picture after dark because I wanted to see if the chicks were using the heated area or bunching up too much. Everything looks good.

I listed the capacity for brooding at 250 chicks, but you can do a few more chicks when they're small but I'll be building another 4x4 brooder to move half the chicks to tomorrow. I used a roll of 18" cage wire to form a circle around the brooder, and then put food and water on all four sides of the unit, so no matter which side a chick was on food and water wouldn't be far.

Red vs white heat lamps: Chicks are attracted by light, and I think that they're more attracted by white light than red. But red is good to reduce feather picking. So i decided to split the difference and put a red and a clear bulb in. The picture shows the clear bulb side on the left. you can see a redder tone under the edge of the brooder from center to right.

The chicks seemed to stay right on the edge of the brooder mostly. They circulated a little; chicks outside moved in, chicks inside moved out. There's a range of heat zones inside this unit, and the chicks have the ability to move around to regulate their temperature. So far so good.

This is a picture of the full setup. You can't really see it very well, but I use 18" tall fencing around the edge so that I can walk around without squishing chicks when I'm filling water and food. The brooder has 4" of wood chips on top of it to act as cheap insulation. There's 500 chicks in there, most of them are under the brooder itself. You can see a few on the left edge, and a couple of yellow chicks on the edge facing us. For the chips on top of the brooder it's worth it to buy dry chips or use dry chips -- damp chips will mold.

Here's the other side of the brooder. The chicks are pretty skittish, so they're running around the edge of the pen as I move around to take photos. I've lifted the brooder a couple of times, and propped it on a 5 gallon bucket so I could look underneath for dead chicks. Most of the chicks are doing well.


damae said...

I built one, turned out usable, wouldn't win any awards tho, lol. The hubby wired it for me, didn't have him put in a switch tho, cuz he wouldn't put in two for me. So next one I build, I will put in one switch for just one bulb as I will unplug it if I want both turned off. (finally got that one thought through.) I lost over 20 chicks on my first batch of chicks, but not one on my second. Yay!!

Anonymous said...

Just a thought. You could wire each light with a plug and instead of having a switch, just wire in a wall receptacle and plug or unplug the lights as needed as there are 2 plug ins per receptacle.

Joel said...

I'm curious how you are getting your over all costs. I just ran the list through and came out with more like $120.

The most expensive items were the box connectors at $6 each, the bulbs, and the extension cord were around $10 each.

Did you already have some of the stuff on-hand? Where are you getting such a good deal on hardware supplies?

Also could you give more instruction or point me at where I can get some more detail on putting together the electrical side of things here?

Bruce King said...

The cost of the plywood, 2x4s and framing is what I was figuring. I don't think I purchased those box connectors, so they may indeed be more expensive, but the other thing that's happened since 2009 (when I wrote this entry) is that the prices of virtually everything made of metal have gone up.

In particular, I paid $6 a bulb in 2009 for the heat lamp bulbs, and they're now $12.00

Even at $120, for a brooder that will easily brood 200 chicks, it's pretty cheap. To do the same in tubs, for instance, would require you buy a lot more bulbs.

Are you going to build one?

Joel said...

Yeah, I think so. I agree, the price is still good compared to what is out there ready-made or whatever. of course...$40 would be SO MUCH better ;)

Joel said...

Hey Bruce. I'm going to be building your heater box this weekend with some folks that are in the Seattle Tilth Farmworks program.

Would you mind if I grab your pictures and some of your details from the blog for the hand out? I will, obviously, be giving you credit.

Let me know!

Bruce King said...

You're welcome to use anything you like from this post. Seattle tiltth does a lot of great work helping people
Get closer to their food; happy I could help