As much as I love backyard chickens and chicks, we don’t always have chicks on the homestead, thus don’t need a brooder box all the time. It took some thinking, but I finally came up with a design that works perfectly for us. Behold, the DIY Folding Chick Brooder.
Over the years, I’ve had several types of brooders. There was the Rubermaid tub that the chicks very quickly grew out of. There were the multiple cardboard boxes that…. stuff always seemed to leak out of the bottom. We usually kept the brooder box in our loft above the kitchen, but after carrying the empty-of-chicks box down the very steep stairs and the bottom fell out, spreading well used wood chips across our kitchen, we decided not to keep the chicks inside the cabin anymore. And the dust…. oh, the dust…
We kept the next cardboard box brooder in the basement. I wasn’t too thrilled with the lack of natural light, but it was my only option at the time. Other problem… the smell still made it’s way up into the cabin. Time to figure something else out.
I knew I wanted a brooder that would go in the large chicken coop, but due to only so much space, I didn’t want something permanent. There’s a pretty good chance I’d only need it once or twice a year. After reading an article on the Backyard Chickens forum, Reasons for Tossing Out Your Indoor Brooder and Start Raising Your Chicks Outdoors, (excellent article!) I completely changed the way I looked at brooders.
Reading Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits, helped change it too. I love all his books. He reminds us in everything he says, to look back at how God created this world, to get back to how He intended it to be. I’d love to have broody hens hatch all my chicks, but I don’t always have that option, so I decided to design a brooder box as close to what Mama Hen would provide as I could.
I knew I wanted a brooder that I could fit quite a few chicks into. I wanted a couple see through sides, so the chicks could see the big chickens, to learn from them, and safely allow them to all become comfortable with each other. I wanted something that would fold almost flat for storage when I didn’t need it. I knew the chicks needed somewhere safe, somewhere warm, protected from cold drafts, with plenty of food and water.
The DIY Folding Chick Brooder
I came up with a three wall idea. Two walls of the brooder are hardware cloth and the third is solid plywood, framed with 2″x2″ wood. I hinged the walls together for easier storage. It can fold just about flat, and I can move it all by myself. It is roughly 4 foot by 3 foot and 2 feet tall. The solid wall side will face the man-door of the coop, protecting the chicks from drafts.
I also built a lid, covered with hardware cloth, to keep the big chickens out for the safety of the little guys. The brooder gets pushed against the wall, creating the fourth wall of the brooder box. I do still need to add a handle to the lid for easy opening.
I cleaned the floor of the coop where the brooder goes, and then added fresh wood chips, but not through the whole coop. I know a lot of people use paper towels for the floor of their brooder for the first few days, but I decided not to this time. After reading Pastured Poultry Profits, I learned that Joel uses the deep litter method in his brooders. He used to clean out the bedding between each batch of chicks, but came to realize the chicks were healthier with the deep litter. Much like allowing your kids to play outside in the dirt, the deep litter naturally builds the chicks’ immune systems. It’s not like Mama Hen sweeps out the nest and lays down paper towels.
Chicks need access to 90 degree heat for the first few days. Starting on day 5 or so, the temperature can be reduced by a couple of degrees per day. According to Joel, “By the time the chicks are three weeks old, they can handle freezing temperatures if the air is still and dry.” Much like hardening off plants for the garden, this needs to be done with the chicks too. No more keeping the chicks inside the brooder for weeks and weeks. My chicks will be moving out to the chicken tractor (to be built asap) between 14-20 days old. Think about the chicks with Mama Hen, she certainly doesn’t keep them from checking out the world before that age.
We ordered 40 Red Ranger chicks, and they arrived yesterday. They’re doing wonderfully in their new DIY folding chick brooder and the older chickens are keeping an eye on them.
Building plans for the chicken tractor will be coming to the blog soon!