Cheap and Easy Chick Brooders

Have you looked at the prices of commercial brooders lately??  Who's got that kind of money??

We originally described our home made brooders on the "Our Hatchery" page of the website with photos.  James Davis, one of our website visitors used our instructions and made a few improvements to our design.  He emailed us photos of his completed brooders with permission to use them on the website.  He has graciously offered to answer any questions our visitors may have by email or if asked on the Poultry Help Line Message Board.

These brooders are sanitary, water-proof and draft proof, and very easy to clean.  Just take them out in the back yard and hose them off, then wipe down with TekTrol disinfectant or you can use one cup of bleach in a gallon of water.  Let dry in the sun for a day and you're ready to reuse them.

You can house about 25-30 baby chicks or 50 baby quail in each of these for the first two weeks or so.  The more you put in there, the more often you'll need to change the paper towels and clean the brooders out.  As they grow, you'll have to add brooders and split up the babies. 

Read the instructions all the way through before you start.

What you'll need: (per brooder)

  • Rubbermaid (or similar) 90 quart clear plastic storage container with lid.  These are available from many places, but WalMart has them available for about US$9.00 each. The clear ones are best because you can see the chicks inside.
  • A sharp x-acto knife, saber saw, sharp carpet knife, or soldering iron with flat "melting" tip.
  • Heavy Duty Stapler or Staple Gun
  • 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch hardware cloth, or welded wire, the same size as the storage container
  • 85 or 100 watt "PAR38" (landscape type) flood lamp (red preferred)
  • 1 flood lamp reflector fixture. These are available from Tractor Supply or Walmart.  Those equipped with wire lamp guards are best as they already have holes provided for mounting the "feet".
  • 16 inches of plumber's pipe strap, the type with holes in it.
  • 4 small machine screws and nuts, 1/4 to 3/8 inch long
  • 1 small chick waterer and feeder
  • 1 roll of paper towels

Start by cutting out the inner section of the container lid with either a sharp knife or saber saw or soldering iron with a flat "melting" tip.  Lay the hardware cloth or welded wire over the lid and cut it so that there is about one inch of overlap on all four sides to fasten it to the lid.  Fasten it to the lid using a heavy duty stapler, or staple gun.  We fastened ours to the inside of the lid, but James chose to staple it to the outside.  If you use a staple gun, you'll have to bend down the sharp ends of the staples on the back side with pliers after you finish. We originally used a hot glue gun to fasten the wire, but as James pointed out, it would break loose with use.  The staples are a much better way to go. See Photo 6 below for a close-up of the staples.

If you are only building one of these brooders, you can cut out only half of the lid and use just enough wire to cover the opening.  If you build more than one of these, only cut out and put wire on ONE of the lids for every pair of brooders.  As you can see in the photos below, the lids are placed across the brooders and the second lid remains intact to provide a covered area at the front of the completed brooder.

With tin snips, cut four pieces of plumber's strap about 4 inches long.  If your reflector fixtures came with wire lamp guards, remove them and use the holes to mount the feet.  If yours didn't come with wire lamp guards, measure the circumference of the reflector and drill a 3/16" or 1/4" hole in four places, evenly spaced around the reflector.  Attach the plumber's strap strips to the reflector with small machine screws and nuts.   Bend the straps to form a foot to keep the reflector off the wire surface as in Photo 6 below.

Place an 85 or 100 watt flood lamp in the reflector.  The 85 watt bulb provides very close to the correct temperature for day old chicks. We're using 100 watt lamps because we can't find a source for the 85 watt units. RED lamps seem to cut down on the chicks pecking on each other, but white lamps can also be used.  Place a thermometer in the brooder under the lamp to check your temperature.  It should be 95°F the first week, then reduced by 5° per week after that.  To reduce the temperature, you can either hang the lamps and simply raise them once a week, switch to lower wattage bulbs, or use an inline lamp dimmer to lower the temperature.

Once all that is done, you're almost ready for the chicks.  Line the bottom of the brooders with 4 or 5 layers of paper towels.  This makes a good surface for the chicks to get hold of with their feet and prevents "spraddle legs".  Do NOT use newspaper as it's just too slick for the chicks to walk on. Do NOT use wood shavings for the first few weeks because the chicks may mistake it for food and eat it.

Place your waterer and feeder in there, sprinkle some chick starter on the paper towels just before you add the chicks.  This will entice them to peck at it and begin eating.  It's a good idea as you place each chick in there to dunk their beak into the water and be sure they get 2 good drinks.  Chicks will instinctively peck at granules on the floor, but some can't figure out what the water is for without being shown.  Don't place the feed or water right under the lamps.  If the chicks get cold they'll crowd together there.

Watch the chicks for a while after placing them in the brooder to help adjust the temperature.  If they crowd under the light, they're too cold.  If they move to the other end of the brooder, they're probably too hot.

You'll probably need to replace the paper towels after a week or so.  After 2 weeks you can use pine shavings instead of (or on top of) the paper towels to give the chicks something to scratch around and play with.  Don't use shavings before that or the chicks may eat them.  By two weeks they know what's food and what's not.  To keep the chicks from scratching the shavings into the water, place the feeder and waterer on small squares of plywood.

The chick feeders shown below are Brower "Sure Start" models usually used for quail, but they are great for chicks because they keep them from scratching out the feed.  The waterers are $1 metal bottoms and plastic quart jars.  These are available at most feed stores, Tractor Supply or from most of the suppliers listed on our Poultry Supplies Links page.

You can save around $100 each by making these instead of purchasing commercial brooders.