Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Fancy New Brooder Box

Once we knew where we were going to be moving, and that it had a big yard, and that our landlords and neighbors were super cool about livestock, we had the easy decision to raise a batch of meat chickens this fall.  At an elevation of around 5600 feet, however, we decided not to risk raising the traditional cornish cross broilers, which can tend to have some trouble at high elevations.   We went instead with red ranger broilers from McMurray, and we'll see how they do.  We're planning to butcher before Thanksgiving, which will give them a maximum of ten weeks, a little less than they usually get, because they're coming this week.  This week?!  That means we better get a brooder box ready!

We were going to build it out of free pallet wood, but didn't collect enough in time.  So, a quick trip to Home Depot later, and we had the wood we needed--two sheets of 15/32 plywood and three 8-foot 2 x 4s.  We read a good tip (can't find the link now) to get 2 x 4s and rip them in half instead of getting 2 x 2s.  The wood is less warped, and it doesn't take much effort to rip them in half, even with a circle saw (which is what we did).  Note that we cut the plywood so the grain pattern is consistent all around the box--because when you're buying 15/32 plywood for $18/sheet, the aesthetics of the project are a primary concern.

A word on the design:  we decided to break it into three sections so we could move the chicks to another section while cleaning out the first (if the bedding gets too deep), or take out a barrier to give more space as the chicks grow.  We were already committed to two sheets of plywood anyway, so why not?  We're getting 17 chicks--15 minimum order, discount pricing at 16, plus a free rare breed, which will probably look very out of place with the rest of our rangers--so we probably won't need all three sections before we move them outside, but who knows.  The hardware cloth on top is half-inch mesh because we couldn't think of any predators that can squeeze through a half inch-square hole.  Except maybe a snake.  Dangit!  Well, Katie will just have to sit up in the garage all night until they can defend themselves.

The tarp is there for easy cleanup, but we're going to use wood chips as our bedding.  It's not the pine shavings that folks normally use, but we have the wood chips on hand, and we wouldn't be the first to use chips instead of shavings as bedding.  If all the chicks get sick for some reason, we'll replace the chips with shavings and see if the birds get better.

For the first day, the chicks need some other kind of surface since they don't know what food looks like yet, and they will be hungry when they arrive.  They might accidentally eat the bedding.  Can't really blame them--we would probably also be hungry enough to try eating wood chips after a day or two in the mail.

On top goes a heat lamp.  The chicks need the temp at about 90-95 °F for the first week or so.  They'll probably be ok during the day, but it drops down to 60 °F or less at night.  We'll have to play around with the height a little to make sure the chicks aren't too hot or too cold.

What have you used as a brooder box? What are your favorite features that made things easier?  Let us know in the comments section below!

EDIT: The chicks couldn't grip the cardboard very well, so we replaced it with paper towels.  We also ended up suspending the lamp by a rope from the ceiling so we could get it closer to the chicks.  Now when we open up the cover, the lamp rope slides through the hardware cloth. Good job, Katie!  (and thanks, Mom!)


  1. Cardboard isnt a great choice as first bedding as when it gets wet it can get quite slippy and can cause issues with their feet, try an old towel or some cheep rubber mat.

    1. Yep, we figured that out quickly. :-) Note the edit that we're using paper towels instead these days.