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Off-Grid, Mini-Brooder Keeps Chicks Warm
Living off-grid, Jeff Hoard has found lots of innovative ways to get things done, like his wind-powered pellet mill (Vol. 37, No. 5) and more. When it comes to brooding chicks, he uses everything from setting cubicles for hens to a brooder lit by solar power and warmed by diesel-burning house lamps.
“Years ago, in my unheated and uninsulated barn, I made three small private cubicles about 2 by 3 ft. each with small doors to a protected outside pen,” recounts Hoard. “This way, after hatching, the hens take the chicks outside to a safe environment. In one of the cubicles, I decided to make a brooder.”
Hoard set out to make life easier for the chicks. “For the first week or so, they need light, or they pile on each other, killing many,” he explains. “My 30 by 24 by 12-in. brooder can handle 20 to 25 chicks, just right for our needs.”
The brooder has three sides and is lined on the inside with thin Styrofoam. It’s protected from the chicks by a thin layer of plywood glued in place. A 3-piece plywood lid with cutouts for a thermometer, a flue, and a small light lays over the top.
“I cut a rug scrap to cover the top for a little insulation,” says Hoard. “The light I use in the brooder is a solar yard light. I put it out to charge during the day and then insert it into a 2-in. hole in the lid.”
The heat for the chicks is provided by two oil lamps inside a 48 by 12 by 18-in. concrete vault. The vault was constructed with half of it lying under the brooder. The other half extends in front of the brooder. The bottom and side walls are about 2 in. thick with wire mesh embedded in them for strength. Eighth-inch metal plates rest over each half of the vault. The portion under the brooder and the wall above it are tightly caulked to prevent carbon dioxide from leaking into the chick’s area. Slits in the exterior plate allow ventilation for the lamps.
“The vault and the metal lid prevent the chance of fire,” says Hoard. “We use diesel fuel in the lamps instead of the more expensive lamp oil.”
Hoard spreads about 3/4 in. of coarse sand over the floor of the brooder to disperse and temper the heat from the lamps.
Hoard accesses the lamps from the portion of the firebox that extends in front of the brooder. “I made a simple metal tray about 2 ft. long for the lamps to stand on,” he says. “I can slide them in under the brooder or out to remove and fill them once a day.”
On the open side of the brooder, Hoard installed a sheet of plastic. He cut vertical slits in it at 2-in. intervals. This allows the chicks out of the brooder area while retaining heat.
Hoard reports the heating system has worked well. “It doesn’t take a lot of fuel as long as I clean the tiny air vents and check the wicks before the season,” he says. “When I fill the lamps for the evening, I simply adjust the wicks up or down depending on the expected temperature. In mid-September, we had 20 chicks in it, and temperatures fell to 23 degrees.”
While Hoard sized the brooder for his personal needs, he suggests it could be expanded to hold more chicks. In his case, he designed it so the above vault portion could be broken down.
“If I want, I can use the cubicle for a setting hen, so it doesn’t hinder our normal process,” he says.
The solar-powered light has worked well, and Hoard has no plans to replace it. However, he suggests the lamp light could be used instead.
“To make the brooder completely non-electric, I could cut a 2 by 3-in. rectangle in the edge of the metal plate,” he says. “I could caulk a piece of Plexiglass in place with a small grate over it to reflect the lamp light into the brooder.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, HM Ranch, HC 61, Box 6108, Austin, Nevada 89310 (ph 775-217-9264 or 775-427-6515; hmfgranch@gmail.com).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #6