Story and photos by William Morrow, Whitmore Farm – Knowing how to make your own chick brooder comes in handy if you’re the kind of person who enjoys raising baby chicks. If you brood multiple batches of chicks during the year, you are going to want to build a chick brooder that will make your life easier. These larger units also provide more space for your chicks to grow and mature. More space per chick means the litter stays clean longer and the chicks do better. The Ohio Brooder has been around since the 1940s. The fact that it is still widely in use today is a testament to its effective design, low cost, and simplicity. It was developed and used by the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in Wooster, Ohio, which explains the name.
We here at Whitmore Farm brood a lot of baby chicks year after year, so we opted for the larger model that is 4-ft. by 6-ft., and can brood up to 300 chicks at a time. For smaller needs, a 4-ft. by 4-ft. version will accommodate up to 200 chicks. Of course, as few as 25 chicks would be just as happy in either of these models as well. Often I am brooding chicks from two or three consecutive hatches. So if you have the space, a larger unit can be really flexible. And be honest — you always end up with more chicks than you planned!
Be sure and keep an eye out for the comforting red glow along the brooder edges indicating that everything is okay. Lamps do burn out and need to be replaced quickly to ensure your chicks don’t suffer. Also, as the season progresses, and your floor litter rises as a result of top dressing, you will want to raise the brooder higher off the ground using bricks or blocks of wood under the four corner posts/legs. We like to raise the height of the brooder as the chicks get older too. They grow fast and you want them to be able to pass easily in and out of the brooder. Even after the chicks no longer need supplemental electric heat, the design of the Ohio brooder holds their body heat in for greater comfort of older chicks. Happy brooding!
How to Build Your Own Chick Brooder
Step 1: Cut The Plywood
Cut a 4-ft. by 8-ft. sheet of plywood down to your desired length (4 ft. or 6 ft.). I like to build things to last, so we chose half-inch-thick plywood. Thicker plywood does add to the weight. You can use 1/8-inch thick plywood if you want the unit to be lighter and easier to move. A single sheet of plywood is all you need for a 4-ft. by 4-ft. unit. You will need two sheets of plywood for a 4-ft. by 6-ft. unit. I recommend against using pressure treated plywood. It is more expensive and it is not necessary since the unit will be used in a covered space. And you don’t want those chemicals around young animals.
Step 2: Attach The Cleats
After you cut the plywood down to size, place it on the ground and aﬃx 2-inch by 4-inch lumber around the perimeter to serve as cleats for attaching the side walls and legs. I prefer to use screws over nails but either will work. To the right is a photograph of the bottom of the inside illustrating the placement of the cleats.
Step 3: Cut The Side Panels
Next, you will want to cut four side panels. Two will be 4-ft. by 12-inches, and two will be whatever length you are making (4-ft. or 6-ft.) by 12 inches. Affix the four side panels such that the roof is recessed 4-inches down the sides as illustrated above.
Step 4: Attach The Legs
Then attach the four corner posts/legs. The legs should be 2-inches by 4-inches by 16-inches. This will give you 4 inches of ground clearance for the chicks to go in and out of the chick brooder. Install a 2-inch by 4-inch by 4-ft. brace across the center of the top for stability if you are building a 6-ft. long unit. No top brace is necessary for the smaller, 4-ft. long unit.
Step 5: Install The Lamp Sockets
Next install two porcelain lamp sockets opposite each other on the longer, 6-ft. unit. For the 4-ft. by 4-ft. unit, you can get by with a single porcelain lamp socket. The original Ohio Chicken Brooder used two lamp sockets for the smaller, 4-ft. by 4-ft. model, but I found the brooder gets too hot and the chicks end up hanging out around the outer perimeter. I prefer the low profile, pancake-mounting box for the sockets. And, you definitely want to go with the porcelain, not plastic lamp sockets. We use red, 250-watt heat lamps during cold weather for maximum heat, and red 175-watt heat lamps in warmer weather later in the season. A word of caution: do not use the safety coated heat lamps. They are coated with Teflon, which emits a colorless, odorless gas that is poisonous to all species of birds. Wire the lamp socks using electric cord. You will need a junction box if you are building the 6-ft. long unit with two heat lamps. Secure the electric cord on the outside with staples. Leave plenty of length to reach an outlet. Install a plug on the end. You can install an in-line, on/off switch, but I’ve found that all too often the switch gets turned off by accident or by curious, older chicks. The recessed top should be filled with wood shavings to serve as insulation. This will help keep the heat in. As the chicks get older, they will use the roof top space as well giving you more square footage for your birds.
Tip For Using Your Chick Brooder
Food and water should be kept outside the chick brooder in your chicken coop — it encourages the baby chicks to move about more. The feeder and waterer should be placed on the ground, near the edge of the brooder at first so the chicks can easily find them, then move them further out with time so they are easier to service. You want to raise the food and water off the ground as the chicks get larger too, as illustrated:
Originally published in May / April 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.