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No Electricity Brooding?

 
pollinator
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I don't know when I'll get electricity at the new place and I would like to brood chickens and quail.  I've been looking into heating rocks and placing them in the brooder in order to keep the temp up for brooding.  I'm thinking of an insulated brooder with sand on the bottom, shavings on top, and  heated rocks off to one side, maybe partially buried in the sand, to provide a warm area for the chicks.  Anyone done something like this or have any ideas?

Let's assume I won't bake the chicks or start them on fire.  I will obviously test-run the system before incubating the eggs.
 
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I think I remember seeing videos of Esther Emery doing it. She used hot water bottles and the like. Down the line once you have a broody hen you won't need electricity
 
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I know people, who get quite annoyed about having a hen that constantly wants to be broody. It's often easy to convince them to sell her. Buying a $10 broody hen represents one of the highest Return-On-Investment decisions that I ever made.
 
James Landreth
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I know people, who get quite annoyed about having a hen that constantly wants to be broody. It's often easy to convince them to sell her. Buying a $10 broody hen represents one of the highest Return-On-Investment decisions that I ever made.



That's a good point. I don't know what the economy will be like where you're going but Craigslist is a good source for broody hens sometimes too
 
Timothy Markus
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Thanks for the replies.  I should have specified that I'm looking to be able to brood 50-100 day old meat birds and about the same quail chicks.  It did make me wonder if these go broody:



Seems they do:



But then I started worrying about this:

 
Timothy Markus
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I'm starting to think that, with 50-100 chicks, I could get away with an insulated HuddleBox™ (just made that up, I'm really on a roll, what with a purse of silkworms and now this) attached to an area with food and water.  I think I'd like to try to figure out something that doesn't use 4-6 kWH per day, but that can be used for medium sized batches of brooding.  Maybe the HuddleBox™ expands as they get older, until it's no longer needed.
 
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I remember reading something about ancient egyptians using fire to brood 1000s of eggs at a time.

Edit: here is a link
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/egypt-egg-ovens
 
Timothy Markus
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Very cool article, Shawn.  Thanks.
 
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One thing to watch for is fluctuations in temperature. The birds can overheat during the day, and then cool off too much at night depending on weather and day/night cycles.

As the birds grow, we've had the poop build up in the bedding to the point that it warms the brooder area, just as we're trying to reduce the temperature to get them ready to move on to grass. That suggests to me that if you have a good source of fresh manure, you could do the equivalent of a plant seed starting "hot box".

Your idea of a "huddle box" makes sense, but we're always worried about the birds piling on top of each other and crushing the ones on the bottom, or them getting stuck in corners, or air quality issues. So designing something that can be expanded as they grow (and they grow *fast*), contains their body heat, but at the same time has air flow will take both thought and experimentation. Personally, I'd feel better if you had several ideas so that you have fall-backs in the wings (oh, pardon that pun) if things don't work as planned. At the very least, during the first crucial 4 days, checking on them hourly at night could save you from being very sad. Chicks that get cold during that critical period, often never really recover.

 
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You might consider a deep cycle battery - I know that may not seem worth it at first but honestly, a little electrical heat will give you a ton of flexibility. Not that I have a recommended a solution but I have used these for CPAP all night, recharged with solar. I feel like if you are planning to raise up to 200 a huddle box + some for of supplemental radiant heat run off a deep cycle would be what i'd try.
 
Timothy Markus
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Great points, Jay.  I've brooded lots of quail, but I used a heat lamp for them.  I like to use rounded corners to help control piling, so I'll do that whichever way I go.  I've always set the brooder up with the heat at one end and the food and water out a ways.  I've found that chicks are usually fine to move in and out of the heat zone if they're doing well, and I'll make sure to have one or two back-ups.  I know I can use a kerosene lamp as well, so I'll have that ready.  

I'll probably do a dry run with a hot rock set-up and a few temp gauges to see if that method's feasible.  I've had a loss rate of less than 2% for each brooding; I wouldn't try this as a first go at brooding.
 
Timothy Markus
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Lucas Green wrote:You might consider a deep cycle battery - I know that may not seem worth it at first but honestly, a little electrical heat will give you a ton of flexibility. Not that I have a recommended a solution but I have used these for CPAP all night, recharged with solar. I feel like if you are planning to raise up to 200 a huddle box + some for of supplemental radiant heat run off a deep cycle would be what i'd try.



I've already considered that.  a 175W heat bulb running 24 hours a day will require over 4.5 KW of solar each and every day.  I would need about 2KW of solar panels and the batteries to store the energy, not accounting for cloudy days.  That'll run me about $10k here, so it's a non-starter.
 
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Yea I did not figure 150 watts but that makes sense. In this case my guess a heater strapped to a propane tank will win out. No way that is worse than water bottles. You can easily buy 20 lbs of propane and run a heater for a long-ass time 24 hours.
 
Timothy Markus
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That would definitely work and be cheaper, but I'm trying to avoid a flame if possible, and use renewable resources where I can.  I keep thinking that a barn with a rocket mass heater would be ideal to keep water thawed throughout the winter and give a surface for brooding, all for very little wood.  It would also provide heat for birthing for breeding stock, but I'd just like to get set up this year to raise some meat birds, a few breeds of layers, some quail, pigs and probably goats.  Nothing too ambitious, lol.  I do plan to slaughter everything this fall so I don't have to over-winter anyone but myself.

Thanks for the suggestions, though, and I hope you're enjoying Permies.
 
pollinator
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We're talking about brooding chicks, not incubating eggs, right?

We've been brooding chicks off-grid this year.  We fill jars with hot/boiling water and nestle them down in dry gravely/sandy substrate for the chicks.  It took some trial and error.  First we were just setting the jars on their side on the surface, but they get cold within an hour or three.  So we tried wrapping them in bubble wrap, which extends their warmth but at some point you have to take the plastic off so the chicks can still feel the warmth.  Also, cold chicks are prone to weaseling into the plastic wrap for warmth and dying.  We also had to be careful not to put jars more than 2" close to one another to prevent from chicks piling or smashing themselves in between jars.  

It's worked great with the dry substrate, burying hot jars length-wise so the soil heats up.  We cover the brooder in bubble wrap to retain heat.
The only problem we had with this method was once we super-heated the soil in the brooder and added hot jars before having to leave for many hours.  This was when we were using soil, not gravel/sand.  The hot soil had moisture in it, the chicks were emitting moisture, and the water dish was being heated, and the result was condensation on the plastic covering that rained back down on the chicks and killed/chilled most of them.  We switched to dry gravel after that and it's been great, no issues with moisture.  When it's warm like this (50~ night, 70-75~ day) we move them outside (no heat) as soon as their wings are fully feathered.  Their fluff doesn't retain body heat, but their true feathers do.  So once they're 1/4 - 1/2 feathered out they're fine in mild temps.  They huddle at night and share warmth.  Our chick run also has a greenhouse in it, so they always have a warm, dry, no-wind place to hang out.

As for incubating without electricity, that's just called a broody hen :P  As you well know.  Perhaps some cultures mass-hatched eggs with fire, but that would be a 24/7 job of monitoring and maintaining a perfect temperature for the entire incubation period.  Which, depending on your species, could be 2-6 weeks.  Not possible without a whole community being involved.
 
Jen Fan
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Also, my preference is to remove chicks from broody hens as soon as they hatch (broody hens is currently our only way of getting chicks out of the chickens and turkeys).  Some broody hens can reliably get every chick to adulthood, but 'most', in my experience, are quite happy whittling their baby count down to 3-5.  So if I want those babies to make it I do it myself.  If I'm lucky, the broody hen will just keep feeling broody and hatch another round of eggs for me!

For quail eggs, get some super-broody bantam hens.  A tiny bantam can sit quail eggs without crushing them.
 
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I'm off grid and don't have nearly enough power for a heat lamp so last year when we were raising baby ducks I used a 55 gal Rubbermaid water tub and put food and water on one end of it, on the other side I had a little plant pot stand that was about 7 or 8 inches tall. I would take the biggest stock pot I have fill it with water and heat it up to boiling then lay a folded towel on the stand put the giant hot water pot on top then wrap a couple towels around it to insulate it a little then draped a wool blanket over that half of the big tub making a kinda tent with the hot water pot under it on one side while the side with food and water was just open. This allowed them to move under the hot water pot if they needed warmth and move out into the open also. I usually heated it up first thing when I woke up in the morning and right before bed on colder days I'd reheat it about every 8 hrs.  We called it "the hot mother"... they really liked it I think because it simulated  a real mother by being warm from above and also a dark safe place to hide under. We didn't lose a single baby duck. I'd use the same method again it was easy and free
 
Timothy Markus
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Thanks, Jen, great advice.  I'm only talking about brooding.  I can incubate with a battery no problem.  I made an incubator from a styrofoam cooler that I found that I beefed up by gluing on some XPS foam board from a dumpster.  Once up to temp, the 60W bulb is pretty intermittent.   I used my kilowatt metre on it and it was a pretty low draw, so I think I can make due with that.  

I've got sand available for free on the property or at the beach, so I figured that as a substrate with the hot rocks.  I'll give them an area to get away from the heat if necessary.  I've found that quail will spend a lot of time away from the heat and go back to warm up.  I expect chicken chicks to be even better able to do that, given that my quail hatched out around 7g, or 1/4 oz.  I can't wait to do this, though it'll be late July/early Aug before I'm set up, I'm sure.
 
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Timothy Markus wrote:I know I can use a kerosene lamp as well, so I'll have that ready.



They used to make special kerosene heaters for brooding or incubating. Not sure why they'd be better than a regular one, other than limiting the light inside the brooder.
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Jen Fan
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Oh!  I should share the brooding technique our neighbors did this spring;

They brooded a dozen~ chicken chicks in a plastic tote.  Our neighbor's a bit of a tinkerer so he cut a round hole in the bottom of the tote, just big enough for the butt of a small sauce pan to fit snuggly into.  The tote was raised up on little feet and he made an 'arm' with a holder on the end that he could slide under the brooder so that it rested under the pot.  He filled the pot with water and put a lit tealight candle on the arm, pushed the candle under the pot, and that tea light kept the pot about 120º for 4 hours, reliably.  I hope that makes sense.  Basically using a tealight to keep a pot hot while it sat inside the brooder.
 
Timothy Markus
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So, 371 days later, I'm in a cabin with no insulation and no windows that open, less than 3 weeks after having my last fire to keep the chicks and eggs warm.  I've unplugged the brooder heat lamp and I propped the incubator lid open almost 2 hours ago.  The chicks are spread out and the light bulb hasn't come on in the brooder yet.  

I'm hoping to find broody hens to hatch out my eggs next year.
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