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Brooding chickens with less electricity

 
Luke Townsley
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Location: Dugger, IN Zone 6a
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I'm building a dedicated brooder house that will probably be around 8x16 or even larger.

I'm trying to figure out a way around running heating lamps.

I've thought about making a small homebuilt stove. I'm still thinking that might be a good idea, but it needs to be safe, and there is the little problem of how to get all that heat directed towards the floor.

Another thought is using a cold brooder hood, which is basically a low hanging flat reflective surface with the back insulated to hold and reflect the chicks body heat.

Another thought is to use some pipe with a small circulating pump and an aquarium water heater laid either on the litter or run under the hoods to make a liquid recirculating radiant heating system. Aquarium heaters only seem to go up to 93 degrees which seems kind of cool, but an external thermostat could be added such as a Ranco to bring it up to maybe 100 degrees F. It still uses power, but maybe 100 watts compared to 750-900 watts, and it would have a thermostat control.

Any thoughts?

This thread discusses some of these techniques http://www.permies.com/t/13741/chickens/grid-brooder-ideas
 
john mcginnis
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Have you considered a propane infrared heater? They are reasonably efficient, generate a contact heat and are quiet and its not electric. You just need to assure adequate ventilation.
 
Luke Townsley
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Location: Dugger, IN Zone 6a
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john mcginnis wrote:Have you considered a propane infrared heater? They are reasonably efficient, generate a contact heat and are quiet and its not electric. You just need to assure adequate ventilation.


I have a friend who nearly died from burns from a bottle top propane heater, but they would definitely be an easy way to bring up the temp of the brooder house to something reasonable. I just might do it if nothing else as a temporary fix.
 
Cj Sloane
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Luke Townsley wrote:
Any thoughts?


Use a broody chicken or turkey.
 
Michael Cox
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Yes, why not get the hens to do it for you?
 
Paul Ewing
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Michael Cox wrote:Yes, why not get the hens to do it for you?


If he is building an 8x16 or larger brooder house I am guessing he is doing batches of 200+ chicks each. That is a lot of broody hens to coordinate and in my experience, the survival rate for chicks under hens is 50-60% at best. That is a pretty expensive way of doing it when a properly run brooder will give 95-99% survival.

One method that we reduce your electric lamp requirements is to use a hover type brooder like the one presented by the Ohio Experiment Station. See Ohio Experiment Station Electric Lamp Brooder for information on building one. They need approximately half the wattage of a normal brooder house. I just built a larger 4x8 foot one for 300 chicks. It would work fine for 500-600 chicks. These also work well in colder weather without having to heat the entire brooder house. During the development they tested brooding chicks in a walk in freezer using just two 250W lamps in a 4x4 brooder.

 
Joe Braxton
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Perhaps this will give you some ideas -



"Civil War Crimean Ovens" - http://alexandriava.gov/historic/archaeology/default.aspx?id=39470

Replacing the "oven" with a rocket stove might be the way to go. Hope this will help.
 
Luke Townsley
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Paul Ewing wrote:
One method that we reduce your electric lamp requirements is to use a hover type brooder like the one presented by the Ohio Experiment Station. See Ohio Experiment Station Electric Lamp Brooder for information on building one. They need approximately half the wattage of a normal brooder house. I just built a larger 4x8 foot one for 300 chicks. It would work fine for 500-600 chicks. These also work well in colder weather without having to heat the entire brooder house. During the development they tested brooding chicks in a walk in freezer using just two 250W lamps in a 4x4 brooder.



Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

As for broody hens, that is a long term project and one I am indeed contemplating, especially with meat chickens, but more so the chicks will have a teacher to learn to forage faster than to simplify brooding, and it won't even get to the experimental stage until next year at least.

And yes, we would like to be able to do quite a few chicks at a time. Last year we did over 500 spread out over five batches.
 
Luke Townsley
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Joe Braxton wrote:Perhaps this will give you some ideas -



"Civil War Crimean Ovens" - http://alexandriava.gov/historic/archaeology/default.aspx?id=39470

Replacing the "oven" with a rocket stove might be the way to go. Hope this will help.


Joe, thanks for the link and pic and rocket stove suggestion. That is definitely something I will ponder on.
 
Michael Cox
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On your scale it makes more sense to take control I guess.

Regarding the rocket heated tent plan - I wouldn't touch it for brooding chicks. You have no where near enough control over the temperature, either too hot or too cold, and the time needed to find tune it (not to mention the risks of losing whole batches of chicks) makes it pretty much a non-starter in the this scenario.

Electric brooders, thermostatically controlled give you the ability to fine tune your setup with ease, and provided your power supply is reliable you should have no problem with continuity of power. Who wants to feed a rocket stove twice a night for a month?
 
Cj Sloane
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Paul Ewing wrote:That is a lot of broody hens to coordinate and in my experience, the survival rate for chicks under hens is 50-60% at best.


My survival rate was much higher than that. I've had sooooo many chickens emerge from hiding spots with at least 12 chicks following. Besides, if the eggs are produced on site they're virtually free anyway.
 
Luke Townsley
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Michael Cox wrote:On your scale it makes more sense to take control I guess.

Regarding the rocket heated tent plan - I wouldn't touch it for brooding chicks. You have no where near enough control over the temperature, either too hot or too cold, and the time needed to find tune it (not to mention the risks of losing whole batches of chicks) makes it pretty much a non-starter in the this scenario.

Electric brooders, thermostatically controlled give you the ability to fine tune your setup with ease, and provided your power supply is reliable you should have no problem with continuity of power. Who wants to feed a rocket stove twice a night for a month?


I see your point, but on the other hand, temperature isn't as critical as it is sometimes made out to be. Or, perhaps better said, there are good ways to compensate for irregular temps under some circumstances. Mainly, they can't get too hot, and need to stay dry and be able to huddle together in a draft free area without smothering each other. That is why water bottle systems and hover systems can work well even though the chicks may spend part of their time in cooler areas.

If a rocket stove could be used to get the chill out of the room, and then combined with a cold or hot hover hood with warm bottles, warmed mass by the heater, or a warm water system, possibly run from the rocket mass heater, I think we are in business. I'm not suggesting it would be a good system for a first timer, but it seems like it could be made to work well for a small farm production system.

I'm pondering the wisdom of a chick brooder built on top of a RMH with areas of mass extending through the floor into the brooder.
 
Shane Gorter
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Location: Everson, WA
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To reduce the use of electricity use for my brooder house I am experimenting with using my greenhouse this year. I have shade cloth to pull over it during the summer to prevent cooking them. The next step would be to get thermastat controls on the heat lamps to turn on and off with the temperature of the greenhouse. I am running batches of 225 chicks with two lamps so having one always on probably would be a good fail safe. Another route that would probably do better in the long run would be a well insulated brooder house and control the temperature inside the structure. The problem with sealing up the brooder house is the need to circulate fresh air, especially if your running hundreds of chicks. Depending on your power rates I would not go to propane right now as the price is way to high. Up here in the Pacific NW the general rule is that electric heat is cheaper than propane when the price goes over $2 gallon, our electricity is about $0.11 kwh.
 
Peter Ellis
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I would think the link Paul Ewing provided makes lots of sense. Not the first time I've seen that essential system, and I am pretty sure I've seen it discussed using lower wattage lamps. Seems to me much more efficient than trying to use an aquarium heater.

I see an awful lot of time and effort being put into developing and perfecting some sort of stove system, so much that it would be a net loss of time, money and energy compared to sticking with a simple, proven electric method like the hover box with flood lamp(s).
 
Shane Gorter
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Location: Everson, WA
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Peter Ellis wrote:I would think the link Paul Ewing provided makes lots of sense. Not the first time I've seen that essential system, and I am pretty sure I've seen it discussed using lower wattage lamps. Seems to me much more efficient than trying to use an aquarium heater.

I see an awful lot of time and effort being put into developing and perfecting some sort of stove system, so much that it would be a net loss of time, money and energy compared to sticking with a simple, proven electric method like the hover box with flood lamp(s).


I agree the system would have to be fairly passive in order not to cost a lot of labor and that is in short supply on my homestead. It is a worthy thought experiment as a lot of us are trying to take our homestead / farms off grid. Electricity is really cheap energy, but coming up with systems that might take a bit more time and enable production off grid would be worth it in my book. I personally want to get one of those wood gasifying central boilers and run my entire operation on radiant heat. They may not be quite as efficient as the rocket mass heaters, but I believe it would be much easier to thermostatically control your temperatures. If you heated from the ground up or one of those hovers you could also probably maintain a decent amount of air circulation with out destroying the heating efficiency. I am also thinking of a brooding operation for a homestead farm operation, if your just brooding up a small batch then this is all over kill.
 
Luke Townsley
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Location: Dugger, IN Zone 6a
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People doing meat birds or selling pullets will use a brooder all summer and even all year long. I would probably do 6-10 batches per year if I had a cost efficient setup. I think I did five or maybe six batches last year.

Right now, I spend roughly $50 per batch of 100 chicks just on electricity for the brooder lights and that is even with keeping the building warmer with a (very inefficient) wood stove. Also, I have to setup a new building for them anyway since they aren't allowed back in my shop area again.

If you are designing a dedicated building for half year round use or even more it starts to make more sense to spend a little more time upfront.

Per this discussion with everyone's input, I think we have come up with several very satisfactory ideas that could be used to make a small farm brooder that is much cheaper to operate and even ways to run a successful brooder entirely without electricity.

I'm still open to ideas and won't be building anything for at least a week or two, but I will likely be using some of these ideas.
 
Sherri Lynn
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I wonder how a brooder built like a shorter version of a passive solar greenhouse would do? I have wondered about an old cooler with a glass plate on top (with air holes and watching the temperature, of course.) If it worked, then multiples of the small version. I have often seen coolers with broken handles at yard sales for twenty-five cents.
 
Cj Sloane
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I just remembered about this from Farmers of Forty Centuries




At this season of the year Chinese incubators were being run to their full capacity and it was our good fortune to
visit one of these, escorted by Rev. R. A. Haden, who also acted as interpreter. The art of incubation is very old
and very extensively practiced in China. An interior view of one of these establishments is shown in Fig. 96,
where the family were hatching the eggs of hens, ducks and geese, purchasing the eggs and selling the young as
hatched. As in the case of so many trades in China, this family was the last generation of a long line whose lives
had been spent in the same work. We entered through their store, opening on the street of the narrow village seen
in Fig. 10. In the store the eggs were purchased and the chicks were sold, this work being in charge of the women
of the family. It was in the extreme rear of the home that thirty incubators were installed, all doing duty and each
having a capacity of 1,200 hens' eggs. Four of these may be seen in the illustration and one of the baskets which,
when two−thirds filled with eggs, is set inside of each incubator.

Each incubator consists of a large earthenware jar having a door cut in one side through which live charcoal may
be introduced and the fire partly smothered under a layer of ashes, this serving as the source of heat.
The jar is
thoroughly insulated, cased in basketwork and provided with a cover, as seen in the illustration. Inside the outer
jar rests a second of nearly the same size, as one teacup may in another. Into this is lowered the large basket with
its 600 hens' eggs, 400 ducks' eggs or 175 geese' eggs, as the case may be. Thirty of these incubators were
arranged in two parallel rows of fifteen each. Immediately above each row, and utilizing the warmth of the air
rising from them, was a continuous line of finishing hatchers and brooders in the form of woven shallow trays
with sides warmly padded with cotton and with the tops covered with sets of quilts of different thickness.

After a basket of hens' eggs has been incubated four days it is removed and the eggs examined by lighting, to
remove those which are infertile before they have been rendered unsalable. The infertile eggs go to the store and
the basket is returned to the incubator. Ducks' eggs are similarly examined after two days and again after five days
incubation; and geese' eggs after six days and again after fourteen days. Through these precautions practically all
loss from infertile eggs is avoided and from 95 to 98 per cent of the fertile eggs are hatched, the infertile eggs
ranging from 5 to 25 per cent.

After the fourth day in the incubator all eggs are turned five times in twenty−four hours. Hens' eggs are kept in the
lower incubator eleven days; ducks' eggs thirteen days, and geese' eggs sixteen days, after which they are
transferred to the trays. Throughout the incubation period the most careful watch and control is kept over the
temperature. No thermometer is used but the operator raises the lid or quilt, removes an egg, pressing the large
end into the eye socket. In this way a large contact is made where the skin is sensitive, nearly constant in
temperature, but little below blood heat and from which the air is excluded for the time. Long practice permits
them thus to judge small differences of temperature expeditiously and with great accuracy; and they maintain
different temperatures during different stages of the incubation. The men sleep in the room and some one is on
duty continuously, making the rounds of the incubators and brooders, examining and regulating each according to
its individual needs, through the management of the doors or the shifting of the quilts over the eggs in the brooder
trays where the chicks leave the eggs and remain until they go to the store. In the finishing trays the eggs form
rather more than one continuous layer but the second layer does not cover more than a fifth or a quarter of the
area. Hens' eggs are in these trays ten days, ducks' and geese' eggs, fourteen days.

After the chickens have been hatched sufficiently long to require feeding they are ready for market and are then
sorted according to sex and placed in separate shallow woven trays thirty inches in diameter. The sorting is done
rapidly and accurately through the sense of touch, the operator recognizing the sex by gently pinching the anus.
Four trays of young chickens were in the store fronting on the street as we entered and several women were
making purchases, taking five to a dozen each. Dr. Haden informed me that nearly every family in the cities, and
in the country villages raise a few, but only a few, chickens and it is a common sight to see grown chickens
walking about the narrow streets, in and out of the open stores, dodging the feet of the occupants and passers−by.
At the time of our visit this family was paying at the rate of ten cents, Mexican, for nine hens' and eight ducks'
eggs, and were selling their largest strong chickens at three cents each. These figures, translated into our currency,
make the purchase price for eggs nearly 48 cents, and the selling price for the young chicks $1.29, per hundred, or
thirteen eggs for six cents and seven chickens for nine cents.
 
John Polk
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I am quite familiar with the Ohio State brooder posted above. It was first published over 70 years ago, yet remains one of the most cost effective options to date. Cheap, simple, and very efficient.

If you build it using that shelving angle iron (that has holes every 1/4" or so) for corners, you can easily add 2, 4, 6" extensions to raise it to accommodate the chicks as they get larger. The boxed in area on the top can be filled with wood chips, and gives the growing chicks an optional area to hang out, effectively doubling your square footage.

I know small scale commercial growers that use that design exclusively.

For safety's sake, use multiple lamps (of lesser wattage). That way, if a bulb burns out while you are asleep, or away, you still have some heat. Also, as the chicks grow, and need less heat, just turning off one bulb satisfies that need.

 
Shane Gorter
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Location: Everson, WA
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I raise organic pastured poultry commercially and will run 2500 broilers this season. I do not like to eliminate predators so I have built brooder tables that are rat proof with 2"x12" walls 4'wx6'l and a lid with 30" of 16 guage .5"x1" hardware cloth. I put 100 chicks into each brooder and one 250w lamp is enough to keep them plenty warm, I do not have any crowding losses. The brooders are located inside a greenhouse with shade cloth over the top which keeps it a bit warmer during the day, but I have the doors on each side of the greenhouse open 24x7 and I live in NW Washington State. Our power is $0.11 a kw hour and I run the 250w light for three weeks so the power consumption equals $13.86 per 100 chicks. During the day the chicks will all be avoiding the lamp so I could potentially add a thermostat to turn it off for day temps, but I would rather pay out the money than have another point of failure. With larger batches like 100 chicks if you do not have a draft in their brooder they can go through a night with out a heat lamp just huddled together. If you want to see how warm they can stay stick your hand in the huddle and it is toasty.
I would not advocate trying to go with out a heat lamp and if we are looking at a scenario that heat lamps are no longer possible, most likely neither are incubators and we will just have to go back to the broody hens. Brooding chicks commercially off grid would probably be done best with wood heated brooding room that was kept at a temperature appropriate for the chicks. One of Paul's rocket mass heaters would probably work really well for this to prevent rapid temperature swings that would stress out the birds.
 
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