I made the decision to buy day-old chicks instead of older pullets or laying hens. Why? Simple math: day-old chicks are about $2 each (for females), whereas a laying hen will set you back anywhere from $15-30.
30 chicks times $2 = $60. Pretty manageable on a farming budget, if I can keep the other costs down.
But 30 hens times $20 each = ouch. No thanks!
And while there are some additional expenses associated with day-old chicks — they require a brooder, plus more feed to get to the laying stage — in my estimation, the little guys will still save me a bundle. (Also, I’ll get the experience of hand-rearing a flock from day one, which I’m pretty excited about.)
So how about those other expenses? A commercial brooder will set you back $200. Fortunately, the internet can make a brooder a whole lot more cheaply. (Ah, I love the internet.)
I stumbled across this brilliant site, and on the advice of the author, headed straight to Wal-Mart. I really only ended up buying the 90 qt. tubs at Wal-Mart — the rest of the materials were easier to find (and equally cheap) at our local Ace Hardware or feed store. (By the way, the tubs are now $11. Inflation, I guess.) And now, onto my slightly revised cheep brooder design…
Quick revised list of required materials:
- 90 qt. tub (one or two, depending on flock size)
- clip-on flood lamp
- red 100-watt bulb for lamp
- hardware cloth
- heavy-duty stapler
- 2 pieces of wood (at least 3′ long, whatever sort you have lying around will probably do the trick)
- chick feeder
- chick waterer
- paper towels to line tub (not pictured)
And here are a few slight modifications to the original design that, in my mind, make the brooder just a tad easier to build (as well as reusable for the future):
(1) For those of us who aren’t planning on raising chicks 24/7/365, why wreck a perfectly good storage tub lid? (After the chicks are grown, these tubs will–with a little bleach–make great harvesting tubs for bringing produce to market.) So instead of cutting into the plastic lid and ruining its usefulness as a storage container, just take two pieces of wood (here I used some extra wood flooring material, but two by fours or two by twos would also work), staple the hardware cloth to the wood, and voila, you’ve saved the tub lid for future use. (Note: the hardware cloth takes a bit of bending, as it’s curved from being in a roll. You can see I don’t quite have it straight yet in the photo, but I eventually wiggled it into flat submission.)
(2) Don’t mess around with mounting a lamp on the hardware cloth. Instead, get a flood lamp that clips on to the side of the tub. The whole lamp — including the reflector, clamp, and guard — was a tad under $10, and the red 100-watt bulb was $7. (Red, incidentally, reduces the instances of the chicks pecking one another.) This type of lamp also seems more useful for future purposes — it could easily be clipped inside a coop, or wherever else you might need a bit of light for that matter. The clip is quite strong, so I’m not too worried about it falling off (knock on wood).
(3) I don’t know how much hardware cloth the other folks used, but get 1 foot of 3-foot wide hardware cloth, which will cover 2 side-by-side tubs quite nicely and cheaply.
Note: I bought 2 tubs, since I’m thinking that 27 chicks will pretty quickly outgrow one. (I haven’t gotten a second feeder & waterer yet, but they’re only $3 each, so I think I can spring for another set soon!) I’d imagine that if you were only raising 10 or so chicks, they’d be fine with one tub. In that case, if you wanted to save the plastic lid, you could use a half-plywood, half-hardware-cloth combo for the top.
Anyway, there you have it. For a grand total of $40, you too can build a brooder with mostly reuseable parts! I’ll let you know how well it works once I get the chicks and test it out. Until then, you can rest assured that the design has the official tail’s-up seal of approval from Jasper the Cat.