How To Build The Perfect Brooder For Less Than $20


The Perfect Chicken Brooder

Choosing a brooder for those fuzzy new chicks is often treated like an afterthought. This is somewhat understandable as the chicks won’t be in the brooder for very long; just 7 to 9 weeks as compared to the years they’ll hopefully live outdoors.

New owners might not realize just how vulnerable baby chicks are and consequently, don’t put enough thought or effort into making the right preparations. But for those of us who have been through this process before, we know there are three things that are absolutely crucial for a chicks survival. These are heat, protection and space.

Solutions for these three concerns are offered in many different forms, some being less functional than others.

One style of brooder that always makes me shake my head is the ultra-simple, disposable, cardboard pen. This may look like a really great idea and, admittedly, could serve some quite well. But understand, while being relatively inexpensive, this option does have a drawback as the chicks will most likely out grow the space before they’ve grown the feathers required to keep themselves warm. So if you decide to use this type of brooder, then make sure you plan on a second brooder before sending the chicks outdoors as they will probably still need help.

Whatever you decide, be sure to keep the chick’s needs in mind. This means not just the cute fuzzy birds that will fit in the palm of your hand, but the ‘raring-to-go’ adolescent that is challenging to hold on to with both hands.

There are also options of where to put your chicken brooder. This topic was discussed at length in this article: Brooder In The Garage – the title telling you the authors personal choice.

Brooder Parts List

The brooder design that has worked so well for us will tuck neatly in the garage where your chicks are protected from the outdoors, as well as, easily accessible for regular progress checks: something you really should do quite religiously the first few days of a chick’s life.

This design is easily assembled/disassembled and, most importantly, stored out of the way, thereby not adding to any clutter that might find its way into your garage.

What you will need for this brooder are the following.

  • (1) 4 by 8 sheet of Oriented Strand Board (aka; particle board) thickness doesn’t really matter
  • (2) 8 ft. Furring Strip – 1in. by 2 in.
  • (1) 8 ft. Furring Strip Board – 2in. by 2 in.
  • (14) 1 5/8inch screws

# Special Note #

This design goes against the wall – using the wall of your garage as part of the brooder. If you don’t plan on putting your brooder against the wall, you will need additional lumber!

Parts Cost

At the time of writing, costs for material in my location were as the following.

  • 4ft. by 8ft. sheet of Oriented Strand Board – $12.07
  • (2x)8ft. Furring Strip – $2.50
  • 8ft. Furring Strip Board – $2.15
  • 1 5/8 inch screws (1 box) – $3.97
  • ————————————————–
  • Total $20.69 plus tax
  • * bonus for military discount!
  • My cost $19.04 (THANK YOU HOME DEPOT!)

How To Cut The 4ft. By 8ft. Oriented Strand Board

Unless you are one of those fortunate hobby farmers with access to a pickup, then you’ll want to get the lumber yard to do some cutting for you as that 4ft. by 8ft. just doesn’t want to fit in a compact!

Here’s the cut:

A) Rip the 4ft. by 8ft. lengthwise. This will give you two 2ft. by 8ft. boards. This cut isn’t crucial so a little off center isn’t the end of the world.

B) Rip only one of the 2ft. by 8ft. drops. (If at all possible, rip the smaller of the two pieces)You will make two cuts at 2 ft. This will give you one 4ft. by 2ft. drop and two 2ft. by 2ft. drops.

So to recap.

When you’re done cutting (3 cuts) the 4ft. by 8ft. sheet of Oriented Strand Board, you should have a total of four pieces.

  • (1) 2ft. by 8ft.
  • (1) 2ft. by 4ft.
  • (2) 2ft. by 2ft.

So if the 2ft. by 8ft. fits in your car, the rest is piece of cake!

Tools You Will Need

While you might have done the longs cuts at the lumber yard, there are a few things left to cut and drill. These things are nothing major, but they do require some tooling; namely a drill, drill bit, a way to put the screws in and saw (hand saw is fine).

How To Assemble Your Garage Brooder

Having an additional set of hands is always nice, but you can assemble this by yourself. Start with the following:

  • Take your 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip Board and make two cuts. Anywhere from 12 to 20 inches in length is fine. Once you have these two blocks, set the long leftover aside and get your drill and screws ready.
  • Grab one of your 2in. by 2in. blocks and then grab one of your 2ft. by 2ft. drops of Oriented Strand Board. These bigger boards will be the ends of the brooder
  • Take the 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip block and place it flush on one of the ends of your 2ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand board. (if you have paint on the one of the ends of the Oriented Strand Board, then use this end) Also, if you have clamps available, now would be a good time to use them. But this isn’t rocket science, so it will be fine if you don’t have clamps.
  • Grab a 1/8 inch drill bit and stick it in your drill. (You can go a little bigger or a little smaller on this if necessary)
  • With the 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip block underneath the 2ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand Board, drill through the Oriented Strand Board and into the Furring Strip block. This will create a pilot hole for your screw. Placement isn’t critical, but try to drill within a couple of inches of the end of the Furring Strip block and as close to the center of the Furring Strip block as possible. (Don’t fret this too much. As long as the hole doesn’t come through the side of the Furring Strip block, you should be good)
  • Drive a screw into that hole and screw the Furring Strip block tight to the Oriented Strand Board.
  • Now that Furring Strip block is secured to the Oriented Strand Board, repeat the process of drilling a pilot hole and then drive a second screw on the opposite end of the Furring Strip block. Make sure that the Furring Strip is flush to the end of the Oriented Strand Board.
  • Now repeat this process for the other 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip block and the 2ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand Board – remembering to use the paint side if at all possible.
  • Now that the two ends are completed, choose one and grab the big 2ft. by 8ft. Oriented Strand Board.
  • Holding the big 2ft. by 8ft. Oriented Strand Board upright on its side (paint side up if possible), take the 2ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand Board and a place it on one of the ends. (If you have an extra set of hands, this is where you will need them most. If not, try straddling the 2ft. by 8ft. section, clamping it with the heels of your shoes)
  • With the 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip block pressed flat (@ 90 degrees) against the big 2ft. by 8ft. section, drill a pilot hole through the 2ft. by 8ft. Oriented Strand Board and into the 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip block. Try to drill this hole three to six inches below the screws located on the 2ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand Board (the more space you give, the less likely there will be any cracking)
  • Drive a screw into the pilot hole to secure the two sections of Oriented Strand Board. This should hold the sections in place.
  • Drill another pilot hole through the 2ft. by 8ft. section – spacing at your discretion – and drive a second screw in. At this point, things should feel relatively solid.
  • Repeat this process and attach the second 2ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand Board to the opposite end of the 2ft. by 8ft. section – careful to create a U-like channel. If it looks like an S or a Z, then don’t panic. Just undo one of the ends (from the 2ft by 8ft section) and flip it around until you see the U.
  • At this point, things are almost done, so take a brief brake and do some gloating!
  • Now pick a spot in your garage and slide your newly constructed U-channel up against the wall.
  • This is where your brooder will be for the next couple of months so take a step back and give it a good looking over. Is it going to be out of the way? Do you still have room to navigate in your garage. If you are satisfied, then move forward with the final steps
  • Locate the leftover 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip Board, the long length that you put aside earlier, and cut two small blocks off. Anywhere from 5 to 7 inches in length is fine.
  • Take one of those blocks and place it on the top inside of the 2ft. by 2ft. end. This short 2in. by 2in. block should be length-wise and relatively flush to the top of the end board. Slide this piece all the way over to the wall of your garage.
  • With this small 2in. by 2in. block in place, drill a pilot hole through the 2ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand Board and into the block.
  • Drive a screw into this new pilot hole, securing the block (flush at the top and against the wall).
  • Drill another pilot hole and drive a second screw. Things should feel pretty secure with this block.
  • Now that you’ve done this, repeat the process with the second block on the opposite 2ft. by 2ft. end – remembering to keep the block on the inside of your brooder, flush at the top and against the wall.
  • Grab one of your 1in. by 2in. Furring Strips and lay it on the two blocks that you’ve just secured. It should fit nicely (a little over is OK). If, however, it doesn’t reach, then go back and reread.
  • Drill a pilot hole through the 1in. by 2 in. Furring Strip and into the block.
  • Drive a screw and secure it.
  • Repeat the process for the other end – drilling a pilot hole through the Furring Strip and into the block. Then drive a screw to secure.
  • Now you have successfully finished the construction phase – so do some more gloating!

At this point, there should only be three pieces of lumber left. The 4ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand Board, one 1in.by 2in. Furring Strip, and one leftover 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip Board.

Take the 2ft. by 4ft. Oriented Strand Board and place it inside of the brooder. Will any luck, you can let it fall over and it will cover the floor (half). Typically, I will put this on an end.

This is where you should hang your heat lamp as the board will provide another layer of insulation from the cold concrete.

Making A Chick Perch: Why?

It would be really easy, after all your work, to put the tools away and be done. After all, brooder construction is complete. There are other things that must be done before your new chicks get here, such as hanging a heat lamp, putting the bedding in, getting food and water ready, ect. So why bother with building a chick perch, if they are only going to be in the brooder for a little while?

Because at some point, the chicks are going to leave and getting them acquainted with a perch is only going to make your life easier when they move to the coop. I have found that chicks not accustomed to sleeping on a perch will want to sleep where they have always slept…on the floor. And on the floor, they are at risk.

I experienced this with our eight bantams. Those birds danced all over the perch during the day, excited to be able to see outside. But when it got dark and it was time to go to bed, every one of those birds dropped to the floor. This was problematic as the floor of the coop is screen (so that waste could drop through) – meaning a clever predator could slip a claw or tooth through and possibly grab a bird by the foot.

Consequently, I was out there every evening for about a week, picking the birds up and putting them on the perch. And let me tell you, if you don’t move fast enough, some of those birds that you just picked up, are going to hop back down to their friends. Talk about an act of futility!

Sleeping on a perch is a natural thing for chickens. So giving them the opportunity to learn early is only going to make the transition from brooder to coop easier for you and less stressful for them.

How To Build The Super Simple Chicken Perch

  • Take your unused 1in. by 2in. Furring Strip and cut two small blocks off. Anywhere from 5 to 9 inches is fine. These blocks will be the ‘feet’ for your perch
  • Grab the leftover 2in. by 2in. Furring Strip Board and place one of the 1in. by 2in. Furring Strip blocks – the ones you just cut – on the very end (on one of the four sides). This should sit crosswise, making the shape of the letter ‘T’.
  • Drill a pilot hole through the 2in. by 1in. block and into the long 2in. by 2in. leftover board.
  • Drive a screw and secure it.
  • Now repeat the process on the opposite side, and it’s finished.
  • Your Super Simple Chicken Perch is done. And this will have taken a LOT less time than having to pick your birds up off the floor of their coop every night…like I did!

Last Step: Covering The Wall

Because the brooder uses the garage wall as one of its sides, this means the chicks will have direct contact with it. Any loose pieces of drywall or drywall tape is going to get pecked, pulled and possibly consumed. This, however, will probably not bother you as much as having the birds poo on the drywall. And for the record, chicken poo does a very effective job of staining drywall.

This is where your last piece of lumber, the leftover 1in. by 2 in. Furring Strip, gets put to work.

Using whatever kind of cardboard you have available (we use pizza boxes), stand the cardboard up against the wall. This will be your barrier against stains.

Once you’ve got all the cardboard lined up, take what’s left of the 1in. by 2in. Furring Strip and push it up against the wall – covering the cardboard and holding it in place. (An extra set of hands is really helpful here!)

Find two studs in your garage wall and drive two screws through the 1in. by 2in. Furring Strip, threw the cardboard and into your wall. Now the cardboard should be secure and your garage wall safe from stains.

General Notes

Paint Side

With regard to the brooder ends (2ft. by 2ft.), the reason you should try to use the paint side for mounting the 2in. by 2in. blocks, is because by using the same end, this should maintain an equal distance from the wall – which will be helpful when you drop the 4ft. by 2ft. Oriented Strand Board inside the brooder.

Blocks vs brackets

Originally, when we built our first brooder, we used elbow brackets instead of blocks for securing the Oriented Strand Board sections. And if you feel inclined, you can do this. However, we stopped doing this as;

A) I often loose parts after dis-assembly

B) Elbow brackets can catch on clothing (and skin!) when in storage.

C) An 8ft.section of 2in.by 2in. Furring Strip Board is actually cheaper than buying elbow brackets.

Assembly time:

When building the sample coop – used for pictures and cost test – it took me a little less than an hour to build. Obviously, it went fast for me as I have built several of these brooders in the past. I could have gone faster, but I took some time to double-check cut numbers and take photos.

For the average DIY person, I’m guesstimating between 1.5 to 2.0 hours to build. Nothing in this brooder is extremely critical, but it does take a little effort as it is so big and can be awkward to handle.

FYI, it comes apart a lot faster!

Blanket space:

For the times where I need to limit the amount of heat loss on the brooder, I’ll lay an old sheet over it. This does work well, however, there is risk of starting a fire if I were to lay the sheet over the heat lamp. Be VERY CAREFUL not to put the sheet/blanket (or anything flammable) anywhere near the heat lamp!

Should you feel comfortable about the birds’ safety and choose to lay a blanket over the brooder, then having the back Furring Strip (the one closest to the wall) away from the wall by an inch or so will give you a space to tuck the covering into.

Good use of material:

One of my favorite aspects of this brooder design is the fact that I have no leftovers – other than screws. No little blocks laying here or there, to clutter up the garage. No miscellaneous pieces that you just can’t find a use for. Every piece of lumber that you came home with is being used…completely!

Chicks: Almost time to leave for the backyard

Sizing perspective:

I’ve included a photo of the birds in the brooder in order to give you a little idea of what your cute little chicks will grow into. As you can see, the ‘chicks’ are roughly the size of a crow…and they still have about 10 days to grow before I move them.

Your chicks are going to get a lot bigger! And the bigger they get, the more rambunctious they’ll start to behave. Keep this in mind, when planning for your brooder. If you go too small, you will probably see fighting amongst your flock as they will be stressed by their small surroundings. Clearly this is a bad situation for the ‘runt’ that can’t run away.

Jumping!

Depending on your breed, you may find the birds trying to jump out. This usually happens for me the very last week that they’re in the brooder. You’ll probably see them jumping high enough to where they can peek out a couple of weeks before that. But don’t be surprised if you come out to the garage and see a bird roosting on the side of your brooder : )

For this reason, I’ll either strategically hang a sheet over most of the brooder (taking care to raise or remove the heat lamp) or hang some bird netting over it.

Sitting on the side of the brooder really isn’t a health issue for the birds. But should your feathered adolescent get out, it will most likely not be able to get back in…where it’s warm.

*** Corner cutting for the ultra-cheap

A frugal individual could probably save a few bucks by opting out of one of the 1in. by 2in. Furring Strips (leaving the wall of your garage exposed), as well as, scrounging up and using screws that you already have around the house (I have used drywall screws in the past).