My Redneck Brooder Box

It's Hatching Season!
It’s Hatching Season!

My Redneck Brooder Box

It feels a lot like spring on my homestead today. The sun is shining, temps in the 50s, and a whole bunch of chicks are peeping in the incubator in my dining room. Two incubators are humming away on my Grandma’s buffet. One has ducklings due in another day or 2, and the first has (at last count) 17 mixed breed chicks hatched and 9 more eggs in the process.

Sounds like a ton of fun, right? It is, but hatching eggs in an incubator is always a worrisome event for me. I worry over keeping the heat and humidity just right. I wonder if I turned the eggs diligently enough to avoid leg deformities in the hatchlings. And when they are all hatched and ready to go into a brooder box, I worry over them staying warm enough.

I really liked my Eco Glow brooder, until it stopped working.
(Turkey poults in 2012.) I really liked my Eco Glow brooder, until it stopped working.

Putting Together a Brooder Box

There are lots of great products on the market for setting up an effective brooder box for your little day old chicks. Whether you hatch them yourself or order them through the mail, those little fluffballs need a nice warm box that will keep them safe as they grow.

I’ve used heat lamps, Brinsea Eco Glow Brooders, and, most recently, my own home assembled Redneck Brooder Box. The heat lamps make me nervous because they can start a fire if you aren’t careful. The Eco Glow Brooder is a great product, but rather pricey. I’ve invested in 2 of them over the years, and both of them stopped working after 2 to 4 years. The heating elements no longer heat up, and the warranties have expired. At a price somewhere around $80 each, I decided not to purchase another one. So what’s a crazy chick hatching homesteader supposed to do?

The new peeps seem quite comfortable in their Redneck Brooder Box.
The new peeps seem quite comfortable in their Redneck Brooder Box.

The Redneck Brooder Box

My brooder box is set up a lot like other ones I see online. I use a plastic storage bin because they are easy to clean, available in different sizes, and they are pretty inexpensive. But for my heat source, I now use 2 seedling heat mats. One heat mat goes on the ‘floor’ of the box and one is positioned over a little wire shelf.

I put a seedling heat mat in the bottom of the box, and cover it with an old towel.
I put a seedling heat mat in the bottom of the box, and cover it with an old towel.

I put some old dish towels over the heat mats, so the chicks aren’t sitting right on the heat mat where they may get too warm. I fold the towels so there are areas with one layer of towel and other areas with two layers of towel. This gives the chicks some choices in how warm they want to be.

I use a small wire pantry shelf to create a warm nook for the chicks.
I use a small wire pantry shelf to create a warm nook for the chicks.

There are also areas with no heat mat, and areas with the another heat mat overhead for extra warmth. I use a small wire shelf for pantries and cupboards to create a warmer zone for the chicks to sleep. The shelf is covered with a heat mat and an old towel over that to hold in the heat. (The towels are changed a couple times a day to keep the box as clean as I can manage.)

The chicks like to sleep under the heat mat where it's nice and warm.
The chicks like to sleep between the top and bottom heat mats, where it’s nice and warm.

 

The Chicks Enjoy Their New Brooder Box!

I set up my Redneck Brooder Box before the hatching date so it would be warm and ready. A total of 23 chicks and 2 ducklings hatched since I started this post. They are happy and warm in their brooder, and I haven’t had any problems with the seedling mats getting too warm, or not warm enough. This is the third time that I have used this system, and each time I’ve tried out my Redneck Brooder Box it has worked like a charm! I’m very happy with the results.

Heritage turkey poults hanging in their Redneck Brooder Box.

Is This System Right for Everyone?

If you are putting your chicks right out into a barn or coop, this set up may not keep them warm enough. When these hatchlings go out to my coop in a few days, I will also be using a heat lamp. The Redneck Brooder system will go out to the coop with them, so they will have an area that mimics a mother hen, but it won’t keep them warm enough without additional heat.

My Redneck Brooder Box - The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

The seedling heat mats generally cost somewhere in the range of $25 – $35 each, depending on where you purchase them. I’ve had some of these heat mats for at least 12 years and they still work as well as the day that I bought them. They are made to withstand getting wet (but not to sit in standing water), so you can clean them with bleach water to disinfect. They are tough enough to scrub and withstand chicks pecking and scratching them.

When I first decided to try this set up, I was worried about how well it would work. Now that I’ve used it for awhile, I really haven’t found any problems with it. With two mats in the box, I feel better in case one should stop working (although that has never happened). I also like the fact that I don’t have a heat lamp set up in the house, because I would never get any sleep!

Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping a safe, warm brooder box for chicks? Have you ever tried a seedling heat mat? I’d love to have you share your thoughts!