Farm & Field - Poultry

Losing Power in the Barn and Brooder

Usually my young birds are nice and warm in the brooder room in our coop.


Barn/ Garage/ Chicken Coop

Our ‘barn’ is actually a garage and chicken coop all rolled into one. We keep our lawn mowers, shovels, rakes, and implements of destruction, some hand tools, tarps, chicken feed, hay, and our poultry all in the same building. It’s not an ideal situation, but it works. The barn already had electricity when we moved in, but it needed some updating. We hired a very good friend, William Lego, who also happens to be an awesome electrician, to do the updating and make sure that faulty wiring wouldn’t burn the building to the ground.

That was three years ago. Fast forward to this week, when the power to the barn failed, due to a problem with the cable running underground from the house. I went out to check for eggs, give fresh water, and scatter some scratch for the chickens, when I noticed that the light was out. I checked on our little chicks in the brooder room and they were huddled pathetically under the cold heat lamp. Not a good situation for 2 week old chicks. I attempted to solve the issue by flipping the breaker, unplugging things and trying again, all to no avail.

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

43 Chicks in the House?

So you know where this is going, right?! I knew that keeping the chicks in the barn would require running an unsafe length of extension cord from the house to the barn, then plugging a heat lamp into it. Not a good idea. So I went inside and got my two brooder boxes set up in the guest room with paper towels, food and water containers, and a Brinsea Brooder in each one. The chicks were packed into cardboard boxes and toted into the house, much to their displeasure. Those poor chicks filled the brooder boxes up with barely any room for them to turn around. The brooders aren’t big enough to fit all the little tikes underneath them anymore, so they started piling on top of each other…threatening to suffocate the ones on the bottom. Tom suggested putting a space heater in the guest room to warm them up. This worked so well that I took the Brinsea brooders out to give the chicks more room to move around. They still weren’t thrilled with these new digs. And they soon had the whole house stinking of chick poo and wet food.

William Lego – Electrician to the Rescue!

I put a call in that evening to our friend William Lego, licensed electrician serving the greater Rockford, Illinois area. What a guy! Despite short notice and a painful dog bite on his hand (from a customer’s dog the day before), he came out the very next day and worked until after 6:30pm to get the power back on in our garage! After eliminating several possible problems, Bill determined that there must have been damage to the cable running underground from the house to the barn. He ran a temporary line that provided enough power to juice up the lights, garage door opener, and the heat lamp in our brooder room. We will need to dig a trench and replace the temporary line with a permanent one soon. But at least the chicks could go back in the barn and the lights for the coop will keep our hens laying in the reduced daylight hours of October.

I sent Bill home with an 18 pack of fresh eggs, a few tomatoes, some broom corn, a jar of grape jam/jelly, and some cookies. I think he deserves an apple pie or some homemade bread, what do you think?


Back to the Barn!

Before Bill even pulled out of the driveway, I was packing up those stinky little chicky-poos to return them to their room in the barn. Whew! What a mess they made in their boxes. Tom opened all the windows and set up fans to blow the stench out of the house while I gave the little ones fresh water and food. They were so happy to stretch their legs, flap their wings, and run around. It was fun to watch their antics. Things were back to normal in the brooder room. The smell in our house took a good 12 hours to dissipate, however.


Is There a Lesson to Be Learned?

There’s always a lesson to be learned! Check on your young chicks fairly often during the day to make sure that their heat lamp hasn’t burned out, or the power failed. You also need to check food and water often, since they are growing and can go through it pretty fast. But a power failure in cold weather could spell disaster for chicks. You don’t want to lose them, so be sure to check regularly.

Have a back up plan ready to implement. If I hadn’t brought the chicks into the brooder boxes in the house they would have died of hypothermia within hours. I keep brooder boxes to house chicks for their first few days of life. If the power to the house had been out also, we could have built a fire in our wood stove to keep the chicks toasty warm. It wouldn’t be an ideal situation, but it would sure beat standing by to watch while 43 chicks slowly died.

Do you have a back up plan? What would you do if power went out while you have chicks in a brooder.


15 Comments on “Losing Power in the Barn and Brooder

  1. Generators are also a handy idea as long as you keep extra fuel around , unless your like me I converted the generator to bio fuel so its basically cost free . I also found it to be cheaper to run the generator than to use power from the cabin . so the coop always has it own power source .

    it runs the power to the electric barbed wire fence around the coop to keep the bears , coyotes and mountain lions out at night the foxes aren’t as bad they learned after the first zap , it also powers a custom electric baseboard heater keeps the coop a steady 55* when the temp gets down to 0* I mounted up on the wall . I done this after finding 4 frozen solid chickens last winter

    some also rely on solar panels

    it also keeps the broader going for the young chicks every spring

    1. Very good ideas, John! We did buy a generator, so if we have any more problems we are set. Fortunately we haven’t had any issues lately.

      It sounds like you are very self sufficient and put me to shame! I’m glad you found a way to keep the predators out and the chickens from freezing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’ve never kept chicks in our barn, but we’ve had this same problem at least *three* times since we had our place built and moved in a year ago. We called the builder and had the original electrician come out to fix the problem. I’m not sure what the deal was, but in the end they had to rip out the original wiring and lay it again. Usually the problem was triggered by a storm or something of that nature so we’ve just learned to be on guard when the weather acts up. Happened again this past week after a thunder storm but fortunately that was fixed by just resetting an outlet. Our biggest concern has been our deep freeze storing our quarter side of beef. We have a solar powered generator (we’re not too happy with) and a large extension cord that easily runs from the barn to the house.

    1. Hi Jenny,
      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had so many problems with your power 🙁 It makes me nervous to hear this because we want to build in a few years. I hope that your problem has been solved!

      1. Then I won’t say anything about the windows that have leaked. 😀 I think those sort of issues are just part of the building process. If you go into the project just knowing that things will crop up, it is less stressful when they do. We were fortunate to have a builder who has been willing to come back and take care of things.

      2. Lol 🙂 Well, I’m glad the builder has been responsible! Things can go wrong no matter how old the house. When we moved, we picked the house that seemed to need the least amount of work…now I’m not so sure!

  3. I have extra breaker in electrical box which has a cord for Generator hook up.When power goes out I pull main and all other breakers. I then put power to Gen breaker in box turn on and the circuit I want to work.

  4. I would also like to add that with really deep bedding, even young chicks keep it turned and it takes 3 days to smell at all – a week before it needs changing. We use about 3 to 4 inches of pine shavings. Joel Salatin talks about the nitrogen vs base ratio to keep things aromatically pleasing on the farm. Deep bedding is key! Note this is for good chicks. Bad chicks being broilers. They stink so bad I think I’d let them die before bringing them in the house!

    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Your ice chest brooder sounds like a great thing to have around! I tried using pine shavings in the brooder boxes, but it would end up in their water…then they couldn’t drink. I got tired of going in and cleaning the shavings out every hour or so.

      I did bring broiler chicks in too…yes, they were the worst offenders, I’m sure. But I didn’t want to lose them…$1.80 per chick initial cost plus the feed they have consumed, I hate to lose the investment, and I also would feel bad if I was the reason they suffered. However, they are little stinky-poos!

  5. We have an old ice chest w/o a lid. It is our back-up plan as it’s really long (easily holds 40 chicks with room to run around) and holds heat well. We put it on our brick hearth and attach a heat lamp to the shelving above. We have a chicken-wire lid that we made for it. This has been used for numerous different events! In the event of power failure during cold weather, there will be a fire going to keep us warm too. Not ideal, but worth bringing the babies in the house to keep them alive!

  6. Hi Janet,
    At two weeks and 43 chicks, I would have been scooping constantly 😉 I usually don’t have this many chicks at a time either. It probably wasn’t the best homesteading decision I’ve ever made!

    A generator is a great thing to have, wherever you live. We have one in the garage that is ready to go if we have any power outages. We did have one back in 2005 that lasted 3 days…it was a tough lesson in self sufficiency.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and back up plan with us!

  7. Hi again Lisa. I really like your posts and photos. The top pic is really beautiful. I always start our chicks in the house – I am a hovering mother, checking on them constantly, so there’s no chance of running out of food or water. (Don’t ask what I was like when our kids were babies). I scoop poop out of the brooder 1-2x/day so it doesn’t really smell. After a few weeks, I move them out to the breezeway, and after another few weeks they’re in the coop. However, I’ve never started more than about 15 chicks at a time, and I don’t know if I’d be able to keep 43 chicks in the house even for a few days! Thank goodness we now have a generator to take over in case of power outage. Storms here have been so much more violent in recent years, that we finally gave in and got the generator.

  8. Our other backup plan is to run the backup generator – a small gasoline-powered generator that could keep the heat lamps on with no problem.

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