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Chicken Brooder in a Box: This easy-to-make shelter for growing chicks has a few other benefits, too.

Raising chickens in the backyard is a topic that has become a hot item. Anytime there's interest in something, an inevitable barrage of products arrive, tempting us to spend our money.

Humans and domestic fowl have a shared history that goes back centuries and spans nearly every continent on Earth. Raising chickens is not a new phenomenon, nor does it need to be difficult. The needs of chickens are relatively few: food, water, shelter, and the ability to get up off the ground to roost.

Young chicks, though, have a slightly different set of requirements. In addition to food and water, they need to have an adequate heat source and be protected from drafts. Here's the catch. Baby chicks grow really fast, so you have to make sure your housing solution is large enough to handle them comfortably for the first few weeks.

I'm going to show you one way to meet all of those needs with a lightweight, low-cost alternative to commercially available rearing systems. It even gives you easy access to the birds and won't leave you with a bulky brooder to store until your next batch of day-old chicks arrives. I'm talking about building a chicken brooder from a few cardboard boxes.

Recycling at its Best

To build your chicken brooder, you'll need two cardboard boxes of the same size--three is even better. These can be just about any kind of cardboard box; the only really important part is that the boxes should be as near to 24 inches square as possible and 15 to 18 inches deep.

Boxes sized 24-by-18-by-18 inches are a standard size and will work just fine for 6 to 8 birds. For the purposes of this article, this is the size of boxes used.

You should build your brooder before the chicks come home with you; they don't do well for long in the small shipping boxes in which they arrive.

To make this explanation as clear as possible, I'll refer to the short sides of the box as 18s and the long sides as 24s.

To get started, you'll want to first fold up the bottom flaps of the box. With the box upside down, fold the two 24-inch flaps first and tape them in place with some strong packaging tape. This way, when you turn the box over and check the inside, you'll see the 24s have come together to make a single seam. This will also be taped as a seal and will keep the bedding that will be added later from getting trapped inside the folds of the box.

Next, fold the 18-inch flap that touches the box's factory seam over those 24s you just taped, and tape it down as well. This will assure that you have a stronger brooder later on. The other flap can remain loose for now. Repeat this process with the second box, so you have two folded boxes that are open at the top, with one flap hanging loose and a single seam on the inside bottom.

Building with Boxes

The next step requires close attention. You'll need to cut down the side of each box at one corner that meets the loose 18-inch flap. It doesn't matter which corner you cut, as long as you cut the same corner on both boxes. I find that the easiest thing to do is to lay the boxes next to each other with the long sides touching and the loose 18-inch flaps hanging out on the same side. This helps me be sure to cut down the same corner, either right or left, on both boxes.

After making the cuts, turn the two 18-inch sides of the boxes (that can now be opened like barn doors) so they face each other. With the loose 18-inch flaps folded under and the sides opened out, you should be able to line the boxes up together so they fit like two puzzle pieces. Slide the boxes together so the two 18inch flaps overlap the 24-inch flaps that were taped together on the inside in the first step. At this point, go ahead and reinforce the taped down flaps and seams on the inside of the box, making sure that you don't leave any loose clumps of tape. If you do, the chicks will find them, and pick at and eat them, I promise.

Finishing Touches

You now have the basics of your cardboard box chick brooder. When the brooder is finished, you'll have a heat lamp at one end and food and water at the other.

On the food end, cut off all the top flaps. They'll only get in the way of accessing the food and water, and, after all, we want the children to be able to reach their chicks, right? On the other side, where the heat lamp will be, trim off all but the two 24-inch flaps; these will hold your heat lamp.

To make a lamp bracket from the leftover flaps, take one of the 18-inch flaps that's been cut off and mark it in thirds lengthwise. Fold the piece like you would a letter until it's an 18-inch-long, approximately 3-inch-wide strip; completely tape it along the seam. To hold it on the box, make two angled cuts into the folded (non-seam) side. Make the cuts nearly halfway through the width of the piece with the angles facing in. After making the cuts, slide the two remaining 24-inch flaps into them, and the bracket will sit steadily on top of the brooder. You can now hang your heat lamp from this on one end of the brooder and still have easy access to the food and water on the other end. The chicks will lie under the light while they sleep or rest, and they'll venture over to the food and water as needed. You can slide the food and water closer to the light early on, and then separate them more as the chicks grow.

Added Space for Growing Chicks

If you decide to start your flock early in the year, and you're in a cold winter climate like mine, you may have the chicks indoors for long enough that they'll outgrow the maximum height of the heat lamp. There's an easy fix to this--one I call the chicken condo. This is where the third box comes into play.

Remove the two 18-inch flaps from the top of the box, and one from the bottom. Slide the third box on top of the end of the brooder where the heat lamp was, so the brooder looks like a big "L." To hold the third box in place when you put it on top, tuck the 18-inch flap inside and the two 24-inchers on the outside. Cut off or tape down the 24-inch flaps from the original brooder (the third box won't require any tape).

The bracket to hold the heat lamp can now sit atop the third box, providing plenty of headroom below to the growing birds. You can even put a couple of holes on the outsides of the box and slide a dowel through to give them a low roosting bar, if you'd like. You'd be surprised how early they figure out how to roost.

After your chicks have feathered out and are ready to go outdoors to their new coop, you'll have to figure out what to do with your brooder; it's not something you'll want to keep. Because it's cardboard, you can either compost it, or, better yet, rip it into lengths and lay it under a new garden bed. It'll help keep weeds down, break down into the soil on its own, and all that chicken manure that's been in it will help a future garden grow.

Paul Gardener maintains a large garden and a flock of feathered friends on a quarter-acre lot in suburban Utah.

A Tip from the Incubator Specialists

Temperature is critical for chicks after they hatch. For the first week, the ideal temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be lowered five degrees each week, until the chicks are fully feathered or the brooder temperature matches the outside temperature. A thermometer placed under the heat lamp can give you an idea of where you are in their comfort zone, but also watch their behavior. Cold chicks will huddle under the lamp, and chicks that are too hot will stay at the edges of the heat zone. Comfortable chicks will move about freely and will actively look for food and water.

Get Started with Backyard Birds

Whether you live on 1,000 acres or 1,000 square feet, there's plenty of room in your backyard for a flock of chickens. Join the chicken revolution today and be prepared to reap a lifetime of benefits that go far beyond the enjoyment and the eggs. From the editors of Mother Earth News, Raise Backyard Chickens helps get you started with everything from incubating fertile eggs and receiving and raising day-old chicks, to building a chicken coop and keeping your birds safe and healthy. We've even outlined a 9-step process to help you promote legalization of backyard bird-keeping in your city or town. You'll find top-notch advice on how to protect your flock from predators, produce the healthiest eggs, and so much more. And if your interest is in cooking with eggs and/or chicken, we have you covered. This title is available at or by calling 800-234-3368. Mention promo code MMEPAJZ5. Item #8871.

Caption: Two cut boxes (above) form the brooder, and a flap (left) holds the lamp in place.

Caption: Using a third box extends the life of your brooder, allowing the lamp to be placed higher as the chicks grow.
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Article Details
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Author:Gardener, Paul
Publication:Mother Earth News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2019
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