Brothers M. Mondays in May 2022 – Brooder Series Week 5

Brothers M. Monday is our way of sharing our excitement  about our chickens.

Folding1We still needed more brooder area, but I really didn’t want to dedicate more area to just brooders so I came up with the idea of fold up brooders that hang on the wall.

Folding2I made two 2’x4′  hinged brooder boxes. The bottom is hinged to the wall so it folds down, the two sides fold into the floor, and the front is hinged to Fold under the bottom.  The lid had hinge pins so you could take it off and hang it on the folded down brooder or store it someplace else.

folding3To support the front of the folding brooder, I hung chains from the rafters with S hooks on either end to unhook from the brooder and remove from the rafter to store the chains away.

I liked the boxes, but because of their size, they didn’t hold many chicks after I added the feeder and waterer, about 15, 20 max.  Also, I only folded them down when I had to have the space and they stayed up most of the time.

4x4So, I decided to take them out and make a 4×4 in the back corner.  A family member made a similar brooder to this one and gave me the idea.  The idea is that it’s 4’x4’x1′ so you can make it out of one 4×8 sheet.  I made mine a bit taller and added a strip of wire mesh, this was to give me a little more height for waterers and feeders, and I thought I might make more and stack them for transporting the full grown grown chickens, the latter never really panned out.

Even though this makes getting to the back corners of the two brooders in the back of the lean-to, I really prefer this brooder over the 2 hanging brooders.  It worked well this year.

Brothers M. Mondays in May 2022 – Brooder Series Week 4

Brothers M. Mondays is our way of sharing our excitement  about our chickens.

I decided we should have a dedicated brooder area so I cleared out my 8’x16′ lean-to and enclosed it. I lined one long wall with 2 3’x8′ brooder boxes.  The back is 3′ high and the front is 2′ high.  I chose 3′ wide to make it easy to reach the birds in the back; likewise, that’s why the front is shorter.  The back is higher so I can fit a 3gal waterer under the lid.  Additionally, I started out needing clearance for the lights which hung from the lid.

The lid is 2×2 frames with 1/4 hardware cloth, hinged in the back so it lifts up.  I use safety hooks to fasten it down so raccoons cannot unhook it.  I put additional eyehooks in the roof rafters so we can use the safety hooks to hold the lid up.

I switched the lights to sit on top the lid vs hanging because the chickens kept knocking the lights and they would fail; we lost several birds one night because of that.  So instead I sat the lights on top the lid, and attached the shroud to with pieces of wire.   I had to cut a hole in the lid to allow the lamp to protrude through since it sticks out further than the shroud.  This also comes in handy when I need to change a bulb.

Used pickle barrels line the opposing wall and make a safe place to store the feed. These brooders will hold 100 chicks each.

Brothers M. Mondays in May 2022 – Brooder Series Week 3

Brothers M. Mondays(on Tuesday this week) is our way of sharing our excitement  about our chickens.

Trailer1

We have a 3 1/2′ x 7′ wooden trailer, which became our next brooder.  I added a lid to it so we could use it to take the chickens to our processor.  It doubled as a pretty good brooder.  My biggest concern was that predators would breath through the lid, it’s made out of a 1×3 frame and 1/4 inch hardware cloth.  It’s pretty sturdy for travel when it’s locked down, but not really meant to keep something from chewing and pulling at the corners.

Trailer2Turns out I should have been more concerned about how secure the heat lamps were attached via the squeeze handle.  One fell off and burned a hole in the floor of the trailer.  Fortunately the conditions were right and it only smoldered a hold the size of a basketball instead of starting a fire.  Unfortunately I cannot find my picture of the hold.  After that I fastened the lights securely to the lid, which looked pretty ominous from outside the tent.

trailer3The down side of the trailer was running off an extension cord, how deep the trailer was for reaching onto it, and we outgrew it once we started raising more than 100 birds at a time.

Since I was worried about predators, I setup a trail-cam during one run.  Here’s a bonus video I made out of it, hope it makes up for the delayed post.

Brothers M. Mondays in May 2022 – Brooder Series Week 2

Brothers M. Mondays is our way of sharing our excitement  about our chickens.

Crate1Our very first brooder box was thrown together with a lamp and a plastic tote for 20 guinea fowl we bought.  But for the meat chickens, I needed something better and bigger.  I converted a pallet crate into a brooder.  I enclosed the crate on the outside with 2×4 wire fence to keep predators from breaking in.   I used some scrap composite wood flooring for the floor, I was a little short so there were a couple places I filled in with scrap wood. The crate didn’t have a top or lid, so I used a regular pallet with 2×4 fence attached for the top.  It wasn’t attached, but was heavy enough critters couldn’t move it.

Crate2I lined the inside with pink 1/2″ foam board insulation.  On the sides I attached some scrap Formica sheets to protect the foam board from being pecked and eaten, it didn’t protect all the way to the top, but that was only a problem when I temporarily hosed a grown bird in the brooder.  I had a piece of foam board that covered almost the complete top, then I sat the pallet top/lid on to of that.

Crate3An attached light to the side and a waterer and feeder and it was ready for chickens.  This worked pretty good.  But we quickly outgrew it, I think the max was about 30-35 birds.

Brothers M. Mondays in May 2022 – Brooder Series Week 1

Brothers M. Mondays is our way of sharing our excitement  about our chickens.

I’ve recently received a couple questions about starting chicks, so this year for Brother M. Monday’s in May I’m doing a Brooder series

One of these things

Starting out, here’s some general brooder basics I use:

  • Length – In general, the chicks can leave the brooder as soon as they are feathered out.  Anecdotal wisdom is that the sooner the chicks eat pasture grass, the sooner they build immunities.

Starting in early spring, mine usually go out near the end of 3 weeks.  After that they start crowding the brooder.  When raising them in the summer, I like to get them out around the end of the 2nd week, assuming we’re having warm weather, during a cold spell, I’d still wait another week.

  • Heat – I subscribe to a “normalizing” heat method using heat lamps.  This means I supply the heat and rely on the chicks to self-regulate their temperature by moving closer if they’re cold and further away if they are hot.  This method means you have to be observant to what the chickens are doing.

In the spring I use 250w bulbs and switch to 120w in the summer.  When the temperature drops low enough that the chickens are crowding the light, I use foam insulation and some blankets to cover the tops of the brooder, leaving appropriate space around the lights to prevent fire and allow air flow.

  • Bedding – I use the deep bedding method of bedding the chicks.  This means I layer in bedding as it gets soiled.  This method results in several inches of bedding, which gets sent to the compost pile when the chicks are done.

I use medium wood chips for bedding, don’t use cedar.  Fine chips will work, but you use a lot more in this method and there’s more dust which isn’t great for the chickens.

  • Water – I started out with plastic 1gal waterers, then switch to metal 3 gallon, well actually I started out with a couple quart waterers, but we outgrew them really quick.  I used the one gallon waterers because I initially sectioned off my big brooder into 4 sections and the 1gal worked well in that space.  I removed the dividers so I had 2 larger 3×8 brooders and switched to using the same 3gal metal waterers I use in the chicken tractor.

In the future I plan to switch to a nipple water system.

  • Feed – I started out with chick feeder troughs and quart feeders, but they didn’t hold enough food and were too cumbersome to keep up with.   I switched to using the same 7lb feeders that I hang in the chicken tractors, just sitting on the bedding.  I also set them on a piece of scrap deck board to help prevent wood chips from getting into them.
  • Space/segregation – I’ll mention the capacity of each brooder as I post them.  Initially I subscribed to more separation, 50 per brooder, but today feel that 100 per brooder works well.  The reason for separation is to prevent crowding, as chicks will trample each other.  However, my problem with separation is the lack of redundancy and the loss of brooder space for the equipment.

In my personal experience, with the brooder divided, I could only have one heat lamp per brooder.  When a bulb failed one night, I lost almost a dozen chicks due to cold and crowding for warmth.  After removing the divider,  there are two lamps offering redundancy in a failure, I experience a similar failure, but only lost a couple chickens due to the redundant light.  FYI, I think I got a bad batch of bulbs that year as I had several new bulbs fail.

Plus, using the one 3 Gallon waterer in the center instead of the two 1gal waterers gives the chicks more room.  It’s not necessarily about the actual space the waterer takes up, but the placement in the center.  In the divided brooder, the waterer always ended up near a corner which uses up more space.

I hope some of this info on how I do things is useful.  Stay tuned for the rest of the posts on the various brooders I’ve tried.

Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Lighting (revisited)

old lightI touched on the light for the Portable Chicken Coop in the Electronics post, which really was just putting my previous Supplemental Light setup in the new coop.  Given how quickly the battery can be drained in the short overcast days of winter, I wanted to revisit the lighting to see if I could improve the lighting, while reducing the wattage to extend the battery life.

The main goal of this redesign is to do away with the single 5w E26 LED Bulb (I bought a 2 pack, but only used 1) and reduce the wattage required for lighting.  To do this, I looked at these 1w G4 LED bulbs.  These have a clear glass, where the 5w bulb had a diffused plastic cover.  They are also a daylight bulb, where the 5w was warm light.  I expected both these factors to mean I could use less and get more or the same light.

PVC attemptI purchased a pack of G4 bases and started my build. I decided on doing a strip with 3 lights.  Hopefully I could pull one bulb out and get away with just 2 lights.  Either way, that would reduce my wattage from 5w to either 3w or 2w based on the number of bulbs.

My initial thought was to use PVC and run the wire inside the pipe and have the bulbs exposed on the outside.  It was tough getting the wires soldered and back through the small opening needed for the base of the bulb, but I did it.  However, after I drilled the holes for the screws and started attaching the base, I realized how fragile the porcelain bases were.

I broke the edges of the first base, but managed to get it secured.  When the 2nd base broke, I decided to rethink my design.  Obviously the flanged wood screws I was using would put pressure on the base promoting breaking, but I was being careful not to put too much pressure.  And all but one of the base breaks happened before I got the head down to the base.

For my redesign, I decided to use a strip of wood.  It’s more forgiving and would allow me to have open Installed led stripaccess to the wires on the back side for easy soldering and such.  One of the main issues with breaking the bases was that I struggled getting the right angle drilled for the screws on the round pipe.  A flat piece of wood should allow me better control on the angle.

Looking around my basement, I found a scrap strip of OSB, apparently just waiting for me to make a light strip out of it.   I drilled the holes for the wires and was pleased that the bases went on much easier.  Still using wood screws, I had to be careful on how tight I tightened the screws, basically just lightly touching the base.

Light housingOriginally, I wasn’t planning on any protection for the lights, thinking the light was high enough on the ceiling that it wouldn’t get hit.  However, when I did a fit on the lights, the clearance really wasn’t’ that high, so I decided to make some protectors.   I had sections of 1/2 x 1inch chicken floor that I replaced with 1×1 wire.  I cut 3 pieces of this, curled the wire ends so I could attach it with screws and voilà protected lights.

Yes, you may notice the receptacle in the photo with the light strip.  I used an old electrical cord for the wiring, so I decided to add a household receptacle to plug it into so it’s easier to remove if I need to fix anything.  Also, I ended up using all 3 lights; the chickens seem to lay better that way.

I used this strip all winter and it was only in the late winter that I had any issues with having to swap batteries a couple of times to recharge them, which was a huge improvement.  I only have a 20w solar panel, so that upgrade is next on my list.

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Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Feeders

This really doesn’t need to be a separate post, but I didn’t want to combine it with my solar tire tub post since I consider that a failure.

My father-in-law gave me these feeders, so I decided to use them in the initial phase of the coop build.  My thought was to build a PVC feeder system that we could add feed from outside the coop.  This was because roosters are mean to little girls.

Now, we no longer have a rooster and I’ve grown to like the door feeders.  Having to open the door to feed the chickens is a bit more work.  And a time or two a chicken has escaped, as referenced in my aviary post; however, at this point I’m no longer interested in perusing a PVC solution .

As a bonus item, here’s my solution for providing calcium for the chickens.  I like the idea of providing a second feeder that they can get the calcium at-will instead of adding it directly to their feed.  For this I repurposed a broken brooder waterer and an old brooder feeder base I picked up.  The plastic waterer was cracked and not holding water, so I cut open the top to be able to fill it from the top, and drilled two holds for the hanger.  A scrap piece of house wire inserted into two drilled holes acts as a hanger.

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Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Solar Tire Tub Waterer

Recently I realized I didn’t  do a post on my solar tire waterer and that it’s on the outline for my initial build.  In my opinion it was a failure and I guess why I overlooked it.  But, I want others to be able to learn from both my successes and failures so here goes.

I researched ways to keep water from freezing and the tire idea intrigued me so I built one.  I thought I had an ace up my sleeve, I’ll explain.

So I got a tire and put a board across the bottom for the pan to sit on.  This was to insulate the pan from the ground.  The instructions said to fill the tire with insulating material, plastic seemed to be the most common material so I filled the tire with old tarp scraps.  I got a black plastic oil pan that fit the tier pretty well and I was off to the races.

And my ace in the hole?  One of our small blue-ice bottles, unfrozen obviously.  I saw people putting a dark ball in the water to move the water and attract heat, thus helping to keep it from freezing.  If figured if my “ball” was also partly filled with salt water, which freezes at a lower temperature, it would help keep the water from freezing even more.

The results.  The chickens roosted on the tire during the day, frequently butt side toward the water, and made a mess in the water.  It was hard to keep the water clean.  The tire setup did help keep the water from freezing, a little.  It was fairly easy to dump frozen ice out of the pan or to melt it with hot water.  The blue ice bottle seemed to help, but I’m not sure if or how much better than just adding a ball.

Marshmallow seems to be my common companion

The end result was I finished the winter with it and moved back to a standard ground waterer as soon as I could.  The tire was thrown in a corner, pan and all, and I didn’t touch it until I grabbed a picture the following February for the solar water post.  It’s still sitting unused.

For a better solution, check out what I used last winter.  This is the best solution I’ve found.

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Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Aviary

This was a part I didn’t plan out in great detail, but I’m used to that.  Even the well thought out plans I made for this coop got modified as I built.  Typically I’m building with various material, used and new, and I incorporate what I have to make what I want.  I like to think I’ve developed pretty decent system around this building process.

Just so happens, I watched this video on being more productive the morning I was going out to work on the Aviary.  It made me feel better about building the Aviary from just an idea in my mind.   Early in the video,  I like when he said “I think it’s easy to stand around and talk about how to do something better, when if you simply put your head down and went to work, it would be done, and well done, when discussion on the best possible method was just beginning to slow up enough for somebody to begin to pick up a tool.  Now I’m overstating that, but productivity is important.”

I also, I enjoyed the Frost poem, and finally CS Lewis’s quote,  “Two of a trade, never agree.” and his interpretation that Everyone does it different, so learn new things from that.

What’s Up? Chicken Butt. Laugh when you see it.

But on to the Aviary…

Building a coop on a trailer meant coming up with an aviary that can be lifted for movement.  I don’t have permanent perimeter fencing around the pasture to keep and protect the flock, so an aviary is necessary.

The aviary is easily detachable at the pivot/hinge, made from a caster with the wheel removed.  This is for three reasons.  I may use the coop with portable fencing as some point and not want the aviary attached.   The corners of the aviary drag when moving, so if I’m moving over large distances, removing the aviary makes the move easier.  It’s also necessary for me to use the windows as access portals to remove chickens when they are roosting in the middle, removing the aviary gives me access to the windows.

Nice to have a friend around when you work

Most of the frame is made out of some scrap aluminum wire track I picked up.  This helps keep it light.  The wooden pallet boards are for extra strength at the corners and pivot point, and to make it easier to tie everything together.  Chicken wire is zip tied to the frame and stapled to the wood where appropriate.

I turned one corner of the frame into a hatch.  This mainly allows us to water the chickens.  We’ve been using ground waterers in the warm months and my new solar heated waterer in the cold months.   I recently setup a PVC nipple system, but the weather turned cold before I could try it out; more to come on that.

My helper with running the cable.

The initial plan was to use a pulley system attached to the aviary to raise and lower it like a drawbridge and attach a motor or winch to raise and lower it.   Even though it’s pretty light, it a pretty hard pull to raise.  This is due to the shallow angle of lift I have from the roof and that I used cheap pulleys.  Even with double pulleys, it’s a struggle to lift by pulling the cables.

Currently, I raise the aviary by hand, prop it up with a bucket, then pull the slack out of the cable and tie it down, using a cleat hook on the inside.  I’m thinking I may scrap the whole pulley system and just have one cable on each end that is right length to hold the frame up once I’ve raised it on the bucket.

I’ve been told I should have designed the coop so that the aviary drags behind the coop when I move it.  This sounds like a good idea; however, it doesn’t make backing up easy and I’ve already built the coop.  I do think a redesign is in order, I have some ideas, so more to come when I’m finished.

Yes, she’s outside. The devil escaped while filling the food.

 

 

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Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Solar non-freezing chicken waterer – Best design yet

frozen water previewProviding unfrozen water in the winter can be a challenge and time consuming.  Since we pasture the chickens “tractor” style with the portable coop, power to heat the water is the issue.  I believe I’ve finally figured it out.

First year we started with multiple plastic waterers that we swapped out multiple times a day.  This works decently, but the water still freezes, it’s labor intensive, and someone needs to be around during the day to swap waterers.

The next year we steped it up by heating the waterers with a light bulb.  This worked pretty good, but required us to keep the coop within extension cord distance of an outlet and periodically water would freeze in the top  of the waterer.

I did not do a post on the tire waterer.  It was disappointing and it was easy to find info on it.  However, I still had the tire and pan laying around so I threw together a quick pic for reference.

Last year I built a tire waterer to try and keep the chicken water from freezing.   I put a board inside the tire on the bottom side, stuffed the inside of the tire with old tarps for insulation, and fitted a plastic pan in the tire.  My experience with that was poor and I do not recommend it.  The biggest issue was that the chickens would stand on the tire and mess in their water all day.  By the time I got home to change it, it was pretty bad.  It did help slow down the freezing process; however, being open air, it still allowed the water to eventually freeze solid, especially overnight.

I’ve been playing with an idea of an enclosed PVC and nipple system.  Basically building an insulated box and filling it with 3″ tubes of PVC, shown in the graphic.  There would be a cutout of  frame and insulation in one top corner to allow access to add water. One bottom corner would have a smaller PVC tube that protruded through the box with a water nipple on the end.  The front would be Twinwall Polycarbonate glazing to let the sun in and the inside would be painted black to absorb as much heat as possible.

It was getting cold this year and I needed to get a waterer made for the chickens so I decided to not build the PVC waterer for the following reason.  One,  my chickens are not trained to a nipple system yet.  I’m having trouble figuring out how to attach the PVC box to the ‘Pequod’ chicken coop, especially since it’s going to be heavy and need decent support.  The 3″ PVC fittings are expensive and I have concerns the metal part of the nipple would still freeze and cause issue.

I was basing the PVC system on principals I learned from this solar horse tank.   Then it hit me, how about trying to replicate the horse tank at a chicken waterer size!  Since the amount of water would be significantly less, I wouldn’t want to leave the top exposed, but chicken heads are small, so I took a gamble that they’d stick their heads through a hole instead.

 

My first thoughts were to use a bucket, but I didn’t like the clearances nor dealing with bending and attaching the polycarbonate glazing.  So I decided to use a tote, black obviously  so it will absorb the heat from the sun.

Using similar principals as the solar horse tank. I first put 2″ foam on the bottom to have an insulated base to sit the water on.   I measured from the top of the foam to the bottom of the lid and subtracted 2 inches for the foam that would be attached to the lid.  This gave me the height for the foam sides and Twinwall Polycarbonat glazing

Next I added the 2″ foam to the sides.  I looked at the shape of the tote and measured across the end where I could fit a straight piece of foam.  The bottom of the tote is narrower than the top, measured top and bottom and cut sloped pieces of foam.

I measured from the floor to top and between the insides of the sides to cut a rectangle out of the front of the tote for the window.  I cut a piece of polycarbonate glazing slightly larger, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch, than the hole on the sides and bottom so that the foam could help hold it in place.  I used duct to hold and seal the polycarbonate glazing in place; this also sealed the tubes.  I put the scrap piece of plastic from the side on the floor in front of the window to try and suck in more heat.

On the other side, I placed the water bowl in the tote and used the top of the bowl to mark the bottom of the drinking opening.  Using a hole saw, I cut two overlapping circles to make the oval shaped opening for the chickens to sick their head in to drink, cleaning up the oval edges with a utility knife.

I thought it would be better to use a thinner foam where the hens stick their heads in, so I cut a piece of 1/2 inch foam, from scrap I had, to cover this side, removing the same oval.  I used duct tape to hold the foam pieces together and seal the seams.  I also used several pieces of duct tape to secure the foam to the hole and prevent the chickens from rubbing the foam.

Next I cut the 2″ foam for the lid making it fit snug when placed in the tote, but not too snug as it’ll need to be opened and shut frequently.  With the foam in the tote and the lid on, I drilled 4 sets of 2 holes so I could use zip ties to secure the foam to the lid.   I also cut some small squares of plastic from something in the recycling to prevent the zip ties from digging into the foam and pulling through.

From the drinking hole, I wanted to minimize  the surface area of the incoming air over the bowl.  I used 2″ foam to make a bridge over the bowl, then added 1/2 foam on either side of the hole to create a smaller cavity where the outside air had direct contact with the water.

At this point I put the waterer into action; however, I forgot chicken peck.  I’m not sure why I thought they wouldn’t peck the foam bridge, but I did and they did, effectively destroying the bridge.

So… I redid the bridge.  I used corrugated plastic from an old ‘For Sale’ sign I had on all the pecking sides of the bridge and plenty of duct tape to hold it in place.  The 2″ foam was replace with 1/2″ foam over the bowl.  I didn’t account for needing to remove the bowl to clean it and the 2″ foam made it so I had to tip the bowl to get it out.  Now I don’t have to.

How well does it work?  Great.  Basically, overnight at 15-19 degrees Fahrenheit I had about 1/8 inch of ice frozen on the top of the bowl.  Down in the teens is a bit thicker.   In the morning if the bowl was full of water, pull the bowl out and bang it upside down on the ground to remove the ice.  If it’s half or less, then fill it with warm water from the tap and melt the ice that way.

During the day, in the teens and twenties the water stays unfrozen, especially if there is sun, but even on overcast days, there should be enough solar to keep it unfrozen.  Unfortunately, we only had a few days this winter where it stayed below freezing night and day for 2 or more days, so I cannot give accurate results for long cold spells; however, given what I’ve seen so far it should work great.  The heat from the warm water in the morning in conjunction with the passive solar heat should keep the water from refreezing during the day.

With all my scraps, this was a pretty cheap build and worth every penny.  $6 for the tote and $10 for the rubber bowl, and $20 for the polycarbonate glazing. (the link isn’t the one I purchased, but this is a similar 5 pack)   I had 2″  and 1/2″ foam left over from insulating the basement and other projects.

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-Jason