Friday, April 20, 2012

How to Build an Ohio Brooder

In our current production system, we could only brood 125 chicks at a time.  That's all our brooder (an 8 foot stocktank in our garage) would hold.

And while the stocktank/garage set-up worked fine, it was the limiting factor in our operation.  In Holistic Management terms, our "weak link".

This year we needed a different brooder and place to brood.  We have empty grain bins, we could use them for the structure.  But how do we keep a tall grain bin warm on the bottom three inches for young chicks??

A little research...

And enter the Ohio Brooder!

Developed in the 1940's at Ohio State University, it's been around a while and stood the test of time.  And when we read the specifics, we thought "Genius!!".

Because I'm the woodworker in the family, I set out on a sunny afternoon to build one.
(I used this information as my guide:  Ohio Brooder)

First, I gathered my materials.  All found in our scrap wood pile.

For a 4 foot by 6 foot brooder, you will need:
-4 legs 2x2x16"
-2 cleats 2x2x69"
-3 cleats 2x2x45"
-2 ends 12"x4' of plywood
-2 sides 12"x6' of plywood
-top 4'x6'

Then I gathered my tools:
wood screws - short and long, cordless drill, jig saw or circular saw, pen, tape measure, straight edge

I had a helper with the tape measure.  I did have to convince her to let me have the end with the case...

4 2x2 legs cut to 16 inches.  

3 cleats cut to 45 inches.

2 cleats cut to 69 inches.

I had to piece together my top so I cut a 2foot x 4 foot piece and a 4 foot by 4 foot piece.  You will have to notch the corners on these pieces, but we'll get to that.

Then I cut my plywood sides.  My plywood sheets were 8 feet long but only 20 inches wide.  So I skimped on the 6 foot sides and made them only 10 inches tall.

There's the big pieces!  And my jigsaw, I love that thing!

Now to start construction!
 Line up a 16" leg piece with the top and side of a 4' end piece. 
 I used three short screws to fasten them together.  Do what ever floats your boat.
And then repeat for the right side.

 Then I measured 4" down from the top to put on the 45" cleat.

I used a long screw to attach it from the end first on both sides.

 Then I flipped it over and measured down 4" again, this time as a guide as to where the cleat was so I wouldn't miss it!  I used 5 short screws.

Last step, I found the middle of the piece (24") and measured 3" up from the bottom of the plywood to mark where the light fixture will go.

Ta-Da!!  One end wall complete.  Now, make another one!

 When you have them both done, we will attach the 69" side cleats.  I set it up like this so I could screw it together without an extra set of hands to hold the first two pieces.  If you have an extra set of hands, by all means use them!

You'll want to use long screws as you're going through plywood and a 2x2 to get to the side cleat.

The brooder frame! (or a bed frame)

Then the kids got up from their nap and came outside...without pants, but not without cowboy boots.

Now I had an extra set of hands to steady the brooder while I attached the 6' side panels with short screws.

 Now we'll attach the top.  But first we need to make some notches to accommodate the 2x2 legs. 
{Yes, I know there are staples there.  Yes, I know you shouldn't cut into wood with staples in it.  Remove the staples before cutting.  There is your safety message for the day.}

And there you have it!

 And the top pieces slide in perfectly!

Because I had to piece the top,

I had this gap appear.  Gaps are not good when trying to keep heat in.

The remedy to the gap is that third 45" cleat we cut.  I bet you thought I forgot about that one, didn't you!

Now it's strong enough for a toddler dance party!
(If you've taken any notice of Kiddo1's clothing, you may think that it took me 4 days to build this thing.  Wrong, it only took me an afternoon.  But she changed clothes 4 times that afternoon!)

There, all the wood pieces are assembled. 

 Now it's time for some simple wiring.  Hubby found this mess in the shed.

Thanks to my Ag Ed instructor, I have wiring knowledge.  So I cleaned up the fixtures and pulled off the wiring and boxes we didn't need.

 I didn't have to add a plug, but checked to make sure it was attached properly.

We grabbed a couple of bulbs to make sure it worked.  Always a good thing to do before fastening something...

And then attached the fixtures, centering them on the pre-marked locations.  Also, we won't be using just plain bulbs (those were just to test it).  We'll be using 150 watt and 250 watt heat lamb bulbs.

Then I pulled the wiring tight and used plastic staples to attach it to the brooder.

 What makes the Ohio Brooder so great??

The heat produced by the bulbs stays close to the floor, rather than moving up to the top of the grain bin.  It's very inefficient to heat a grain bin from the top down!

It keeps the chicks/poults warm and toasty, providing them a similar environment to their mothers wings for the first few days.  These are the new turkeys that arrived today!

As they get older, they won't need as much warmth so we'll move the food and water out from the brooder and place it just outside the 4" gap.  That way the chicks/poults will be able to move in and out of the heated space to their food and water.  Just like they would with their mothers!
{Do you see a peeking girl?  The poults do!}

We loved the simplicity and common-sense nature of the Ohio Brooder.  And we especially loved the price!  We used scrap wood and found electric supplies.  So for just the price of a few screws and a few hours, we've got a fantastic brooder.  

The 4'x6' size I built will hold 250-300 chicks.  Right now there's 25 turkeys but 125 chicks are coming in two days to join them.  The smaller 4'x4' version would be built the same way and would accommodate up to 250 chicks.


  1. I have two 4x4s that are 2' tall. We brood 300 birds at a time in them. Most of the conventional wisdom I read online says the chicks need 7-10" in the brooder to be successful. By that measurement, yours could hold 450...but I don't think I would brood in groups larger than 300.

    By making it 4'x4'x2' we can use three sheets of plywood to make two brooders with easy control over temperatures. We brood in the greenhouse so we need a lot of flexibility.

    1. 300 is our maximum for brooding. We have 250 in there right now and it is working quite well. The first few days we have the food and water in there with them which takes up a fair amount of space. We are switching batches this week: Cornish cross broilers out to pasture, Rangers coming on Thursday!

  2. Thanks for posting this! I just built my first "ohio" brooder, and I've been a bit worried about how close the 250 watt bulb is to the ground/litter? On my design, it's about 9 inches. Do you worry about that at all? Or figure it's ok because the bottom is open letting cool air in?

  3. I won't ever have that many chicks, so could I down scale this and maybe just use one bulb? Maybe an 18" or 2' square would be all I would need for at max 25 chicks?

  4. Thanks for this tutorial! I tried it for my new farm Get Down Farm and it worked well. Love the $0 cost!

  5. Well, if you read each and every comment why don't you answer them?

  6. I really miss the point of having the top dropped down inside of the ends. Why isn't it just placed on top with no notches for the legs?

    What am I missing here?

    1. If I understand your question Bill it's for insulation.
      Avalon Gardens

    2. It's for adding insulation material on top too hold the heat down.


I read each and every comment, thank you for sharing in our farm!