Raising chicks is an activity normally reserved for springtime and warmer weather. It takes about 5-6 months for a pullet (young female chicken) to begin laying eggs. That means to have enough eggs by May to meet the needs of 2 farmers markets and our on-farm egg sales, we are raising chicks this winter in a high tunnel style greenhouse structure. Here’s how that’s going so far.
The high tunnel is 20 by 24 feet and will house up to about 180 chicks from hatch to 6 months of age. The two wooden upside-down box structures are called Ohio brooders. Each brooder is wired with 2 lamp fixtures that have 250-watt infrared heat bulbs inside. The heat from those bulbs stays down at chick level instead of rising into the room, which is more efficient in electricity usage and lets us maintain a warmer brooder environment for a longer period for winter chick brooding. The chicks move freely from under the brooders to self-regulate their warming needs as they grow their feathers.
When the chicks are tiny, they huddle up under the warm lamps, but as they grow older they spend more time out in the open since they are nearly fully feathered and need less heat. Also, we can switch the 250-watt infrared bulbs for lower wattage bulbs to reduce the temperature under the brooder boxes. We also set the legs of the brooders up on bricks to regulate the temperature. Once the chicks are about 12 weeks old they no longer need night-time heat, even in the winter.
Since this is a high tunnel greenhouse, on sunny days it quickly warms up inside. The exhaust fan in the back of the photo above is automated. It kicks on when the air temperature inside reaches 70 and off when it cools to 68. The Ohio brooders are also on a controller that turns them off when the fan kicks on. This automation keeps the chicks’ environment in the right temperature range so that they grow well and stay happy and healthy.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek into how we are raising chicks in winter using a high tunnel, Ohio brooders and some inexpensive automation. I’d love to hear any comments on how you’ve raised chicks in cold weather.