How to Build an Ohio Brooder for Raising Baby Chicks

How to Build an Ohio Brooder for Raising Baby Chicks

The very first “livestock” animal we acquired after moving to the farm were 25 day-old Buff Orpington chicks. Since that time, we’ve hatched and brooded hundreds of chicks over the years and have learned a few things about it. We began using an Ohio brooder in 2018 to raise larger batches of chicks more efficiently.

The Ohio brooder was originally developed in the 1940’s by Ohio State University Experiment Station (original PDF here) and is basically an upside-down wooden box on legs with 2 light sockets wired into the sidewalls. The sockets can power 2 heat lamp bulbs to provide warmth for the chicks. We’ve successfully brooded chicks through cold Ohio winters using the Ohio brooders in our high tunnel brooder house.

A 4 ft square Ohio brooder can easily brood up to 200 chicks. Here is the materials list to make it:

  • 1 – 4 by 8 ft sheet of 1/2 inch plywood
  • 2 non-treated pine studs, 2″ by 4″ by 8 ft long
  • 2 metal wiring boxes
  • 2 porcelain light fixtures
  • approximately 20 feet of electrical wiring
  • 3 prong male electrical plug
  • Fasteners of your choice (nails, screws or nailing gun)

Begin by cutting the sheet of plywood into 5 pieces; a 4 by 4 ft top, and 4 pieces that are 1 foot by 4 feet to be used for the 4 sides of the box

Then rip the pine studs in half lengthwise, making 4 pieces that are approximately 2″ by 2″ by 8 feet long . I use a table saw to rip the studs and the plywood, even though it scares me to use it!

The table saw is used to rip a 2 by 4 stud in half lengthwise to make the framing

Next, cut one 2″ by 2″ into 4 pieces that are 24 inches in length. These are the legs of your box. Two more 2″ by 2″ pieces are cut into 44 inch lengths, which will be the horizontal pieces that the top plywood is screwed into. Using nails, screws or a nailing gun (my preferred method), fasten one horizontal piece 6 inches from the top of two 24″ leg pieces to form an H. Repeat with one more 44 inch piece and the remaining 2 legs. Then using the remaining two 44″ horizontal pieces, attach the horizontals to the H pieces to form a box frame.

Here you can see the legs and horizontal brace that the top and sides attach to, and also the location of the light fixture centered on one side panel.

Now it’s time to attach the plywood. Each 1 ft by 4 ft piece is attached to the sides of the box, making sure that the horizontal brace is flush with the top of the plywood. Repeat until all 4 plywood sides are attached to the framing. Next, using a jigsaw or hand saw, notch a 2″ by 2″ corner out of the plywood top piece. Notching will allow the legs to protrude out of the top by 6 inches and the plywood will sit flush to the horizontal braces for fastening. There will be 6 inches of ground clearance for the chicks to move from under the brooder, and also 6 inches of leg on the top for attaching optional insulation panels or more plywood strips to form a “tray” for keeping pine shavings on the top for insulation.

Wiring goes from one box over the top of the brooder and over to the opposite box

Next, mark the horizontal and vertical centers of opposite plywood sides for positioning the electrical boxes. Drill a 1/2 inch hole in the center for wiring. Attach each electrical box to the opposing plywood sides and wire the porcelain light fixtures to each other using the wiring. Attach the plug to one end of the remaining wiring and wire it into one of the fixtures to be used to power the brooder.

Install two infrared heat lamp bulbs and your Ohio brooder is ready to use. Leave me a comment below and let me know if you’ve made one and how many chicks you are brooding with it.

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