Brooding Chicks In A High Tunnel

Farmstead Brooding: The Extreme Edition

by Meghan H

Published July 1, 2019

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In this Coop Tour, Amanda and Marie from the Meyer Hatchery Customer Service Remote Team show us Marie’s Extreme Edition Farmstead Brooding inside a high tunnel.

Marie sells eggs from her farm and at farmer’s markets in the summer, so she needed lots of eggs by April or May but didn’t have room in her barn for 100+ new baby chicks. Her solution? Building a DIY high tunnel that would be warm enough for the brand new baby chicks but have enough room to house them to maturity in case her other barn area wasn’t ready by the time they start laying eggs. Talk about extreme farmstead brooding!

Winter Chick Brooding extreme brooding in a high tunnel

High Tunnel Design

Marie designed and built this high tunnel based on the information she found online. She used the top rail for chain-link fencing as the framework to shape the structure. This high tunnel is 20 feet wide and 24 feet long which provides enough room for about 200 chicks. For the first three weeks, Marie estimates a half square foot per chick, and as they grow that space increases to one square foot per chick.

The most important thing for brand new baby chicks is keeping them warm since they can’t regulate their own body temperature without feathers. To make sure all 120 chicks stayed warm, Marie used Ohio Brooders in a confined space inside the high tunnel. Ohio Brooders are a wooden box with two heat lamps inside, supported on legs about 6 inches off the ground so the chicks can go underneath for heat. Marie has two; one is 3×3 foot and the other is 4×4 foot. Marie made a corral with 4×8 foot sheets of plywood cut in half to make an eight-foot pen around both Ohio Brooders so the chicks wouldn’t wander too far away from the heat source and possibly get hypothermia trying to get back. Marie set up the chicks’ feeders and waterers inside this pen so they were never too far from the heat source in their first few weeks. Straw bales around the outside of this temporary pen added more insulation and Marie even used old blankets over the tops of the Ohio Brooders when nighttime temperatures dropped into the low teens. Once the chicks were about 5 weeks old they were big enough to hop over the plywood panels so then Marie opened the temporary corral to let them have access to the whole high tunnel space.

Changes as the Chicks Grow

As the chicks get older and their feathers grow in, their heat requirements lower. Marie started with 250-watt bulbs in the Ohio Brooders when she first got the chicks and is using 125-watt bulbs now that the youngest chicks are about 9 weeks old. She can raise the height of the Ohio Brooders so the chicks have more room to get underneath them as they grow. The heat lamps are set on a temperature controller Marie got from Amazon which is set to turn them on when the temperature in the high tunnel gets below 60*F. 

Now that the chicks in the high tunnel are between 9 and 12 weeks old, they are starting to learn to perch on the roosts and are sleeping more throughout the night. Marie raises the feeders every week so they are at the level of their backs and uses heated bases to keep the waterers from freezing overnight. Two fans inside the high tunnel keep the air circulating and an exhaust fan on the wall helps to remove humidity and fumes to keep the air healthy for the growing chicks. Marie uses a paint scraper to clean off any poop on the top of the Ohio Brooders and roosts in the high tunnel.

Marie has a mix of high producing layers and some variety breeds in this group of chicks. Golden Buffs are a hybrid layer breed that lay 5+ large brown eggs every week. Marie’s Golden Buff hens typically lay all through the winter and haven’t even stopped to molt. These are Marie’s “base” layers and 100 of the chicks in the high tunnel are Golden Buffs. Marie also has 12 Rhode Island Reds (another great brown egg laying breed), 6 Black Copper Marans for beautiful dark brown eggs, and a pair of Ameraucanas

If you are looking to raise a large number of chicks for eggs or meat, using a high tunnel with Ohio Brooders as Marie has set up is a great option. One of the most useful skills for farming is being able to think outside the box to create solutions, and what Marie has done here is a great example of that! 

We hope you enjoyed this Farmstead Brooding video and blog! Happy farming!

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