Aussie and Blue heating in to nap under mama heating pad.
My first year of raising chicks, I naturally didn’t have a broody hen to take care of raising chicks. Instead, I raised them indoors. Since it’s almost chick days at the local feed store, I thought I’d share what I did for their heating needs instead of using a heat lamp.
My original brooder box set up in an old water heater box.
After reading a number horror stories about heat lamp fires, heat lamps falling and killing the chicks, seeing the chicks trample each other under the heat lamps in feed stores, and hearing them chirp relentlessly since they didn’t have darkness to sleep comfortably, I decided I wanted to see if there was something else I could do. After searching around backyard chickens, I heard of something called an ecoglow brooder from brinsea. It seemed like a great product that used radiant heat to warm up chicks hiding underneath like they would their mamas, but it was so expensive for such a small one! I would likely need the $150 version for my chicks since I had 9 chickens and 4 ducks at the time, not to mention later when I needed to swap to another heating method for the ducks when their trampling ways became a problem I would have suffered the expense again.
So I decided I needed an alternative. After searching the net, I eventually heard rumblings of people who used heating pads as brooders. It seemed fairly simple. People found a heating pad worked really well as long as it didn’t have the auto off function. I personally purchased this sunbeam extra large heating pad because it was 1 ft x 2ft, making it plenty large to brood my chicks, it was under $20, and it didn’t have an auto-off function. It also worked well using the highest setting for the first week, then medium. On top of that, during the winter when my chicks were chickens, I used the same heating pad to help keep my water unfrozen when weather was under 20 degrees F in my barn.
Since chick days are nearly here again, I’ve started thinking about how we built our chicken coop by converting a barn stall. I know when I was originally planning my coop, I really wish I had seen more pictures of people who had larger coops and other converted stalls since I needed more inspiration, so I decided to share the love. When we bought our house, we were fortunate enough to buy a property that had an old barn. While it was unkept, mice were definitely living in the insulation around the roofing, only a single gutter that was half way down, and there was rot around a number of areas with a completely covered, leaky roof, it had good bones. On top of that, there was also a spot near the garage where the former owners had cut a giant hole through the siding and placed a dog run. Given that our dog is spoiled with walks, the run wasn’t really necessary, but it did provide us with free chicken fencing.
After weeks of research, purchasing a likely excessive number of chicken books and reading adamantly, having my husband beg and plead for me to wait longer despite my gluttony for fresh, organic, free range and pasture raised chicken eggs, I finally got chicks at the local feed store near the end of March. Saving for the fact my Ameraucana actually lays brown eggs instead of blue, they were all good egg layers, healthy (with the exception of some very sickly silkie chicks I bought from a store I won’t go to again), and docile. They were definitely more expensive than ordering from a hatchery online, but less expensive than going to the seemingly snooty hatchery in our area. While I hope to find breeders locally for when I attempt raising meat birds, there weren’t any that I could find originally.
To be clear, I was aware buying chickens wasn’t going to save me oodles of money. Just the start up costs alone (~$100 for chicks, feed, feeding containers, heating pads, etc, with roughly an additional $15-20 per chick to get it to the age of laying thanks to organic feed costs), was spending the equivalent of nearly a year’s worth of eggs at $5 a dozen, and since one happened to be a rooster he turned into a slightly expensive (albeit the most delicious broth I’ve ever made) dinner when he kept attacking the hens for sweet loving and me when I entered the coop.
My husband and I bought a delightful piece of property in February of 2016. You’ll notice this blog post is dated January of 2017. That’s right, it’s been nearly a year, so to give you some background, let me tell you a bit about our beautiful piece of property and the unfortunate things that rested inside.
Before I get on, though, I feel like I should include some useful advice from what we’ve learned since it’s a rather long post and all useful information will be buried inside. Mainly, I have two bits of advice since they were things we did that my former contractor father found surprising and helpful. We were fortunate enough to know someone who is super into recycling metal for his income, so we were able to recycle hundreds of pounds of metal from the old, broken appliances as well as the giant metal sink they had in place as well as nails and other assorted things. I also used the tresses to make my chicken’s roost in their coop. Most areas have people who recycle metal near them, so definitely look that up if you’re doing a major remodel. Second, thanks to craigslist, some strangers picked up all the cabinets and the questionable countertop that went with them, including the ones severely damaged from water, mice teeth, and fire. They were mainly going to be used in people’s shops, which is a good second use for old cabinets.
I gave them away for free, but in hindsight I likely could have charged something as well. My dad was just glad we were able to avoid taking them to the landfill, saved hundreds in dump fees not to mention the time we saved, and shocked people would want the old cabinets. I was grateful that since I wasn’t charging anything that when people flaked out, I left unclaimed cabinets outside under the porch without guilt and strangers came by and picked them up for me.
Now, back to our main focus!
Our house is on a lot just under 3 acres. Where we live (the greater Seattle area), this is nearly impossible to find anymore without handing the seller your bank account access information and giving them permission to take whatever they want for the rest of your life. We were fortunate enough to get it for a fairly reasonable price given it was a bank foreclosure after spending half a year looking for a property, offering on many, and failing to get a reasonable price every single time. That said, we also live in one of the few remaining rural communities in our area that still has fairly easy freeway access. While the commute is definitely less than ideal for my poor husband who has since started working in Seattle rather than the Eastside, it’s still not terrible considering we love our home.