How to Brood Chickens without Electricity

This last spring I finished building our chicken coop and ordered 50 baby chickens that needed a brooder.  I know how to brood chickens, but I had never done it without electricity.  So I started looking online to see what others were doing.  There was a lot of great information about brooding chickens, but it struck me how dependent everyone has become on electricity for brooding them.  I felt as if I had to rediscover how it was done a hundred years ago.

With some research and trial and error, I’ve come up with my own method for brooding chickens without electricity. The common items are a small fountain and a feeder.  I use one quart sizes so they do not take up much room in the container.  The next thing needed is a plastic box. I use a 30 gallon Sterilite plastic container with about an inch of wood shavings.

brooder-heaterThe heat source gave me the most difficulty.  A century ago, they used kerosene heaters specifically designed for brooding chickens.  I was not too excited about using an antique heater so I started experimenting.  I started by cutting the top and bottom off of a tin can to replace the glass globe on a kerosene lantern. It gave off good heat, but for some reason the draft was so bad that too much soot was created.

lantern-for-chickens1The best option I found was just a small kerosene lantern which I mounted to a 2 x 6 piece of wood to make it heavier so the baby chickens would not knock it over.  When the lantern is full it will burn for about ten hours. With just a small flame the lantern gives off an adequate amount of heat, but it can also be regulated by adjusting the flame.

I should also briefly mention the precautions I take in handling kerosene. When filling the lantern I remove the 2 x 6 block of wood so if there is a spill, kerosene will not get the wood wet. I also make sure the lantern is completely dry before remounting it to the wood. I always wash my hands before feeding the chickens. Just a small amount of kerosene will kill them.

box-for-chicks1I also created an aluminum “shield” for the top of the box that allows me to adjust the heat even more.  To make this, I used eighteen inch aluminum flashing.  I folded the edges and added duct tape on the sharp edges. I then fitted the flashing over the top of the container.  It is easy to slide the flashing back and forth (using a second piece if necessary) to regulate the heat.  I never cover the box completely so as not to trap the kerosene fumes inside!  This could be deadly to the baby chickens! If day-time temperatures are warm enough, I remove the lantern. In the morning I have put the chickens in the sun, but caution should be exercised because they can get too hot.

This method works well.  However, the lantern will only generate temperatures at about 10 – 15 degrees above the ambient temperature.  If the nights are down in the 40’s and 50’s, as they were last spring, I bring the baby chickens inside for additional warmth.  This August I still brought them inside our house for their safety, rather than leaving them on the front porch overnight.

brooding chicks2The chickens are ready to go outside when they start feathering out (usually around four weeks). However, if temperatures are cool, they can be kept in the plastic box longer. When I put them in the coop, I partition a corner area and use the same method except I add a galvanized sheet and set the lantern under it. On colder nights, I may use two or three lanterns, and gradually reduce the number of lanterns until the chickens are able to handle night-time temperatures.

In the spring we are looking forward to our hens setting on their own eggs and caring for their young.  However, we will probably always need to brood additional chickens, so it is nice knowing that we are not dependent on electricity for the brooding process.

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About Tim L

After their retirement, Tim and his wife Joann moved along with his daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons to the American Ozark Mountains to build an off-grid homestead.

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  1. This is great information! Thank you! I have one question, though. How did you mount the lantern to the block of wood?

  2. If there is room you might add a tin can with end cut out to the top of the lamp , so that the heat going up will also heat it giving off even more heat.

  3. Really great information. Yeah, more than likely you will need to brood a new batch of chicks simply because it’s not often you get a hen that will brood them and if you do it seems that all she ever wants to do and has to be discouraged the rest of the time.
    I did an experiment a couple of years ago. I put 50 lbs of feed in 2 maylar bags that fit in 2 5 gallon buckets with an oxygen absorber. After six months I opened one up and everything looked and smelled fine so I feed it to the chicks and had no adverse effects at all. After 18 months I opened the other bucket and had the same results.
    I haven’t tried it for pullet feed so not sure since pullet feed is specially formulated for the baby chicks with added vitamins and such.
    Of course feeding the adults naturally without the chicken feed is easy enough but it’s good to have the backup.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I would be so worried that it would start a fire, but it looks like you figured out how to do it perfectly 🙂 If you don’t get a good broody chicken you can always add a silkie to the mix – they seem to be great mothers.

  5. This was invaluable information. I loved watched Season 1 and look forward to more videos! There are 10 ways to do one task, and I love seeing how others accomplish their homestead tasks! Thanks for sharing, I really appreciate you and your family letting us view your homesteading life. Please share bloopers, laughs are always fun to watch! 🙂

  6. I was just wondering, is the smoke released by the burning oil not harmful to the chicks, or how do you handle that?

  7. Hi Tim, I don’t know if we are referring to the same thing. I thought lanterns burn fuel such as paraffin/kerosene to light up. Or what lanterns are you referring to? What fuel do you use for your lanterns? Perhaps my really question is whether paraffin/kerosene does/not produce smoke or other harmful gases for the birds?

    • I use kerosene lanterns. There is no smoke, although the kerosene burns clean there is some carbon monoxide so ventilation is need. I keep the opening in the top of the box above the lantern. Thanks Tim

  8. Thanks Tim. You have allayed my fears. This was very helpful.

  9. I know this is an old post, but I’ve found myself with 13 ducklings and I’m also off-grid. I’ve been using charcoal. The ducklings are housed in my greenhouse, so during the day, they don’t seem to get too cold. I used short 2x4s stacked for walls and 4 layers of cardboard for a roof. This tiny insulated area can be used by the ducklings to huddle and use their own warmth, when necessary during the day. At night, I’m suing a charcoal starter (although I’m going to try an old steel bucket) and a small kettle grill. I leave the lit charcoal in the starter, and set it into the kettle grill. This doesn’t have legs, but is set up on brick ‘legs’ which not only allow the ducklings to be directly under the heat (like a hover brooder), but also the bricks warm up and radiate some heat. The charcoal starter will only stay about 3 hours. Hence my desire to graduate to a steel bucket, or long 6″ stove pipe to see if I can get 5-8 hours of burn with more charcoal. The heat is fantastic and the ducklings are up and eating at 3am. With this type of heater, I also make sure there is plenty of ventilation, so they must be happy if they move away from the heat to eat at the coldest part of the night; returning under the charcoal grill once they need a bit of a heat refresh. They use charcoal heaters in small-scale poultry brooders in Africa that last a full 8 hours of the night. That is what I’m aiming for – this getting up every 3 hours is not perfect, but a great place to start.

    • Update: I cut the top off and old metal 5 gallon bucket and cleaned it. (It held paint thinner at one time.) A few holes were drilled around the bottom two inches with a normal 5/8ths drill bit. I put a brick in the bottom and a piece of hardware cloth mesh to create an air flow/ash area at the bottom. Filled 2/3 with charcoal and covered with a BBQ grill lid (vents in lid mostly open) it provides heat to the ducklings for over 8 hours and still has enough coals to light more charcoal when I fill it. Still using a couple of bricks to hold it up off the floor and a good clearance around to prevent fires. Overnight temperatures are only around 50’s, but this could probably be good in the corner of a chicken house which would be more protected down to 40 degrees.

  10. that is good information. it will help me to bring up my chicks easly.

  11. i have loved this but have a question regarding scaling this up. would i need multiple boxes and several lanterns if am to raise 2000 chicks? or any better way. am off-grid and would not want to use charcoal anymore

    • A hundred years ago they used kerosene heaters. I only use this method if a buy new birds. If it was me I would build a brooding coop and let my hens do it. I usually hatch only 100 chicks each year, but hens do it for me. Good luck

  12. Tim I think you have given really good information that will help most of us here, especially if you are doing small,and not commercial. I’m a poultry farmer doing 4000 layers but I use propane heaters. I have used the method Tim is sharing here as I grew.

  13. Hello good day. Pls can I use like 7 kerosene lantern in a normal living room to brood chicken?

    • Probable not. For the first few weeks a chick needs about 100 deg. to stay warm. For the first week I keep them inside and use one lantern in a large plastic tote. If the nights are at least 70 deg. I put them outside in an area 3 x 6 x 2 with a lid covering half the box and use two lanterns. Thanks for asking. – Tim

  14. i have 4 weeks old cockerels, i raised them in a wooden cage can i use kerosene lantern. thanks

    • It is a hard time to keep them warm this time of year. You may need to keep them inside a little longer. A kerosene lantern will increase the temperature about 10 deg. in the July when I brood chicks. I let them outside at four weeks.

  15. Thanks a lot for the information God bless you

  16. Thanks for the information God bless you, Peter in Uganda East Africa

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