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.
The 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.
The 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.
I 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.
The 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.