I've used this style of brooder for the past two batches of chicks I've brooded and have found it convenient, cheap, and effective. I used it on one flock of 54 CX broilers in early March of last year and a flock of 28 dual purpose heritage blood Delawares near the end of April of this year.
Out of necessity, some chick brooders need more space due to the number or growth patterns of the birds involved and this seems to become an issue of cost and convenience to some. Unless you have a permanent structure or setup for such things, it becomes problematic to house, keep warm, and feed large batches of chicks in a cost effective way.
I've solved this problem with what I call the Quick Chick Brooder Fix. Blame it on my poor country upbringing or just my frugal nature, I'm always looking for cheaper ways to do the same old things.
I have an open air cattle panel coop with a soil floor but this can be done in about any outdoor structure that provides shelter from rain and snow.
Here's a pic of the brooder base and walls. Under the pine shavings is very thick cardboard but you can use a piece of plywood or anything that cold and damp cannot seep up through. I did this for the first batch because we were still having temps into the low 30s when they arrived and my coop is on soil.
This brooder was covered with two pieces of plywood to keep wind out and keep warmth in, with the brooder light clipped to one and also secured with a rope to the ceiling of the coop. Don't want any fires with a heat lamp accident! I don't have a pic of the topper that I used on the brooder base but this will show the brooder in action with chicks, nipple waterer, feeder (see? frugal!), lamp, and a pitchfork "roost."
As the chicks aged (2-3 weeks) and night time temps warmed to the 40's and 50's, the front of the bales were opened up to leave a three sided shelter that still supported a piece of plywood as a top. That topper in one corner provided a way to still contain the heat from the lamp in case any chicks still needed that warmth, but they rarely congregated there. CX are a hot breed and need less concentrated warmth than the DP breeds seem to need.
In this pic you will see one very confused WR rooster that someone foisted off on me, trying to brood these CX chicks at night. He just couldn't fit them all under that wing! He did a good job at teaching them to forage and to be wary of aerial predators, so he served his purpose.
By 4 weeks, the hay bales were relocated to the walls and corners of the coop to provide wind blocks and then were finally removed altogether to be stored for the next time they were needed. The other parts of the brooder were placed back in storage until next time and the bedding was integrated into the coop floor as the first layer of deep litter.
It was cheap and easy, it was well insulated, it provided safety, the ventilation and heating capabilities were fully adjustable, and it kept the mess and the smell where they needed to be; outside. This type of DIY brooder is convenient because it can be adjusted to fit any size batch of chicks with just the removal or addition of hay bales, and can be adjusted in the same manner as they grow.
The cracks between the hay bales were fortified by stuffing wads of hay in the spaces to prevent chicks from getting trapped there or escaping the brooder.
As you can see, I like to keep the materials for projects such as this relegated to items that can be easily obtained and utilized for other things. The hay is a perfect insulated wall, the thick cardboard that had previously packaged an appliance was a very effective insulation under the bedding. The plywood scraps we have lying around are from various building projects, but anything flat and rigid can be used to top such a brooder.
The muffin pan was a great first feeder and the ice cream bucket was still being used by these big and goofy oafs even when they were older and had graduated to the 5 gal bucket nipple waterer. For some reason they preferred that little bucket they first knew.
The pitchfork is an antique that I still use every week, and the metal of the tines held the heat from the lamp, radiating it back to chilled little chick feet. They would grow drowsy from the warmth and fall from their warm perch when they fell asleep. It was entertaining!
I hope this post can spark the creativity of other folks when they see how easy it is to brood chicks on the cheep!