Taking on raising and taking care of chickens and baby chicks in particular is a challenging, hard but rewarding, and confidence-boosting job that comes with many obstacles and joys. If you’ve ever had to raise chicks, then you must know how challenging it is simply because baby chicks have so many requirements and needs before they’re grown up enough to be more independent. They need large, cozy, and clean spaces, sufficient light that also serves as the source of heat, and feed that will boost their growth.
For many years, farmers used heat lamps to help supply baby chicks with sufficient warmth to boost their growth. However, using heat lamps comes with various dangers, which is why you should look for other alternatives to heat lamps for chickens.
Using heat lamps or ceramic lamps is sometimes acceptable when the baby chicks’ coop is large enough to support the warmth of chicks, but instead of allowing chicks to maintain their natural body temperature, it might make them feel both hot and cold.
Heat lamps are usually referred to as 250W lightbulbs with a reflector which are mounted above the baby chick brooders. Its essential role is to provide warmth for baby chicks, to replace the brooding nature of their mothers. However, it comes with several disadvantages. According to a report, chickens need anywhere from 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit to stay sufficiently warm.
There are several reasons why you shouldn’t use heat lamps for baby chicks, luckily, there are also many alternatives to this practice. Baby chicks are fragile, have underdeveloped feathers, and aren’t independent enough to figure out their way to stay warm.
Luckily, in this article, we’re going to talk about what you need to do to keep baby chicks warm without using the heat lamp. With these practices, you will allow baby chicks to have consistent body temperature, and given that birds are warm-blooded, you won’t overheat them with these methods. Continue reading to learn more.
Dangers of Using Heat Lamps for Chickens
As mentioned earlier in the article, using heat lamps for chicken brooders is not without its disadvantages. In this section, we’ll list these disadvantages. It’s super-important to be aware of them, despite farmers being able to use them successfully for decades.
- Electrical problems: You need to ensure that the power cord is out of range for the chickens and that the device is properly attached to the cord or extension cord. In rare situations, the cord may get damaged due to chickens nipping it or trying to touch it, causing a potential electrical hazard for the chicks as well as people watching over them.
- Fire Hazard: If you use an old or damaged heat lamp, there’s a fire hazard risk. Although many people consistently ensure that all the parts are attached securely, there’s still a risk that the lamp may fall off and ignite the wooden parts of the brooder as well as the straw laid down in the brooder. The fire that has gone unnoticed in the middle of the night may result in fatal outcomes for the baby chicks who are helpless.
- Uneven Heat Distribution: If you have to opt for using a heat lamp, be aware that it provides a concentrated source of heat. If the brooder is too big, or positioned too far from the center of the brooder, may happen for the chickens to feel too warm, while others will feel too cold.
- Overheating: If the brooder is too cold, or positioned too close to the baby chicks, it may cause overheating and dehydration. Chickens are warm-blooded animals which means they have thermos-regulating mechanisms in their bodies. However, they don’t like when they feel too hot and may feel dehydrated. Baby chicks are small, fragile, and have underdeveloped temperature-regulating mechanisms.
- Mood Changes: Baby chicks and chickens that are constantly positioned under a source of artificial light may develop behavioral problems. They won’t be able to become independent as they won’t be able to practice different coping mechanisms and develop survival instincts. Being too reliant on artificial heat sources may contribute to poorer immunity once they grow up.
- They Are not Shatterproof: Unfortunately, heat lamp lightbulbs may fall and get shattered. Next to posing the fire hazard risk, the broken glass shards can likely injure the baby chicks, once they spread all across the brooder and coop.
Heat Lamp Alternatives for Chickens
Chickens and baby chicks are more than capable of getting warm on their own, with some extra help. With these alternatives, you will avoid heat lamps for good. Read on!
Heat plates are the most popular heat lamp alternative for both chickens and baby cheeks, without changing the original purpose. The best part is that there is no risk of fire. You can choose between horizontal heat plates and vertical heat plates.
Horizontal heat plates are ideal for baby chicks, while vertical ones are better for other flock birds such as ducks. Still, you can use vertical ones with older chickens that need natural warmth. Imagine it like a standing plate that is high enough for baby chicks to get under it.
In other words, they mimic the positioning of a mother hen that broods over her baby chicks, except that the horizontal plate emits just as much heat that it needs. It doesn’t use as much electricity as the 250-watt heat lamps which pose high fire hazard risks as well as a plethora of electrical problems that could arise.
As the chicks grow each day bigger and stronger, you can adjust the size of the plate so that all chicks can fit in and enjoy the warmth. Baby chicks are intuitive enough to decide whether they want to be warmed by the plate or not as they can freely move away from the plate.
It doesn’t warm up the air directly. Instead, it warms the objects that gather under it so if the baby chick feels too warm, it can easily walk away and get cooler with a freshwater source in the brooder. Even baby chicks have their preferences, so some may prefer to feel warmer while others would like to get cooler.
Editor’s notes: There are many heat pads on the market and each one of them is equipped with different specifications and features. Our favorite one is Ecoglow 20, which is suitable for both baby chicks and ducklings. Alternatively, you can also consider the PoultryKit Brooder which comes with just as amazing features.
If you’re still not heated up by the heat plates and their features, then electric heating pads may be a better option for hens and their chicks. Heat pads are used for a plethora of baby animals such as chicks, ducklings, piglets, and others. Given that they are powered by electricity, you will have to tuck them away somewhere safe, either on the wall or under a waterproof towel under the chicks.
Heating pads are usually equipped with a thermostat which shows an accurate temperature measurement of the pad, which can determine whether baby chicks need more warmth or they’re warm just enough. This way, you can also prevent overheating.
To save money, many people place heat pads on top of metal plates to create a faux heat plate. If budget is something you’re restricted on, this is a great alternative. Many people have concerns that heat pads may be a cause of electrical hazards as well, but it’s worth mentioning that they use much less electricity compared to heat lamps.
Additionally, they don’t emit artificial light and have extremely low burn risk. Lastly, you won’t have to worry about shattered glass shards all around the coop and brooder.
Editor’s notes: Just like with heat plates, there are plenty of heat pads on the market. If we had to pick the best ones, we’d pick the K&H thermos-peep heated pad and the amazing GABraden large chicken heated pad. It’s ideal in situations when you have a lot of baby chicks, especially when you want to take them outdoors.
Deep Litter Method
The deep litter method is a popular way to keep your chickens warm in the winter, and if you can put up with some bad odor, it can help you keep your baby chicks warm. How does it work? It means that you will consistently cover the chicken coop or brooder with new soiled bedding on top of the old one.
You won’t remove the poop and other compost made from chickens. Instead, you will wait for it to turn into compost and cover it with a new layer of soiled bedding. This creates a heated flooring for your chickens to lay on across the coop and enclosure.
This way, the coop will warm naturally, which is an ideal way to keep your chickens warm during the cold winter days and nights. You won’t have to worry about the expensive electricity bills, or worrying about glass shards shattering and hurting your girls. The place will heat naturally and pose no risk for anyone.
Hot Water Bottles
Whether you’re raising chickens or baby chicks, hot water bottles can be a cheaper alternative to heat lamps. However, it’s a lot of work and high maintenance because the hot water bottles will need to be replaced consistently. Still, they’re a good option when you want to provide your chicks with a temporary heat source.
This is ideal for baby chicks that are a few weeks old, pullets and cockerels to be precise. However, you don’t want to hurt your chickens, so make sure to insulate the water bottles with towels so that they wouldn’t feel hot from laying or standing on top of burning hot water bottles.
This method is useful if you want to keep your chickens warm, and not the baby chicks, and it’s guaranteed to work on adult hens and roosters. You can cover the coop and the enclosure with a plastic, transparent cover that works as a shelter.
Still, consider creating a windbreak to ensure proper ventilation. With this ventilation approach, make sure that no wind will be getting into the coop, and the chickens won’t get wet from constant rain, hail, or snow. This is a great way to warm up your chickens, and you won’t use any electricity or pose any fire hazard risks.
Measure the Temperature with a Thermometer
Even if you opt to use a heat lamp for your chickens, you don’t have to use it all the time. The best way to check whether the chicks are overwhelmed by the temperature is by using a built-in thermostat or a thermometer that can accurately read the temperature in the brooder or coop.
That way, you’ll know how much heat is too much and turn off the heater to allow the chicks to enjoy some ambient light or rest from the consistent light source in their eyes.
Instead of using the heat lamp which is powered by 250W of the electrical light source, you can go with infrared bulbs. Yes, there’s still a risk of the bulb falling into the brooder and breaking off, causing hundreds of glass shards to shatter all across the coop, but it poses so much less risk for the chicks as well as chickens living in the coop.
The light that infrared bulbs emit is so much different than optical light, in the sense that it’s gentler and less stressful for chicks. It radiates into the coop making them feel warm, without stressing them or ruining their mood. Being powered by less energy also means that this type of light is less likely to cause a fire.
Infrared light has been proven to be good for humans’ circadian rhythm and sleep quality, according to a study. It also means that it’ll be more beneficial to chickens that won’t be affected by a strong light source that radiates at them all the time. It’s also less likely to cause poorer egg quality caused by strong light sources in the coop.
Editor’s notes: It’s worth mentioning that you can also use optical lightbulbs as long as they are not powered by too much electrical energy. Lightbulbs of 60-75 watts will deliver more than enough heating energy for baby chicks, as well as a chicken coop on cold winter days.