Heat Sources for Baby Chicks

Apr 03, 2023

Springtime is baby chick season. This year, high grocery store egg prices have even more people than usual catching “baby chick fever.” If you’re considering adding to or starting your own flock, it’s important to keep in mind the critical care needs of young chicks. Of these needs, heat is one of the most vital. While a new chick’s down is very soft and fluffy, it does not insulate the chick or retain body heat the way that adult feathers do. Until the chick has grown in its first full set of feathers (typically around 6-8 weeks of age), the chick requires an external heat source to avoid a potentially fatal chill. Chicks raised by a broody hen receive this heat by tucking themselves under their mother’s feathers. When raising chicks by hand, we must provide an artificial heat source to take the place of the mother hen. Heat lamps and brooder plates are the two most common heat sources used when raising baby chicks.
Heat lamps are probably the most popular baby chick heating device used by our customers. They are relatively inexpensive and readily available. Heat lamps are a fire hazard, however, and should always be carefully secured and monitored. Never rely on just the built-in clamp to hold a heat lamp in position; always use a secondary method to secure it, such as a chain. Be sure that the lamp isn’t in close proximity to flammable materials, such as paper, cardboard, bedding, or hay. Examine the lamp regularly for dust buildup or cracking. When purchasing a heat lamp, double check that the bulb isn’t Teflon coated. Teflon releases fumes when heated that are toxic to birds.
A heat lamp’s position will need to be adjusted periodically as your chicks grow. A common rule of thumb for managing your brooder temperature is to aim for 95 degrees the first week, dropping the temperature by 5 degrees each week thereafter. However, this is only a general guideline. Observe your chicks’ behavior and let that guide your temperature adjustment. If the chicks are huddling tightly under the heat source and chirping loudly, they are too cold. If they move as far away from the light as possible and lie with their wings spread out or pant, they are too hot. When using a heat lamp, it is very important to provide heat in only a portion of the brooder. Make sure the chicks have a cooler area to move to when they feel the need, and don’t place feed or water sources directly under the light.   
Recently, brooder plates have become popular alternatives to traditional heat lamps. Brooder plates more closely mimic the experience of being raised by a hen and present a much lower fire risk than heat lamps. Instead of heating the air inside the brooder, a brooder plate provides direct heat when chicks crouch under it. As with heat lamps, your brooder plate needs to be adjusted regularly as your chicks grow. The legs of the plate should be adjusted so that the chicks make contact with the heating surface when standing upright or crouching slightly but are able to easily move around underneath it. It is a good idea, if possible, to adjust one side of the plate slightly higher than the other to accommodate chicks of varying sizes and growth rates. Using a plate instead of a heat lamp allows the chicks to experience natural day/night cycles and may encourage slightly faster feather development. In extremely cold temperatures, brooder plates don’t always provide enough warmth for very young chicks; check the instructional materials that come with your plate to determine within what temperature range it is designed to operate effectively.
Whichever heat source you choose to use when raising your baby chicks, keep a close eye on their behavior for signs of distress and remember to make adjustments as the chicks grow. With careful attention, your happy, healthy chicks will soon grow into productive members of your flock.
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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