Brooding baby chicks is a big responsibility, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. The best way to brood baby chicks is to do it as naturally as possible. One of the most important parts of a successful brooding setup is a reliable heat source that provides a consistent brooder temperature. Making sure the heat is consistent is one thing, but making sure it’s safe is very important too.
Like so many aspects of poultry farming, there are tons of different “DIY” approaches to the brooding process. While bigger farms might buy battery brooders and such so that they can “mass-brood” tons of chicks, we suspect many of you have smaller flocks that will need much less comprehensive brooding setups. Many people with backyard farms brood baby chicks right in their own bathtub! While the entire act of brooding is worth its own separate blog post, going into depth regarding brooder temperature is definitely worth your while.
What’s So Important About Brooder Temperature?
To begin, it’s important to understand just why the right brooder temperature is so important to your chicks. First of all, your chicks are young and undeveloped. Their body temperature is very difficult to regulate, which is why they need all the help they can get when it comes to staying warm. Chicks can huddle together for warmth, but in a normal brooder that has adequate space for the chicks to roam and eat, they need an outside source to help keep them warm. Not only are they undeveloped in terms of their inner bodily functions, but on the outside they don’t have feathers yet. They’re born with down, which usually starts to turn to feathers at about 20 days of life.
Brooder temperature should be about 95 degrees at the beginning of the brooding process. It’s best to decrease the temperature about 5 degrees each week until it’s room temperature which is usually when the chicks are ready to leave the brooder. A thermometer about 2” off the brooder floor is a great way to measure the temperature. That being said, you can often tell your flock’s comfort level just by looking at them. If the chicks are chirping uncomfortably or herded together beneath or away from the heat source, you may need to address the temperature within the brooder.
How you provide your heat is an area where many novice and experienced raisers might go wrong. There’s many aspects of how you heat your brooder to contemplate. For example, some methods are less energy-efficient than others, some are more dangerous, and some might be more reliable than others. Let’s look at some different options:
Infrared Heat Lamp:
A heat lamp, much like the kind you’d find an unappetizing pizza sitting under, is a common go-to for raisers. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s the best. In fact, heat lamps can be very dangerous. I mean think about it, do you really want to treat your chicks the same way you’d treat a day old pizza? Heat lamps do their best to keep things hot, and while 95 degrees might seem hot, it’s actually quite comfortable for your young chicks. A 250-watt infrared heat lamp can provide warmth for 25-100 chicks. So using it on small brood of birds might be a tad overkill. Heat lamps should be watched closely as they can very easily overheat your chicks. Not only can they overheat the chicks, but if they come into contact with bedding material they can start a fire, which can obviously spell doom for much, much more than just your birds. Heat lamps are also not very energy efficient and can definitely run up your energy bill over the course of brooding a hatch of chicks. Infrared heat lamps are viable but not often the best option.
Infrared Heating Panel:
Infrared heating panels… you must be thinking, “Well those sound expensive.” Truth be told, they are pricier than a heat lamp or normal light bulb, but they are incredibly energy efficient. In fact, compared to a heat lamp, the panel will quickly pay for itself in the form of money saved on your energy bill every month. These panels come in many different lengths and sizes and are also very easy to clean.
Incandescent Light Bulb:
A standard incandescent light bulb is a great option for heating a brooder. It’s cost-efficient in terms of your energy bill, poses minimal safety concerns, and can’t overheat your brooder as easily. If your brooder isn’t exceptionally tiny, you may want to use two bulbs to still provide some heat should one go out. 60 or 100-watt bulbs work the best. You may want to invest in a reflecting pad or something to help distribute the heat as evenly as possible across the brooder. As we mentioned earlier, raising the bulb(s) about 3-5 inches a week is the most simple way to decrease the heat across the brooder.