Heat Source for Your Brooder 

Brooder Heat Source, Infrared Lamp

Baby chicks need to be kept warm.

A newborn baby chick is unable to keep its body temperature consistent on it's own. In nature, the chick is kept warm by the mother hen when she hatches her eggs. 

Baby chicks need this warmth continuously for the first two months of their lives, until their downy fluff is replaced with feathers.

In the brooder container you'll be providing heat from an external source as a substitute for the warmth the chicks would otherwise receive from their mom.

Heat Lamp

It is common to use an electric heat source and to have it suspended above the brooding area.

A heat lamp with a red bulb is inexpensive and the most commonly used electric heat source.

Generally, you'll be using something in the 75 - 250 watt range depending on the size of the space, its location, and how cold it is.

Infrared Heat Lamp for Brooder

Red Bulb

Choosing a red light for your heat lamp will cut back on chick aggression and pecking.

Injury doesn’t show under red light. Under white light, all bloody spots immediately attract pecking.  Baby chicks will cheerfully and efficiently peck each other to death.

Red is also preferred because red light provides plenty of light but is less harsh than white light, allowing chicks to rest better.

With a bright white light constantly glaring it can be hard for your little baby chicks to sleep.

Protect Against Fire

Very Important: All heat lamps generate sufficient heat to be a hazard. Always handle carefully and remember that safety if the first priority. 

The parts of a heat lamp can come loose for a lot of reasons; baby chicks can fly into them, unsecured lamps can fall, get knocked over and swing into objects causing fires. 

Whenever you're using an overhead heat source, like a heat lamp, be absolutely certain it is mounted securely.

If your heat lamp comes equipped with a clip as a way to make it secure, DO NOT rely solely on the clip to hang the heat lamp. It must be more secure to prevent fires. This lamp gets HOT!!  

Always keep your heat lamp a safe distance from anything flammable.

Heat lamps often come with a metal chain as a way of adjusting the height of the lamp. Fix the metal chain into the ceiling and hang the heat lamp from the chain to secure it. 

Then secure the electrical cord as a secondary precaution in case the chain was to come loose.

Use a shielded, ceramic socket with the correct gauge wires securely attached. You also want to be sure the light socket you're using is properly rated for the wattage of the bulb you're going to use.

Because of the danger of a fire, many brooder heat lamps are made with a wire shield around the bulb to prevent it from coming in contact with the bedding if it somehow was to fall. This is a nice safety feature, but doesn't change the importance of properly securing the lamp. 

Depending on your bedding material, it would not take much to start a fire if the heat lamp were to drop. Bedding and even wood can smolder and catch fire very easily.

Temperature Guidelines 

The brooder floor temperature should be around 95° F for the first week and can then be reduced weekly by 5° F until the chicks can maintain their own body temperature and are fully feathered.

This is usually done by adjusting the height or location of the heat source.

Specifically, each week after the first, the temperature should be reduced by five degrees.

  • Week 1 = 95° F
  • Week 2 = 90° F
  • Week 3 = 85° F
  • Week 4 = 80° F
  • Week 5 = 75° F
  • Week 6 = 70° F

Also make sure your baby chickens are able to get away from the heat source.

Something that is often overlooked is making sure that a cool area exists for your baby chicks. 

The heat should not engulf the entire brooding container, just a portion of it. The chicks need to have enough room to be able to get away from the heat if they start getting get too hot. 

Make sure there is room for the baby chicks to get out of the direct glare of the lamp if they are too hot.

You can allow them a range of temperatures by mounting the heat lamp on just one side of the brooder container instead of in the center.

Place their food and water just outside the edge of the heat source to encourage them to leave the heated area once in a while.

A thermometer located approximately 2-4 inches from the brooder floor and at the edge of the circle of heat will indicate whether the lamp needs to be raised or lowered to achieve the target temperature.

Baby Chicks Will Tell You What They Need

The behavior of baby chickens is an even better indicator of their true comfort level and proper temperature!

Chicks will find their own comfort zone moving under or away from the heat source as they require. They are your best thermometer.

Observing their behavior will help you determine if the heat source is correct, or not.

Too Cold

If your baby chicks are huddled under the heat source and shivering, they are too cold.  They tend to chirp (cheep) loudly when they are not warm enough.

Lower the heat lamp so that it is closer to the chicks!

Too Hot

Some signs that your chicks are too hot:

  • Avoiding the area around the heat lamp
  • Avoiding contact with each other
  • They're spread around the outer edge of the brooder container
  • Their wings are drooping
  • They're panting with their mouths open

These are all signs that they're probably too hot. Raise the heat lamp up and away.

Not getting this right can be the death of young chicks.

Just Right

A happy, comfortable group of baby chicks will be evenly distributed, scooting all around the brooder box, busily eating and drinking.

If there isn't a big variation between the amount of baby chicks cooling off, getting warm, eating, drinking and being merry (I know, pretty lame), your temperature control is right on target. Great Job!

It is best to have your brooder box completely set up and ready before your family’s baby chicks arrive because you do need to ensure the brooder container is heated to the correct temperature before moving them in.

Stay in Touch

Overheating and chilling can result in a high mortality rate for baby chicks.

Once your little chicks are under the heat source, you should observe them for a while.

Frequent monitoring of the brooder is the key to success.

 Just stay tuned to the behavior of your baby chicks, your brooder's heat source, and the brooder temperature and you'll do great!

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