By Mel Dickinson — Chick brooders come in all different designs, shapes, and sizes. There are baby chick brooder ideas for each homesteader’s and farmer’s unique setup. While there are many different ways to raise chicks, there are some constants that every chick needs in order to grow. Clean bedding, fresh water, chick feed, and a heat source (unless chicks are given to a broody hen) are always a must. Regardless of the time of year, chicks always need a constant source of heat available to them until they are fully feathered and can keep themselves warm.
Choosing how to heat your brooder is also a choice each individual needs to make. Four common ways to heat chick brooders are with heat lamps, safety heat lamps, heat plates, and panels. There are pros and cons to using each one of these methods.
Heat Lamps — A basic 250-watt heat lamp can be found at almost any local farm store. This is good for all the crazy chicken people out there who can’t contain themselves during chick days and need an immediate heat source for their new little fluff balls they’ll be taking home (I’m guilty). Heat lamps are economical and heat from above, allowing more space in the brooder for food, water, and chicks.
Heat lamp safety is a must because they can be dangerous and need to be handled with care. When placing heat lamps in a chick brooder, they must be securely fastened to ensure they will not be knocked down and fall into the brooder. Heat lamps must be kept away from all combustibles. They are able to start fires and melt plastic.
When situating the lamp(s) in the brooder, it is important to place food and water out of the direct heat from the lamps. It is also necessary to be mindful of the temperature in the brooder. Watching the chicks can be helpful in letting you know if the lights need to be adjusted. If they’re all spread out with their wings out, it is too hot. If they are all huddled under the light, it’s too cold.
It can be helpful to have a thermometer in the brooder to monitor and change the temperature in the brooder week to week. A final consideration when using heat lamps is interrupting the chick’s natural sleep cycle, as there is a constant light source in the brooder at all hours of the day.
Safety Heat Lamps — These are very similar to heat lamps, but they have an extended cage over the bulb area to help prevent direct contact with other surfaces if they fall. While they still must be properly secured and handled carefully, this added safety feature is an important benefit to these lamps.
Another benefit is safety heat lamps can be used to keep other young livestock warm when needed. If choosing to use these lamps, some additional preparation is necessary. They are less likely to be at your local feed store and will most likely need to be ordered online or through a livestock catalog ahead of time. They are also more expensive than a regular heat lamp, but do use the same bulbs.
Heat Plates — The heat plates provide heat to chicks through direct contact of the plate. Chicks must physically go under the plate to keep warm. As the chicks grow, the plates are adjusted accordingly, so the chicks continue to fit comfortably under the heat plate. This method is most similar to being under a hen. It is safer than using lights and uses less electricity. It’s said that chicks using this method feather out faster because the temperatures outside the heat plates are cooler (instead of the whole brooder being heated from bulbs) causing quicker chick feathering. Heat plates also encourage the natural sleep cycle of chicks from a young age since there is not a constant light source from the plates.
This is the method we are currently using on our farm. While we really like this method for heating our brooders, there are some things to consider when using the plates. The plates take up brooder space, so it’s important to make sure the plates, food, water, and chicks all fit comfortably inside your brooder.
Each heat plate has a maximum number of chicks that will fit under the plate. This number is important to know, because if the number of chicks you have is over this number, multiple plates will be needed and possibly extra brooders depending on the size of the brooder.
We use 150 gallon round metal stock tanks which comfortably fit two heat plates, plus food, water, and chicks. Heat plates are more costly than the methods mentioned above. They also will need to be ordered online or through a livestock catalog.
I have found when using the plates, it’s important to monitor chick behavior when you first introduce them to this set up. I try to put the chicks underneath the plate immediately when putting them into the brooder so they recognize this is their primary heat source. Even with doing this, often there will be some chicks that need help returning to the heat plate after they go out to eat and drink. It’s important to check on the chick brooder and listen for excessive peeping during the first few hours of putting them in there.
It’s important to do daily checks underneath the plate to make sure they are all thriving. Overall, I like this method and would recommend it to anyone considering this option.
Heat Panels — Panels provide radiant heat, similar to the heat plate. They differ in that they stand vertical so chicks stand next to panels instead of underneath like the plates. The handful of people I know who have used this method have larger brooder rooms and also use heat lamps in combination with the heat panels. The panels are similar to the plates in that they provide a safer heating source, but are also more expensive, have limited space, and may need to be ordered online.
Regardless of the method that works best for you to heat your chick brooder, it is always important to remember to check all plugs, outlets, extension cords, and any other electrical sources being used to make sure they not damaged and are in safe working condition.
Chick season is the most wonderful time of the year, and safely keeping your chicks warm and healthy make the season even better!