Baby Chickens; Heating The Brooding Area

To quickly review from last week, a newly hatched chick is unable to maintain its body temperature. The chick is usually kept warm by its mother when she hatches the eggs. When you hatch chicks in an incubator, you must move the chicks to a brooder box after they have completely dried. In the brooder box you will provide heat from an external source as a substitute for the warmth the chick would otherwise receive from it’s mother.

It’s important to have your brooder box completely ready before the chicks hatch.

When you move the chicks from the incubator to the brooder box, the space must be warm and toasty.

Many options are available to use as your source of heat.

A non-electric option would be to place a box within another larger box and insulate the space between the two, including the bottom. Cover the majority of the top with a heavy fabric. Do not cover the top completely because you need to have ventilation to bring in fresh air and remove moisture and gasses from waste. Place the box near your heat source (i.e. a wood burning stove.) On a very cold night, fill a large glass jar with extremely hot water and securely wrap it in a towel, making sure the chicks can have no contact with the glass to prevent burning. Place the jar in the center of the box with your chicks and refill the hot water as needed.

Brooding this way assumes that you keep the fire burning throughout the night.

When checking the temperature in a set up like the above, use a regular oral thermometer. Measure not the hottest spot in the box, likely against the side of the box closest to the heat, and not the coldest spot. Measure in the transitional area between the two but leaning a little toward the warmer side.

Most often an electric heat source will be suspended above the brooding area.

With the use of a reflective dome-shaped covering, the heat is concentrated in one area of the brooding box, preferably the center.

Again, there are many choices available for purchase. Depending on your needs and the base temperature, you might be able to use a light bulb or a heat lamp. Infra-red light is better than white light because white light tends to increase pecking amongst the chicks.

To check the temperature from an overhead heat source, place your oral thermometer just at the edge of the circle of heat.

When using a hovering heat source, be absolutely certain that it is mounted securely.

Depending on your littler material, it wouldn’t take much to start a fire if it were to drop. Use a chain to suspend the source and as a precaution, secure the electrical cord as a secondary in case the chain was to come loose. For this reason, many brooding lamps are manufactured with a wire cage around the bulb preventing the bulb itself from touching the litter if it were to fall. This is a wonderful back up but does not negate the need for proper securing in the first place.

For the first week you’ll need to maintain a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. For the next 5 weeks you will lower the temperature by 5 degrees each week. By the 6th week, you’re maintaining a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat source you use will determine how to reduce the temperature but it is typically done by moving the source further away from the chicks, moving the chicks further away from the source or lowering the amount of heat the source produces.

When choosing your heat source, keep in mind that the chicks need an area to get warm but they also need to be able to move away from the heat and cool off. The heat should not engulf the whole brooding area, just the center.

You will be able to determine a few things about the conditions within your brooder box just by watching the chicks;

If the majority of the chicks are around the outside of the box, away from the heat source, the temperature is too high.

If the majority of the chicks are huddling together under the heat, the temperature is too low.

If the majority of the chicks are huddled together on one side of the box, there is a draft.

If there is not a marked difference between the number of chicks warming themselves, cooling off, eating and drinking, your climate control is excellent, pat yourself on the back.

Speaking of chicks eating and drinking, next week we’ll address nourishment as well as litter material. Until then have a wonderful week.