Controlling Temperature in the Brooder

Understanding Behavior, Traditional Heat Lamps, and the Radiant Heat Alternative

One of the biggest concerns most people have is keeping the brooder at the proper temperature. You’ve probably read the norm… 95 degrees the first week, then lower the temperature by 5 degrees each week until the chicks are fully feathered. That’s the rule of thumb, and one I have always been faithful to. However…

I know heat lamps are a royal pain when trying to achieve a specific and consistent temperature. And radiant heat from today’s brooders probably have you wondering if they offer enough heat.  That’s why this season I decided to experiment, pitched the heat lamp and put my trust solely in radiant heat on my newly hatched chicks.

Yes, it seemed too cold in the brooder at night, certainly wasn’t 95, and that made me nervous. But I had a feeling radiant heat would prove better if I just stuck with it. Radiant heat seemed more natural, more like a mother hen, and that just had to be better than a clunky bright heat lamp dangling over their head.

Is Radiant Heat Better?

Silver Laced Wyandotte 40120

At one week old: The temperature in the brooder was 65, and the chicks weren’t huddled together trying to stay warm. They were playing, eating, and on and off congregating under the radiant heat brooder. No fuss, no worries, and no pasty butts, which is a common problem of chicks under stress during their first week of life.

I think chicks can take the cold a lot better than we think. I’ve seen hens take their chicks outside in 30 degree temperatures with no problem. So why do we need to stress over the perfect 95 degree law in the brooder? We don’t, plain and simple.

Here’s my Silkie Bantam chicks in perfect condition, raised using radiant heat in temperatures 25-30 degrees below the the recommended 95 degrees the first week. They’re five weeks old now and happy as can be.

 

The trick is to watch your chicks, they will tell you if they are uncomfortable. Too hot and they will be scattered far from the heat source. Too cold and they will huddle together in a corner for warmth.  It doesn’t matter what the temperature is or where you live, baby chicks all communicate the same.

Note: If I thought radiant heat wasn’t enough during very cold spells, I would use a heat lamp near the brooder rather than right over them. This will help warm the air around the brooder box just enough to still encourage use of the radiant heat brooder within.

It’s all about behavior… watch and they will teach you how much heat they need. It’s just amazing to watch those fuzzy butts, they’re a wealth of information…  watch them, and you’ll see for yourself!

Silke Bantams 10-30-14

Raising Chickens in Cold Country

As a desert dweller, I won’t even attempt to give advice on winter chicken keeping. However…  this article by City Girl Farming is a good resource for those raising chickens in cold country.

 Raising Chickens (In The Winter)

October’s Hatch, Brooder to Coop in Phoenix, How and When

Update 2018 | I no longer use heat lamps & have switched to radiant heat. Brinsea Ecoglow

Once again, my informative article on what age chicks can leave the *brooder. A week by week guide to help you transition your October hatched chicks from inside to the outdoor chicken coop… in Phoenix.

Small Brooder with 20 2 day old chicks

It is a little different raising chicks in Arizona. October is the best time to raise chicks in Phoenix,  it’s much easier to keep chicks warm than it is trying to keep them cool.  High temps in the day are in the mid to high 80′s and nights in the high 50′s and low 60′s. My brooder area is an addition off the house without controlled temps. Therefore, 80′s outdoors means 90+ in the enclosed off the house structure. I use a red low wattage brooder lamp at night about 20 inches above brooder and only natural lighting during the day.

At 3.5 weeks I move them to the outside coop. They will be confined there with a 250 watt red brooder lamp 3-4ft above ground which is left on day and night. Half of the coop is unheated. Temps in late Oct. are usually in the 80′s and at night upper 50′s.

At 4 weeks I open the coop doors to the chicken yard offering them the choice to fly the coop so to speak. They will venture out briefly then run back to the coop. After about 4 days they brave the outside world. Brooder lamp is still left on. Every night the coop doors close and all chicks are huddled together under the lamp.  It is now the first part of November and temps. are in the mid to upper 70′s, lows around 55.

At 5-6 weeks the birds are fully feathered, heat lamp off around 10AM, and turned on around 3PM. I find this important because the brooder lamp lures them in the coop as dusk approaches – exactly where I want them to go every night… always.

At 7 weeks the temps are high in the mid 60′s and lows in the 40′s. No heat lamp. However, it is now that I introduce an LED light where I want them to sleep at night, and eventually lay their eggs. The birds go the the light, even though it provides no heat. I choose an LED source of light because the batteries last a really long time, up to a month. My nesting area requires a ladder ( I use a sturdy tree branch) and as long as there is a light up there they all adapted quite easily to the change.

At 8 weeks it is unlikely that your birds will require a heat source at night, especially if you have six or more birds. Pack the nest area with plenty of bedding (I use bermuda grass hay) to help insulate the chicks from the cold.

*A brooder is a heated container that has a temperature controlled area. It’s used to confine chicks until they are old enough to go outside.