Fire Safety in the Coop and Barn - Some Tips to Help Prevent a Tragedy

Let me start by saying this is not an easy topic for me to write about… I've not had a coop fire and I pray I never will. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from Pyrophobia and that combined with my love for poultry made winter a time of the year I dread, hearing about coop fires, the losses… It upsets me a great deal, hearing about coop fires and for that reason I decided to write this article and hopefully, hopefully help prevent a few more...

The really sad thing about most of the fires and causes is that they could've been prevented so, so easily. Many fires were caused by heat lamps getting knocked down or over, some by faulty electrics... Heat lamps seems to be #1 culprit though, so I want to start by talking about those.

Chicks, until they are fully feathered, do need supplemented heat, unless they are raised by a hen. Most of us make use of heat lamps to keep the little ones warm. Stating the obvious here: heat lamps need to be secured properly! If you opt to use a heat lamp, make 200% sure the lamp is properly secured and not too close to anything that can potentially catch fire from the heat... Make sure the bulb is fitted in a CERAMIC socket, not plastic. I have a plastic socket downstairs that melted from the heat… And it came with the lamp! I go a step further and make sure there is a secure metal barrier, in the shape of a mess between the brooder and the lamp, in the unlikely event that the lamp should fall. There is no such thing as being "too careful" when using these lamps. Be concerned and be careful!

There are other options though, that are safer than heat lamps:

- Incubator manufacturer Brinsea's Chick Brooders
- @Blooie 's Mama Heating Pad in the Brooder - From Blooie: "I raise chicks outdoors in the run using it, even with temps in the teens and twenties, and they thrive. If at all possible I recommend people have power hardwired to their set-up rather than use extension cords, but since I know that's not always possible, at the very least they need to use heavy duty extension cords and seal the connection between the EC and the cord to whatever is being powered."

To name two…

Another option that is gaining popularity with our members is the sweeter heater.

I experimented and raised some chicks in a heated room last winter with good results. A small fan heater, along with the house heating, worked well keeping the room at a comfortable temperature for them. I never raised the temperature in the room over around 80F, I set the heater to switch itself on and off and just boost the temperatures a bit as needed, and the chicks were happy, happy at that.

For older chickens and coops… Do older chickens NEED supplemented heat over winter? Some breeds are not able to handle extreme cold and can benefit from a bit of supplemented heat, but the majority of healthy, strong, well looked after chickens are perfectly equipped to withstand very cold temperatures. Look at wild birds. They don't have heaters and heat lamps and I have yet to see one killed by cold. With the exception of a very small number of breeds, chickens are protected against the elements by a well designed duvet of feathers that helps them regulate their body temperatures and keep the cold out. They can and will do fine even in extreme cold, even more so if they have a well designed and built coop to overnight in.

Here is a good discussion stating the temperatures chickens can withstand WITHOUT supplemented heat:

And a must read article by @pipdzipdnreadytogo on supplemented heat in the coop (Please do read this article, it's good info!):

Bottom line: in most cases chickens do NOT need that heat lamp or heater in the coop. Yes, it's nice and they greatly appreciate it, but they Do. Not. Need. It. Sadly a lot of fires were caused by unnecessary heating… So the first step to reducing the risk of fires is obvious: Do not provide supplemented heat in the coop unless the birds really need it!

If they do, if they really do need heat and you need to supplement heat in your coop or barn, take the necessary steps to make sure your lamps are secure, if you choose to use lamps. Get a qualified electrician to install electricity, do the wiring, etc. Don't say "I'll save money doing it myself!" How much is your flock and coop worth to you? Get a professional to do the job…

BYC member @aoxa had a tragic barn fire about 3 years ago and she started a thread on the topic of fire safety and prevention (Thanks, Justine!) To quote from her thread, here are some safety tips she gathered:

  • The obvious - make sure if you have chicks in the barn/coop that you have your heat lamp SECURED. Do not trust the clamps. They can slip off easily and the heat lamp can fall to the ground and catch the shavings on fire.
  • Extension Cords - Please, please do not use these if you can help it. If you do have to use them, Make sure you are not drawing a lot of power from them (IE: Don't attach an extension cord to a power block and plug a lot into them).
  • DUST your lights and outlets regularly. Dust is a big issue.. You know how much dust a couple of chickens can create.. If dust builds up on heat lamps, or even regular light bulbs the dust itself can catch on fire.
  • If you use extension cords, use heavy duty, and only ones meant for outdoors. Make sure they are all intact and have no rips or tears in the coating.
  • Another extension cord tip: Do not staple them into the wall to keep out of reach of birds. If you hit the cord itself it can create an issue
  • Store baled hay AWAY from livestock. Hay/bedding storage should not be near lights, fans, electrical boxes, heaters or outlets.
  • Flammable substances should be kept away from the barn. (We had 5 propane tanks stored in the loft. BAD idea.
  • Improperly utilized heat lamps are a major source of barn fires. They are often placed too close to hay and bedding which may ignite quite easily from the heat. Never use extension cords with heat lamps.
  • When storing newly baled hay, the temperature should be monitored. Adequate ventilation should be provided for additional drying of the hay. If too much heat builds up, spontaneous combustion can occur. (Never purchase hay that is hot - because it can mean that it was baled too wet. In addition to being a fire hazard, the hay may turn moldy, making it unpalatable and unhealthy for horses to eat.)
  • Outlets and switch boxes should be made of metal and have dust- and water-tight spring-loaded covers that close when released. Ground fault receptacles should be utilized for all outlets.

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