Kick the Heat Lamp: Better, Safer, and Healthier Options to Heat Your Brooder!

  1. pipdzipdnreadytogo
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    Kick the Heat Lamp:

    Better, Safer, and Healthier Options to Heat Your Brooder!

    When setting up a brooder, one of the biggest essentials for the chicks is a heat source. Young chicks are unable to maintain their body temperature and so must be kept warm in some way. When shopping for heating options, the one product that is consistently sold everywhere for chicks is the metal clamp lamp with 250 watt heat bulb. They’re sold in feed stores, stocked near chick bins, even pushed in hatchery catalogs! But heat lamps containing 250 watt bulbs are one of the worst and most dangerous heating options available for chicks.

    Believe it or not, those large 250 watt heat bulbs have no benefits to chicks beyond providing them heat and, in fact, cause many more problems than other options! 250 watt bulbs are much too hot for the typical small batch of chicks bought by backyard chickeners, sometimes causing health issues in the brooder from overheating, such as ‘pasty bottom’. They put off so much heat that even raising them a few inches weekly as is usually instructed often doesn’t lower the heat in the brooder sufficiently to wean chicks off of it. Metal clamp lamps are rickety and commonly fall apart or fall off of what they’re hanging from, making them a huge fire hazard and a danger to the chicks. Often, especially when combined with 250 watt heat bulbs, these metal lamps are so hot that they are dangerous to touch, making it risky to have children or other pets around the brooder, risky for the chicks once they’re old enough that they could fly up and hit the lamp, and painful for you if you accidentally brush by them too close while tending to your chicks! And, with the 24 hours of light that heat lamps provide, chicks sometimes need to be trained to go to roost at the appropriate time once they are a bit older and weaned off of the heat itself because they have not had a normal day/night cycle.


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    Dangerous, painful, and a hassle. Who needs any of that?

    Indeed, on top of these anecdotal dangers and hassles to using heat lamps, many peer-reviewed studies have been published discussing further dangers of raising chicks under 24 hours of light. These studies will be cited throughout the next paragraph, and the sources for those citations listed at the end of this article under 'References'.

    One study found that chicks reared under 24 hours of light were significantly more likely to have eye deformities, including flattened corneas and larger eyes (measured by mass), than chicks raised under 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness (McCluskey and Arscott 1967). This study used equivalent equipment as is used today, including 250 watt infrared heat bulbs of both red and colorless glass, as well as 60 watt incandescent bulbs (McCluskey and Arscott 1967). Eye deformities occurred at significantly higher levels in all treatments with 24 hours of light as compared to those with 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, but were found to be the most significant with the red bulbs (McCluskey and Arscott 1967). Another study found that chicks raised in brooders with 150 watt red heat lamps were significantly more likely to exhibit annoying behavioral issues such as feather picking, cannibalism, and aggression as compared to chicks raised in a brooder whose heat source did not emit light and instead provided chicks a dark place to sleep (Jensen et al. 2006). The authors concluded that having a dark sleeping area where chicks could rest unimpeded by active, awake broodmates was a big help in avoiding the development of these behaviors (Jensen et al. 2006). In fact, chicks raised in these dark brooders were less likely to develop these behaviors not only in the brooder, but also as late in life as the onset of egg laying (Jensen et al. 2006). The intensity of that 24 hours of light was said by Kjaer and Vestergaard (1999) to play a role in the development of these behaviors as well; pullets raised in a higher light intensity of 30 lux were found to exhibit more feather picking than birds raised in the lower intensity of 3 lux. It should be noted that these light levels are both much lower than 250 watt heat lamps of either colorless or red glass (measuring over 600 lux for red glass bulbs and over 6000 lux for colorless glass bulbs, as reported by McCluskey and Arscott 1967). Several studies have also found that 24 hours of light can even delay maturity and reduce future production of eggs in pullets (McCluskey and Arscott 1967; Callenbach et al. 1944; Wilson et al. 1956).

    No articles could be found that came to a positive conclusion about the use of heat lamps or 24 hours of light in the brooder, though it is my goal to continue searching where I am able. However, without any positives to be found so far for the use of heat lamps, even in the scientific community, it's easy to conclude that their widespread use is likely only due to their availability, and yes, cheapness, a factor that is perhaps not something that should be counted as a benefit considering the quality and safety of the product that goes along with that cheapness. Other heating options may not be as inexpensive or readily available as a clamp lamp and 250 watt bulb, but their benefits much outweigh the extra time it may take to obtain them. In this article, I will discuss some of the many brooder heater options and why they are better than the old clamp lamp by a long stretch. I will start with the most ancient of brooder heaters, used as long as people have had chickens—the broody hen.




    Broody Hens

    If you are looking for the easiest route to take for brooding chicks, you needn’t look any further than your own chicken coop! Broody hens are usually glad to adopt day-old chicks if given the opportunity, and they will do all the hard work in raising the chicks, training them to go to a coop, and keeping them warm in any weather, during any season. They also won’t set fire to a brooder or get so hot that they overheat their chicks! However, for those just starting out with their first chicks, broody hens may not be readily available. And those of us who have had chickens for years know that the fickle broody can be hard to convince to brood when it’s convenient, instead usually choosing to do so when least convenient!


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    A broody hen will take care of everything from heating, feeding, and putting the chicks to bed, all the way to helping them integrate into the flock!

    There are some risks involved in using a broody hen as well. First is the temperament of the hen. Some hens want to brood and hatch eggs, but don’t want to raise chicks, or they may simply reject the chicks given to them for one reason or another. It's a good idea to have a back-up brooder ready just in case this happens. Another risk is the temperament of the rest of the flock and whether they will attack the new chicks or not, though the broody hen will protect them as best she can. It may be safer to block off an area of the coop for the hen to raise her chicks so that the flock can still see them, but not get to them. Some people don’t have coops large enough to do so, however, and so coop space may be a constraint when deciding to use this brooding option.

    Another thing to consider is that some report broody raised chicks as being less friendly than ones raised by hand in a brooder. Most broody hens will allow you to handle the chicks regularly, especially if they are friendly toward you otherwise, and this can help with friendliness of the chicks in the long run. If friendliness of your chicks is a concern, however, it may be worthwhile to look at other options for raising them.


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    If their mama hen will allow it, handling her chicks often may make them just as friendly as brooder-raised chicks.




    Ceramic Heat Emitter Bulb

    Ceramic heat emitter bulbs are just what they sound like; a bulb that is ceramic and emits heat. They are primarily used for reptiles, but can and do function just as well for chick brooders. They give one major advantage over the regular red 250 watt bulb: they do not provide light to your chicks, just heat, and so chicks are used to day and night from the start. However, they may still get hot enough to be a fire hazard if they fall into the brooder bedding. All in all, ceramic heat bulbs still make for a better option than the basic 250 watt bulbs, though there are other brooder heaters that are even better!



    A Better Heat Lamp?

    Ceramic heat emitter bulbs might be best when coupled with a better heat lamp than the ones found in the feed store. There are much safer and sturdier heat lamps that can be found online, such as the one that Premier 1 offers on their website. These would even be a better and safer choice to use with a regular heat lamp bulb than a metal clamp lamp—but even the supplier recommends a bulb smaller than 250 watts in them! Though they are safer than feed store clamp lamps, the drawback (unless using a ceramic bulb in them), is that your chicks still have 24 hours of light on them rather than a natural day / night cycle.




    Heat Plates

    Heat plates are pretty much what they sound like; a flat, rectangular, plate-like device that heats up for chicks. They are usually on legs or can be hung to allow the chicks to hide underneath them for warmth, but some lay on the ground for chicks to sleep on top of, and still others may be wall mounted. For the purposes of this article, I will be discussing the kind that chicks hide underneath, as this is the more common and recommended kind of heat plate.


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    Chicks raised with a heat plate ONLY have heat while underneath the plate. This mimics what they would have with a broody hen, encouraging them to feather faster and allowing them to wean off of heat much sooner, just like broody raised chicks.

    Heat plates are very popular with the people who use them because they are easy to use and they simulate having a broody hen to warm the chicks, allowing chicks to be brooded in a way that is more natural for them. Not only are the chicks immediately used to the day/night cycle, but because heat plates only heat underneath them, chicks using them often feather in much faster and wean off of heat much, much faster—chicks that I have raised indoors with heat plates sometimes quit using them as early as 2 weeks of age, even though I continue to provide it to them for much longer than that!


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    These chicks, at just 16 days old in a 70 degree F house, are clearly not using their heat plate overnight anymore. So much for 95 degrees minus 5 degrees a week, huh?

    One disadvantage to heat plates is that many of them cannot be used for chicks kept in an area where the temperatures may drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that chicks must be brooded inside or in a heated outbuilding any time of the year that it may be colder than that at any point in the day or overnight. If considering a heat plate for an outdoor brooder, it is wise to investigate the temperatures it will be effective at before settling on which to buy! Another disadvantage is that they often aren’t big enough for large broods of chicks. Even those labeled for use with 20 chicks usually are only large enough for about half of that number for the length of time that the chicks will use it. But for those that only raise 5-10 chicks at a time, those heat plates are plenty large enough. A third potential disadvantage to heat plates is the upfront cost. Heat plates are much more expensive than clamp lamps and heat bulbs. However, that upfront cost is made up for in electricity use, as within a few weeks of using it, most heat plates will have paid for themselves in electricity savings versus a 250 watt heat bulb.


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    One last thing that might be thought of as a disadvantage for heat plates—chicks have wings, and they poop where they perch! Yuck!




    Homemade Brooder Heaters

    Homemade brooder heaters typically have all of the advantages of heat plates at a lower cost, saving the upfront cost of plates as well as avoiding many of the dangers of clamp lamps. Most brooder heaters are made of heating pads, such as this one and this one. These brooder heaters use the same idea as a heat plate; they provide heat and the natural feeling of huddling under mama hen when cold, while allowing chicks to come and go and wean off of their heat source much faster. The biggest advantage to homemade brooder heaters versus heat plates is that they can often be used outside even in cold temperatures, so chicks can be brooded in their coop from day one no matter the season! (NOTE: Only heating pads that DO NOT have an automatic shutoff should be used for brooder heaters, especially when used outside! Heating pads must be producing heat at all times for the chicks to warm up whenever needed!)

    The only disadvantage to be found with homemade brooder heaters is the time and effort used to get all of the parts and assemble them, something that is likely negligible when considering all of the advantages they can have. Even if you aren’t very handy, making a homemade brooder heater can be as easy as bending a small piece of fence and wrapping a towel around a heating pad over it—not much time and not much effort imparted!



    Wool Hen

    The Wool Hen is a fascinating type of homemade brooder 'heater' that uses no electricity whatsoever to keep your chicks warm, instead using their own body heat to keep them warm! The Wool Hen is basically a thickly insulated box stuffed with hanging strips of wool, fleece, or other highly insulating fabrics inside of it, which are warmed by the chick's own body heat and hold that heat around the chick as long as it is within the structure. As far as where it can be used, there are reports of using it outside in cooler temperatures, but no confirmation of the very coldest temps that chicks can handle when brooded with only a wool hen. I would strongly suggest reading up on Wool Hens and perhaps asking questions of those who have used them before deciding to use one in an outside brooder during colder temperatures. For starters, check out these two threads: one two





    Conclusion

    There are other options for heating a brooder, of course, but these are the most common and most highly recommended out there by chicken people who have experience with them. Clearly, when compared to these options, heat lamps and 250 watt bulbs fall flat! Their propensity to cause brooder fires, overheat chicks, and burn anything that comes into contact with them makes them an unnecessary danger, and a risky choice even if only used for one brood of chicks. Many of the heating options given in this article are much more natural, allowing chicks to grow and thrive as intended by nature, and all are much, MUCH safer! On top of that, many save on the electricity bill in the long run! What’s not to love about that?






    Helpful and Informative Links


    About Brooders

    Homemade Brooders – Lots of brooder ideas for containing your chicks!

    Yes, You Can Brood Chicks Outdoors



    About Broody Hens

    Guides about broody hens: One, Two

    Old Fashioned Broody Hen Thread – Be warned, it’s a long one!



    About Other Brooder Heaters

    Homemade Brooder Heaters: Mama Heating Pad, Homemade Heat Plate

    Heat Plate Reviews and Comparisons




    And don’t be afraid to seek out help at the Raising Baby Chicks forum if you’re unsure about anything to do with raising chicks!






    References

    Callenbach, E.W., Nicholas, J.E., Murphy, R.R., 1944. Influence of light on age at sexual maturity and
    ovulation rates in pullets. Pennsylvania State College, School of Agriculture, Agricultural
    Experiment Station. Candland, D.S., 1969.​

    Jensen, A.B., Palme, R., Forkman, B., 2006. Effect of brooders on feather pecking and cannibalism in
    domestic fowl (Gallus gallus domesticus). Applied Animal Behaviour Science,
    99, 287-300.​

    Kjaer, J.B., Vestergaard, K.S., 1999. Development of feather pecking in relation to light intensity.
    Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 62, 243-254.​

    McCluskey, W.H., Arscott, G.H., 1967. The influence of infrared and incandescent light upon chicks.
    Poultry Science, 46(2), 528-529.​

    Wilson, W.O., Woodard, A.E., Abplanalp, H., 1956. The effect and after-effect of varied exposure to light
    on chicken development. Biological Bulletin, 111(3), 415-422.​




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  1. ladyearth
    we did the "pvc tube xmas lites" route.. saw it on you tube. made two of them, really neat and cute......
    of course that just to supplement the room indoor heating in a medium oval galvanized 24 inch tall tub...
    now they are just sitting in the toolshed. cause I plan no more babies..
  2. pipdzipdnreadytogo
    I have updated the article to include a paragraph discussing a few of the articles (and one book) I've found through my university's library and databases. I believe it does improve the quality of the introduction quite a bit and so I must admit some gratefulness toward a certain commenter for sending me down that route. As I mentioned in the updated section, I will continue to research as time permits!
  3. pipdzipdnreadytogo
    Not knowing what the rates are for electricity where you live, I went with the national average, which is 12 cents per kwh. Actually, it's 12.8 or so, which means my calculations were on the low end. Even going with 12 cents even, using 6-250 watt heat lamps even for 3 weeks, you are spending enough more on electricity to buy an EcoGlow with change (approximately $84.19 in electricity savings by switching to them), or buy a Premier1 plate with a lot left over ($82.74 in electricity savings using them). If you want the correct amount for your area, you would have to calculate it yourself with your electricity rates. However, even at the cheapest rate of residential electricity in the country as of February this year (which was 9.27 cents per kwh averaged across Washington state according to this website https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a ), running 6-250 watt heat lamps for 3 weeks is still costing you $63.91-65.03 more than the plates to run for the same length of time.

    I know of at least a few serious breeders that use them, personally. Only one has a website as far as I'm aware, however. You can read about their brooder setup toward the bottom of the page here: https://lesfarmscanada.wixsite.com/lesfarms/about_us In case you don't feel like clicking, the exact words about their brooder setup is this: "We brood chicks with only Brinsea EcoGlows, Premier Heat Plates (fave) or Broody hens. We do not use heat lamps due to the potential dangers and the high energy consumption."

    Editing here because I didn't see your second post. I have used Google Scholar, along with access from my university, which allows me to read most articles on Google Scholar beyond just the abstract (with a few exceptions like I mentioned). I'm also using the 344 other scholarly article databases I have access to through my university.

    Your articles are both about incubation and developing eggs, not chicks. They are studying hatchability, not chick behavior and growth after the fact. The articles I cited are about chicks being raised under these conditions. I'm really not sure what you're trying to prove with that?

    I'd love to see your brooder setup. I'm sure it's great. I'm thinking of writing another article, myself, with the scientific data I'm finding about negative effects of 24 hours of light on brooder-aged chickens. I'm definitely updating this article once I have a little more free time available outside of class. Citations included, of course.
  4. brucifer
    As for your articles on heat lamps and lighting, I suggest you use Google Scholar, and start by limiting your search to articles published in 2017, and work back from there. I spent two minutes and found an article published Feb 23, 2017 in Poultry Science by Archer, Jeffrey, and Tucker, Effect of the combination of white and red LED lighting during incubation on layer, broiler, and Pekin duck hatchability. Here's the URL to the abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28339779 Read, and please share!

    I also found this 2003 article by T.M. Shafey in British Poultry Science by doing a simple search-engine query: Effect of lighted incubation on embryonic growth and hatchability performance of two strains of layer breeder eggs. Please share from that abstract as well. So much for your light-is-a-bad-thing-for-chicks nonsense.
  5. brucifer
    Yes, pip, your math is wrong. BTW, my electric bill last month was $170, and I had six brooders going. I use heat lamps for three weeks only - 95ºF for W1, 90ºF for W2, and 85º for W3. After that point the indoor ambient temperature of the brooder room is enough to sustain the chicks I raise. At about week 7 or 8, I introduce my pullets and cockerels to the outdoors with a couple of hens. Too bad the editor will not allow me to post photos of my active brooders and the chickens I have hatched and raised, ALL under parabolic heat lamps with 250w infrared bulbs. As for EcoGlows and Premier1s, I honestly don't know of a single serious breeder who uses them. Those units are aimed at the chicken-enthusiast market, not the professional market. Again, great heaters, but pricey. Perhaps I'll write an article showing how to construct and set up an effective and safe brooder using a heat lamp as the heating source.
  6. pipdzipdnreadytogo
    I would also like to add, since you were concerned about my use of anecdotal information, I took it upon myself to do some research as I have access to a plethora of databases of peer-reviewed articles through my university. I'm compiling all the articles I find specifically about heat lamp use as compared to other options when rearing chicks. There have not been very many, but so far, I have read the results of every article I've come across that involves testing the use of heat lamps, and I haven't found anything that has concluded positively in regards to heat lamp use yet, especially concerning the 24 hours of light they produce.

    I've found 2 studies that have shown with statistical significance that 24 hours of light (even with a red bulb) without any available darkness increased feather picking, cannibalism, and other behavioral issues, not only when the birds are brooder-aged, but even through to maturity. One study found the intensity of light for 24 hours a day to be the probable cause, though they also noted 'gentle pecks' occurring in the low-intensity-light pens, 'gentle pecks' meaning pecks without tugging on or plucking feathers. This seems to indicate the opposite of what you posted initially about red lights and chicks getting along with one another.

    I've found 2 articles comparing behavior between heat lamp raised chicks and broody hen raised chicks that have also shown that heat lamp chicks exhibit many more behavioral issues such as feather picking and aggression as compared to broody hen raised chicks, from hatch through to maturity. The only drawback they found was that hens who were raised by broodies tended to be more broody, and therefore laid fewer eggs. However, one study, which admittedly I haven't found the full article to read and so I can only read the abstract, found that 24 hours of light when being brooded delayed the onset of maturity and egg laying in pullets.

    Another study, albeit one that was published in 1966, found that 24 hours of light, even with the red coating on heat lamps, causes eye abnormalities in chicks that they referred to as a condition called 'slant eye'. All treatments with 24 hours of light showed this abnormality, but it was most common under 24 hours of red heat bulbs. They did not go into detail about the possible problems from this 'slant eye' condition, nor did they describe what it looked like, but chicks under 24 hours of light also had eyes with relatively flattened corneas, and their eye weight was enlarged up to 33.4% greater than the weight of eyes of chicks raised under 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness with a regular incandescent bulb. The authors also state at the end that unpublished work from their lab also showed an adverse effect on egg laying later in life when brooded with 24 hours of light.

    I have downloaded these studies and a few more that involve other poultry species, and I would be more than happy to provide them if you'd like to read for yourself.
  7. pipdzipdnreadytogo
    You are not taking into account electricity usage, however, which, believe it or not, does account for something. 250 watt bulbs may not seem very expensive, but they cost MUCH MORE in the long run.

    6-250 watt heat lamps running for 24 hours = 36 kwh per day, which at the average rate of 12 cents per kwh that Americans pay for electricity will cost you $151.20 for 5 weeks of use.

    6 EcoGlows running at 18 watts each = 2.592 kwh per day, which will cost you about $10.89 for 5 weeks of use. Considering it can be shut off by 3 weeks, it would cost $6.53. For comparison's sake, we'll say you're running them for the full 5 weeks like the heat lamp. You are saving $140.31 by switching. Already, you've paid for approximately one and three quarters EcoGlows. It would take about 20 weeks of use to pay for all your EcoGlows in this scenario. If you're raising chicks from early March through August or September, as many professionals do, you've already paid for your upfront purchase of the EcoGlows within the year of purchasing them.

    6 of the equivalent size Premier1 plate will run at 3.168 kwh per day and cost you about $13.31 to run for 5 weeks, which saves you $137.89 over your 250 watt heat lamps. In that time, you've paid for just under 2 and a third Premier1 plates in electricity use, and it would only take about 13 weeks of use for them to pay for themselves.

    Feel free to correct my math if you think it's wrong.
  8. brucifer
    pip, regarding heat plates, let me connect the dots for you since you seem to be having trouble. The Brinsea EcoGlow is $80, and the Brinsea Brooder Heating Plate is $60. Good units, no doubt, but they are relatively EXPENSIVE when compared to an $8 parabolic heat lamp and a $4 250w infra-red heating lamp. If a 250w bulb blows, it's $4 to replace the bulb and get it the heater back up and running. You unscrew the old bulb and screw in a new bulb. Simple. Quick. However, if either the EcoGlow or the Brooder Heating Plate fails, it's $80 and $60, respectively, to get a your heating source up and running again. I have several $4 bulbs on hand as spares. However, not everyone who purchases either one of the nice Brinsea units has an extra $80 or $60 in his or her back pocket to purchase a Brinsea as a back-up.

    Furthermore, I am currently running six brooders with chicks of different breeds and at different stages of development. Let's compare and do the math:
    My parabolic heat lamp set up:
    6 heat lamps /w infra-red bulb @ $12 each = $72 + $4 spare bulb = $76 total
    If I did the same thing using a Brinsea EcoGlow as a brooder heat source:
    6 Brinsea EcoGlow @ $80 each = $480 + $80 back-up EcoGlow unit = $560 total

    In short, ANYONE can afford to have a $4 heat lamp as a spare. Not everyone can afford to have a Brinsea or the added luxury of a Brinsea unit as a back-up. Again, Brinsea manufactures quality products, no doubt, but they are very expensive, especially when compared to heat lamps.

    As for Veronica, I agree that she should not use a heat lamp. It would probably be too difficult for her to set up correctly; thus, it would be unsafe for her and her chicks. MHP is the way for her to go. Wise choice, Veronica!
  9. pipdzipdnreadytogo
    Not sure what your fascination is with me having a spare heat plate, but yes, I do have a second one because I loved the first so much. I got it primarily to use at the same time as the first plate to raise larger broods of chicks, secondarily as a backup. My first plate is 4 or 5 years old (I'd have to look up when I got it) and still functioning like it did when it came out of the box. Considering the chicks I've raised with it weaned off heat by the time they were around 2 weeks of age and I rarely have it plugged in beyond 3-ish weeks of age, it really hasn't gotten much use in order to wear it out. That being said, a backup plan should be available when using ANY heat source for the brooder. Things can happen with any of them.

    I agree. There sure is a lot of misinformation, and plenty of spurious conclusions and foolish wives' tales out there. Some of these conclusions are more dangerous than others. Good luck to you as well.
  10. Victoria-nola
    Hahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaa!!!! Yes, for sure, MHP is a "foolish wive's tale." Sure, if by that one means, "works so much better for the typical backyard chicken keeper". lolololol....

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