Apr 24, 2016
UP of Michigan
Wednesday night we had our first chick hatch and by yesterday morning we had 10. In past year's we've put them in the basement or the garage, but they end up making such a huge mess, we didn't want to do that again this year. So we put the 8x4 (x2' high) brooder in the (unheated, uninsulated, but draft free) chicken coop with a Sweeter Heater (11"x40") and chicken wire lid. We put the food and water pretty close to the heater, so that they wouldn't have to go too far away from the heat to eat or drink. The heater was lowered so that when the chicks were standing, it just about touched their backs. If I held my hand under the heater, it did get hot. I kept checking on them throughout the day yesterday and while they didn't seem to stray too far from the heater, they were never shivering. It did get pretty cold last night (in the teens) but it was my understanding that the infrared Sweeter Heaters didn't need a minimum ambient temp to work and that it would keep the chicks warm enough if they were under it.

Well, this morning 8 of the 10 chicks were dead. They were in various places around the brooder, not all of them under the heater. I am heartbroken. We have 42 eggs in the incubator now (day 6) and would like to figure out why these chicks died before the next ones hatch. Any ideas? Could they have gotten too hot because they wouldn't leave the heater? Do these heaters not work if it gets too cold? Were these chicks just weaker because we collected the eggs in the middle of winter? (I should note that we only had 10 out of 36 hatch, with one more still in the incubator trying to hatch but it's not looking good. Last year we had a 70%+ hatch rate).

Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated!
As quoted on their site:
"The Sweeter Heater is designed to be suspended or placed about 6 to 8 inches above newborn chicks. If you have a drafty or colder environment you will want to have it closer to them. Each environment is a little different, so you will want to be set up so you can observe the chicks"

It's possible that you lowered it too close to their height, and it was too hot for them, so they didn't go under it.
Aw man, so sorry for you! I don't have an answer for you, but I'll tell you my setup since we have similar cold weather. My "brooder" is two 2'x4' guinea pig habitats put together, all wire walls and cover. The cover hinges open or is completely removable. The floor of habitat is a waterproof canvas. I use wood chips for their bedding, scoop it out every few days and put in new. The reason I described this is because my brooder is in my chicken coop with my big birds, which is a 6'x8' shed convert. The automatic pop door is open all day from dawn to dusk, which allows for drafts. I used to use a red light lamp, but now use the ceramic "bulb" in the same lamp. It is below 20 degrees at night still. Yesterday we had a big snow storm with lots of wind. I haven't lost any birds.

Perhaps the heater was too warm as @Cyprus suggested, leading them to stay away from it and get chilled? If mine are fine with the the setup they have, and yours died in a more controlled environment, that's the only conclusion I could make, as well.

Again, I'm so sorry. It's tough. Wish I had some words of wisdom for you...
My husband and I discussed this on our drive into town today so I could get some retail therapy (seed shopping!), and the only thing we can come up with is that it was too hot under the heater but too cold away from the heater, so either way they were in poor conditions. Those under the heater may have cooked themselves and those away from the heater were too chilled. I am just sick to my stomach about this, and it's just the worst way to learn how best to set up an infrared heater. Hopefully when batch #2 hatches, we'll have figured this out (and ambient temps shouldn't be so cold).

As a side question - does anyone know how to check the temp under and infrared heater? I know they work by heating up a mass and so thermometers are usually a good gauge. But how else can we test it?
As a side question - does anyone know how to check the temp under and infrared heater?
Honestly, the best advice I can give you is to invest in an Infrared Non-Contact thermometer gun.
They are pricey, but it's worth the price for how accurate it is.
I use one when I brood chicks and I cannot stress enough the importance of it. The reading is instantaneous and it truly saves lives not having to take the time to wait for a regular thermometer to come to temp, or to use another method.
I agree that the chicks probably got too hot under the heater, moved away from it, and then couldn't find their way back in the dark and ended up freezing. Maybe it would be better to wait to hatch in the summer or build a solid brooder that is free from drafts/temperature fluctuations.
You might consider the Mama Heating pad set up instead of your lamps altogether. @azygous has a fabulous article about raising your chicks outside and may be able to chime in here for some advice. I personally would go with the MHP, the chicks are kept warm and dark and they are surrounded and snuggled and can use each other for warmth as well. I highly recommend looking into it. It is relatively cheap and easy to set up and with my set up I also use a germination mat under whatever you are using for the chicks to lay on under the 'cave' set up, that way they have gentle heat above and below them. I use 'fire brick' over the top of the germination mat which absorbs the heat and retains it. Hope this helps.
Agreed with above poster. The MHP brooder is much more chick friendly IMO. Many of us have had excellent success using this system with nights that get below freezing. I've used it for coop brooding x 5 or more broods. No issues with it. When starting new chicks, it's important to monitor them frequently to be sure they "get it" about returning to their heat source. I've had some chicks that are not the brightest crayons in the box. They'll wander off, get cold, and stand and yell about it instead of going back to their heat source. One time, I put some warmish water in the brooder for them to drink. They all drank their fill, then settled down in the corner behind the water, instead of returning to their MHP. New borns do require monitoring and training!!! It's also helpful to limit their brooder size for a few days until they "get it".
The beauty of the heating pad system is you can't overheat chicks, and the design of an enclosed "cave" helps hold chick body heat and protect against a much colder ambient temp.

I measured the temperature on the floor of the brooder just under the heating pad cave, which is at the height of the chicks' backs, and it was 85F. The pad is around 100F. I was brooding in spring when it was down into the 30s at night and 50s during the day.

If you felt your Sweet Heater get so hot to the touch it burned your hand, you have what killed the chicks. Chicks instinctively move away from heat when they absorb too much and toward it when they chill, like lizards and snakes do. The heating pad system is designed to be just the the right temperature for chicks to make direct contact with, and they will sleep all night, not needing to move away from the heat because it's not hot to the touch. I placed a folded wool blanket over the heating pad when it got into the 30s to help keep the heat from radiating upward away from the chicks.

During the day, chicks catch on very quickly that they need to go under it to warm up as they lose body heat. They can be seen runny around freely even though it's chilly enough for you to need a coat. They self regulate by running under it until they absorb enough heat to be off and running around again. Food is outside of the heating pad cave as is water.

My article about brooding outdoors is down in my signature line. Here's the thread introducing Mama Heating Pad. https://www.backyardchickens.com/th...d-in-the-brooder-picture-heavy-update.956958/

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