Having a reliable heat lamp to maintain the right temperature is one of the most critical issues for keeping new chicks healthy.
Without it, they can very quickly become chilled, and die.
Why? Because the fluffy down a chick hatches with can't protect them against cold. Only when they're feathered, at about eleven weeks, will they be able to control their own temperature.
Until then, we need to play the part of mother hen and keep their temperature at the right level.
This article covers what the optimum temperatures are at critical points, what the options are for heating and how to tell whether your chicks are comfortable.
You will need to keep a careful eye on the temperature in the brooder. Hatchlings move into it having spent at least a few hours drying out in a nice, hot incubator at around 99ºF / 37.5ºC.
There are generally agreed specific details for heat levels which should start at week 1. At that point, the temperature should be around 95ºF / 35ºC.
Here's what ideal brooder temperatures look like.
Bear in mind, though, that brooder warmth will also be affected by the temperature of the room it's in and the number of hatchlings. The more chicks, the more they'll huddle together to keep each other warm.
So if, for example, you're brooding in the middle of a hot summer, you may not need a heat lamp in your brooder at all.
You need also to be aware that they must be kept draught free. A brooder which has some warm spots but other places where wind is whistling through is going to cause problems.
How to make sure it's the right temperature? One way is to use a digital thermometer such as those used in the terrarium. They're inexpensive and can be a life-saver, particularly if you don't have a radiant heat lamp.
Thermometers and temperature grids are good, but the best indicators of whether they're warm enough are your hatchlings themselves.
How? Simple. Watch their behaviour, listen to the noises they make.
A heat lamp suspended above the brooder is what many people use. It's inexpensive and it works - to some extent.
An infra-red bulb is the more efficient than white, as it doesn't stop the chicks from sleeping, which white light does, and can help prevent pecking.
Alternatively a lamp like this gives off no light at all. But it does get extremely hot to the touch, so be careful.
For safety reasons I made a decision to use only a radiant heat source. For me, that means Brinsea's heat lamps - I have both the small and the large versions.
small one (EcoGlow 20) I use in the first stage brooder and all the chicks I've ever brooded have always loved it. The EcoGlow 50, which can keep up to 50 newly hatched chicks warm, I use when my little flock transfers to a larger brooder box. It is equally effective and it's very easy to adjust the height as the babies grow.
A radiant heat lamp provides a source of comfort as well as warmth. The heat warms the chicks' bodies as they touch it and they have a safe place under which to shelter and sleep when life gets too stressful for them.
There's no need to worry about the temperature under the EcoGlows : it's regulated for you. The chicks are warmed to exactly the right degree; all you have to remember is to raise the height as they grow.
With the small Brinsea heat lamp I raise it to a
different level each week. Once they're too big to get underneath it I
switch to the larger EcoGlow 50.
For more information about these and an honest review of both, see this page.
This depends on a few things :
It's important to understand that the temperature throughout the brooder needs to be consistently warm. Using the Brinsea EcoGlow heat, the temperature in the room itself must be at least 50ºF (10ºC) - it's not powerful enough to sustain the right temperature if the ambient temperature is lower.
If you're worried at all about whether your brooder is warm enough, buy a couple of inexpensive thermometers and keep them at different points in the container. You'll then know for sure whether you need to raise or lower the temperature.
Terrarium thermometers like this one are ideal; the probe remains inside the container while the thermometer itself remains outside, making it impossible for chicks to peck at - and much easier to read.
These articles will give you an understanding of the needs of hatchlings in their first days and weeks out of the incubator.