This post was re-posted from our old blog! I realized the images were broken, so I’ve fixed that!
My first year of raising chicks, I naturally didn’t have a broody hen to take care of raising chicks. Instead, I raised them indoors. Since it’s almost chick days at the local feed store, I thought I’d share what I did for their heating needs instead of using a heat lamp due to concerns of overheating the chicks, starting a fire, or the light falling.
Brooding Chicks with Radiant Heat
After reading a number horror stories about heat lamp fires, heat lamps falling and killing the chicks, seeing the chicks trample each other under the heat lamps in feed stores, and hearing them chirp relentlessly since they didn’t have darkness to sleep comfortably, I decided I wanted to see if there was something else I could do. After searching around backyard chickens, I heard of something called an ecoglow brooder from brinsea. It seemed like a great product that used radiant heat to warm up chicks hiding underneath like they would their mamas, but it was so expensive for such a small one! I would likely need the $150 version for my chicks since I had 9 chickens and 4 ducks at the time, not to mention later when I needed to swap to another heating method for the ducks when their trampling ways became a problem I would have suffered the expense again.
So I decided I needed an alternative. After searching the net, I eventually heard rumblings of people who used heating pads as brooders. It seemed fairly simple. People found a heating pad worked really well as long as it didn’t have the auto off function. I personally purchased this sunbeam extra large heating pad because it was 1 ft x 2ft, making it plenty large to brood my chicks, it was under $20, and it didn’t have an auto-off function. It also worked well using the highest setting for the first week, then medium for the chicks afterwards. On top of that, during the winter when my chicks were chickens, I used the same heating pad to help keep my water unfrozen when weather was under 20 degrees F in my barn.
How to Make a Radiant Heat Brooder
- Cover the heating pad with either a puppy piddle pad or an old towel you don’t mind bleaching rigorously
- Make a cave shape using a solid material that will allow the chicks to feel the heat still (I used hardware cloth scraps, but I’ve seen other people using fencing left overs as well – the important thing is it needs to be stable enough to stand up even with some chicks sleeping on top of it)
- Make sure sharp edges are dulled or cover sharp edges with electrical tape or something similar
- Tuck the towel edges down so that chickens can have darkness like being under a hen when sleeping below
- Make sure cave has two exits for younger birds in case fatty birds take up all the space
Hardware cloth worked well to adjust the shape of the brooder as the chicks grew so it could be taller. Since I raised bantams with fatty dual purpose birds, I was also able to keep the back of the brooder lower than the front like a cave so smaller birds could go further back for heat. One thing I learned was to make sure none of the edges are against a wall. Chicks leaping out wasn’t so much an issue was the fact sometimes they’d pile up and one would slide into a weird spot against the wall. There were no casualties, but it freaked me out enough that I made sure it wasn’t an option in the future.
I hope this helps anyone looking into using a method other than a heating lamp for brooding their chicks in the upcoming months! Please let me know if anyone has any questions about it, since I was really glad this is how I chose to brood my chicks. It was inexpensive, allowed chicks to have a fairly normal sleep pattern and to get away from heat when they didn’t need it on their own, and transitioned easily with them as they grew. I definitely recommend it to anyone who would consider brooding chicks.