One thing that you will definitely need to have ready before your chicks arrive, is a source of heat for the brooder. That fuzzy down, that your adorable new friends are wearing, while soft to the touch, is not enough to maintain body heat.
Consequently, without appropriate heat, chicks will quickly perish.
In a situation where mama-hen is on duty, she will bring the chicks close to her body and cover them with her wings. Here, they will spend a lot of time, taking advantage of her warmth.
But if mama-hen is not available, then it is up to you to provide this heat. And this is arguably one of the most critical parts of raising chicks as the amount of supplemental heat that you need to provide, lowers incrementally as they age.
Careful observation of their behavior, will tell you whether or not you’re giving them the exact amount of heat that they need, at that time.
How Cold Is Too Cold For Chicks?
Baby chicks need it hot. So hot, in fact, that it might just surprise you.
Unlike other animals that might spend their days indoors, room temperature is not enough for your just hatched chicks. You have to think warmer… like 20 degrees warmer than room temperature.
Anything less than 90 degrees for your chicks during their first week in the brooder, puts them at risk. Room temperature is simply too cold for them. But this changes as their feathers begin to grow in.
Here is a generic breakdown of what you can expect for their temperature needs.
|Week 1||90 degrees|
|Week 2||85 degrees|
|Week 3||80 degrees|
|Week 4||75 degrees|
|Week 5||70 degrees|
|Week 6||65 degrees|
It’s important to note that this chart is a guide to help you and not a regimented schedule to dictate your chick’s environment.
If you look in the brooder and all of the chicks are huddled closely together directly under the heat, then regardless of what your thermometer reads, it’s probably too cold for them.
Likewise, if you observe your chicks avoiding the heat lamp – especially if they are panting – then they are most likely too hot.
This is where careful observation of your flock is so crucial. Use your chick’s behavior as the ultimate deciding factor when choosing to adjust the heat lamp. Each situation will be different, so manage things by what your birds are telling you, and not by what you read somewhere.
A good indicator that you have got the temperature right, is when you see the birds form a sort of circle around the heat source as seen in the photo below.
In this picture I can see that there is room in the center, for birds that might have played away from the heat for too long and are chilled. But there is also room to get away, should the birds be too hot.
With this semi circle pattern, just at the edge of the lamp, I know that the chicks have found the ‘sweet spot’ that is just right for them.
When To Remove The Heat Lamp From The Brooder
I have found a considerable amount of information that claims that your new birds should be ‘good to go’ at the end of week 6.
Please disregard this!!!
Only remove the heat lamp when the air temperature matches the needs of their current feather growth, as it is their feathers that help maintain body temperature.
In other words, if your flock is being raised during the summer where things are 80+ deg, then you could remove the heat lamp as early as week 3.
In the same manner, if your flock is being raised in the middle of winter, you may choose to use supplemental heat all the way to the end of week 7.
So at the risk of sounding ridiculously repetitive, pay attention to your flock! Your new charges are more than capable of telling you what they need.
Following general guidelines for your birds is well advised. But do not do this and ignore the actual indicators that are in front of you.
For those who may be new to raising chicks, using a thermometer in the brooder is a good place to start. However, the chick’s behavior has more authority than whatever readings your thermometer is giving you.
In our case, we generally get at least one new batch of chicks every spring. I will use a thermometer to get things ‘close’ and then when I am happy about what I’m seeing from the new birds, I will remove the gauge and rely completely on what the chicks are telling me.
It’s also worth noting that the right brooder design, can go a long ways towards protecting your new flock. And for the record, it can be easy to miss the temperature target.
Overwhelmingly, people will choose a brooder that is simply much too small! And this reduced area can cause issues – particularly with runaway heat.
A design that we have found to be well suited for the entire time it takes your flock to grow from ‘just hatched’ to ‘coop ready’, can be found here: How To Build The Perfect Brooder For Less Than $20