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Keeping Chicks at the Right Temperature

Cozy and Warm

Before we brought our six chicks home last spring, we readied a box for them. This was to be their brooder for the next few weeks. It was equipped with a feeder, waterer, and a heat lamp to keep them warm. It was set up in our living room where the chicks could be handled daily and I could monitor their well-being.

I had been reading nightmare stories posted on the backyardchicken.com forum about mishaps in the early days of the lives of chickens. People were devastated by the chick morality rate and I was determined to give my chicks a good start. Most chicks are shipped through the postal service to either private residences or to farm supply stores where they are put in large brooders or in stacked cages called battery brooders. A reputable hatchery does not ship less than 25 chicks in a box. Chicks bodies, huddling together in the shipping box, is their only source of heat. Much of the loss of life of young chicks occurs in the shipping process where the day-olds are shipped in a cold environment or in some cases, a heat wave occurs in route and they die of heat prostration. If your chicks are being shipped through the mail, ask the local post office to notify you by phone as soon as they arrive so that you can immediately pick up your shipment.

If you are getting a small number of chicks, keeping them warm in your brooder can be quite simple. You can heat your brooder with a goose-necked lamp equipped with light bulb. Set this up ahead of time and experiment with a thermometer. The inside of the brooder should be 95° under the lamp where the chicks will huddle when they a chilled. I was never able to get the temperature up to the 95 degrees required for young chicks with a 100-150 watt bulb so we purchased a heat lamp with a metal hood and porcelain socket. These are the safest. Do not hang it over the brooder by its cord, rather hang it from above by a chain. Our heat lamp came with a clamp and we attached it to a pole lamp where we could raise and lower it as needed. We used a red version of the heat lamp as it throws less light and supposedly is less stimulating. Over-stimulated chicks sometimes get into the disgusting habit of picking the feathers off one another.

Chicks should be kept at around 95° for the first week of life. At the end of that week, you will notice feathers beginning to grow at the the edges of their wings. By the second week, you can reduce the temperature in the brooder to 90° and another 5° every week until you reach 70°. At this time the chicks are usually fully feathered and ready to to be put in an outdoor environment with only supplemental heat as necessary.

Chicks will often indicate when they are uncomfortable in the environment. Huddling together often means they are trying to stay warm. Staying away from the heat source, often means it has become too warm. Planning and preparation is the key to success here. Get chicks when you are ready for them and you’ll lessen the possibility of disappointed.

2 Comments to “Keeping Chicks at the Right Temperature”

  1. I have seen some “Starter Kits” for sale in the catalogs for chicks…for someone who has never done this are the starter kits a good way to go?

    If not, do you have any suggestions?

    You said you keep them in the living room. I live in a small ranch, have a small dog (Pomeranian) and a cat. What do you keep them in to protect them.

    I am thinking of getting 10 birds…won’t that be really loud in the living room?

    Thank you!
    Joe

  2. Sorry it took me so long to answer, Joe. I’ve been occupied with Labradoodle puppies which are a lot more work than my hens!
    We kept them in the living room (6 chicks) in a brooder my husband built. It had a lid with hardware wire to keep them in and predators out. In our case we had no indoor pets at the time. You’ll need a heat lamp, even if they are indoors, to keep them at 90°-95° the first few weeks. The noise wasn’t so bad but the dust was! Don’t know if the dust that filled the living room was from the little fluff-balls themselves or from the pine shavings in the bottom of the brooder. But I enjoy a dust-free house so this was a problem. We moved them to the garage at about 3 weeks, and into a larger pen. We still used a heat lamp until they had some feathers.

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