ALTERNATIVES: HEAT LAMPS AND HEAT PLATES
So what are the alternatives to the natural approach of a Mother Hen? The traditional source of warmth is a heat lamp with a red 250 watt bulb suspended above the brooder.
It’s widely believed that brooder temperatures should start off at 35°C for the first week, decreasing by 3°C thereafter until the sixth week. From observing my own broodies interacting with their chicks outdoors, I know that the chicks weren’t subjected to these constant temperatures for such a period of time. Instead, the chicks alternated from warmth — if they became chilly from exploring, they would quickly snuggle beneath their mother.
Although many people use heat lamps successfully and without incident, heat lamps are a potential fire hazard — there are countless news stories of animal deaths and chicken coops burning down as a result of a heat lamp fire.
The size of the brooder and positioning of the heat lamp is important — if the brooder is too small, weaker chicks are likely to be trampled on and pushed out of the way by others in their search for heat. Dehydration is a risk too. A lower wattage bulb may suffice in a smaller space. Ideally, the brooder should be long and narrow in shape so that the heat lamp can provide warmth at one end, replicating the warmth of a Mother Hen whilst leaving a cooler end for the chicks to explore as they feel comfortable.
Heat lamps demand energy and, as they are constantly on, they are not only expensive to run, they do not allow the chicks to follow the natural sleep circadian rhythm. Shatter resistant bulbs often have a coating made of polytetrafluoroethylene (‘PTFE’), commonly known as Teflon. When these bulbs are used, they heat up and, if the glass wall of the bulb becomes hot enough, the coating can release toxic fumes which are potentially fatal to confined birds, i.e. your chicks. If you do use a heat lamp, ensure that the bulb is not Teflon coated.
No matter how carefully you think you’ve secured the heat lamp, there is always a worry that it could be accidently knocked or come in contact with a flammable object or a chick or loose feather flying up into it. Placing an intense heat surface in a confined area with highly flammable materials: wood shavings, feathers, cardboard boxes and living creatures are a recipe for disaster.
There are safer options available such as a radiant heat plate. Working on the same warming concept as a Mother Hen is the EcoGlow Brooder from Brinsea Products Limited (http:// www.brinsea.co.uk). The EcoGlow Brooder works on the principle of radiant heat, for example, the warmth of sunshine. Warmth is directly transmitted from the element on the underside of the brooder to the chick, rather than relying on a heat source warming the air as is the case with traditional heat lamps. As such, there is no heat source to spark a fire, giving you peace of mind that the chicks are completely safe and there is no fire risk.
The EcoGlow Brooder has three height settings for different sized chicks, providing a safe place to shelter. As there are no disruptive lights, the chicks adapt to a natural diurnal cycle. The watertight construction and low voltage design ensure that the brooders are fully compliant with stringent electrical safety standards.
Consuming around 18 watts, depending on the ambient room temperature, as opposed to a typical 250 watt heat lamp, the EcoGlow Brooder is more economical to run. This represents a considerable saving given that the brooder needs to operate 24/7 for several weeks.
Thinking like a Mother Hen will give you a better understanding of your role in raising happy and healthy chicks in a brooder safely.
Heat lamps do not allow the chicks to follow the natural sleep circadian rhythm.