Heat lamps make me nervous, they always have. Every year, news stories recount tales of homes and chicken coops burning down as a result of a heat lamp. Whether from falling, being knocked over, swinging into contact with a flammable object or a bird or loose feather flying up into it, the traditional heat lamp is a fire hazard even when vigilantly employed.
Regardless of how carefully it is hung or how many different ways it is tethered, I never got past that gnawing feeling that something beyond my control could result in catastrophe. The fire in the photo below resulted from a heat lamp that fell. There were 2 goats, 3 goslings, 3 ducklings and approximately 13 chicks in the area of the heat lamp who would have perished if the chicken-keeper hadn't come upon the scene when she did.
Heat lamp reflectors, ordinarily made of aluminum, commonly include a hanger and a clamp. The problem with the design is that there are several points at which its parts can fail. My strong personal preference is not to use heat lamps if at all possible.
The heat lamp clamp is easily knocked free from whatever it is attached to.
The wing nut on a heat lamp ordinarily loosens during normal use.
This photo shows the inside of the heat lamp where the hangar is attached to the reflector. The hangar can very easily slip out of the reflector.
Meet the original baby chick warmer: the mother hen.
A chicken's normal body temperature ranges between 103°-107° F.
Observing mother hens interact with their babies in my backyard has completely convinced me that baby chicks do not need as much heat as we are led to believe. In this photo, Freida, took her 3 week old chicks out for a romp in the run in 29°F temperatures.
Three day old chicks, contemplating a trip into the run.
We are all taught "The Formula" for brooding baby chicks: 90-95° Fahrenheit for the first week of life, decreasing by five degrees each week thereafter. If I were a slave to The Formula, I would have called CPS (Chick Protective Services) and reported Freida immediately after whisking the chicks indoors to toast under a an 80° french-fry lamp. But I am no longer a slave to The Formula and Freida never has been. Chicks DO need to be kept warm to the tune of 95°F for the first week (at most) as is clear from observing mother hens keeping their chicks tucked underneath their wings and bellies the first week after hatching. Beyond that time period, chicks spend less and less time underneath their mothers. When they get chilly, they simply crawl back underneath the feather-bed.
Brinsea Products offers the EcoGlow Brooder, which employs the same warming concept as a mother hen. Just as with a hen, chicks spend most of their time underneath the EcoGlow for the first few days after hatching. They peek out from underneath it occasionally, gradually spending more and more time away from it. They scoot around to eat, drink and play chick games, returning to the EcoGlow when chilly. Before too long, and much sooner than you'd expect, they spend most of their time away from the EcoGlow.
In my experience the Advantages of the EcoGlow over a heat lamp are:
- it's more like mama hen, chicks snuggle up to the unit when they feel it necessary
- no fire hazard as with heat lamps
- uses less electricity (14 watts vs. 250 watts with a heat lamp)
- no risk of pasty butt from overheating
- no disruptive light, allowing for natural, diurnal wake/sleep cycles
- height is easily adjusted for growing chicks
- no fussy machinations required to hang the heat source, making brooder location more flexibleThe EcoGlow operates on the principle of radiant heat, which passes through air without warming the air. Only a solid object will absorb and be warmed by radiant heat, so do not expect to put your hand underneath it briefly and be able to gauge whether or not it is working. A thermometer won't help either since it will only measure the air temperature, not how well the radiant heat is working to keep chicks warm. The underside of the EcoGlow should feel barely warm to the touch.
IMPORTANT USAGE NOTE: The EcoGlow must be used in a room with an ambient temperature of at least 50°F. It is not intended to keep adult birds warm inside a cold, winter coop, for example.
CLEANING TIP: As soon as chicks realize they can hop up on top of the EcoGlow, they spend much of their time standing on and pooping on it. While cleaning the EcoGlow is straightforward, I never relish the idea of scraping chicken poop off the top of it when the chicks are finished with it. In order to make my life easier, I cut a piece of contact paper or Glad Peel & Stick plastic wrap to fit the top of the EcoGlow and stick it to the yellow surface. The Peel & Stick or contact paper is easily peeled off the unit, making cleaning a BREEZE!
Decorate with Tinkerbell stickers, of course.
The top of the EcoGlow can be slippery with or without
Contact paper. I use rubber shelf liner on top of the EcoGlow
to avoid risk of spraddle leg in my chicks.
When the chicks no longer use the EcoGlow, peel off the shelf liner
and Contact paper. No more scrubbing necessary!