Creating the Ideal Brooder Temperature for Baby Chicks

You've gotten baby chicks.  Now it's up to you to make sure that they grow up into beautiful hens!  Creating the ideal brooder temperature for baby chicks will ensure healthy chicks.  Learn how to create the ideal brooder temperature for baby chicks.

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Brooder Temperature for Baby Chicks: Do my chicks need supplemental heat?

The easy answer to this question is YES!  When you look at baby chicks with their mother hens, you'll notice a few things.  During the first few days, the chicks remain very close to the mother.  The first couple of days they stay underneath her (for warmth) and only come out occasionally to eat and drink.  They then dart back under her for warmth.

As the weeks go by, the chicks spend less and less time with the hen and usually by the time they are around six weeks old, she has started to push them away.  So, it's safe to say that your chicks are going to need help staying warm the first few weeks of their lives.

​Chicks that are raised in the winter time will need supplemental heat longer than chicks that are raised in the warmer months.

Heating the Brooder

There are a few ways that you can provide supplemental heat for your baby chicks.

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Heat Lamps

Heat lamps are my favorite way to create the perfect brooder temperature for baby chicks. They are cheap and can be bought at most feed stores.

You can use an incandescent heat lamp, infrared heat lamp or a goose neck lamp.  This is the heat lamp and bulb that I use.

Red bulbs can reduce the chances that chickens peck each other.  I prefer to use red lamps as a precaution, but other lamps will work fine.  Chicks that aren't overcrowded shouldn't have pecking issues anyways.

Put the heat lamp about 12-18" above the floor of the brooder.  Adjust it if necessary to create the perfect brooder temperature for your baby chicks.

A few things to consider with heat lamps:

1. Make sure the lamp has a ceramic or porcelain fitting.  Plastic screws can easily melt from the heat emitted from the heat lamp.  A ceramic or porcelain one won't.
2. Use a lamp with a safety cage.  Unfortunately, heat lamps are a fire hazard.  A cage will help to elevate the hot bulb away from bedding of the floor of the brooder if it falls.
3. You may want to have two bulbs set up.  One lamp is plenty to heat a brooder for up to 25 chicks.  Heat bulbs will eventually go out.  You don't want them to go out in the middle of the night, leaving your chicks with no source of warmth.  Two bulbs gives you a backup in case one stops working.

Other Heat Sources

Chicks raised naturally with the mother hen will not require supplemental heat.  The mother hen provides all of the warmth that they will need until their adult feathers come in fully.

If you don't like the idea of using heat lamps, you can use a brooder heating plate to create the ideal brooder temperature for baby chicks.

A brooder heating plate will not warm the entire brooder the same way that a heat lamp will. It does create a source of heat that is more natural and mimics the heat received from the mother hen.

There are several brooder heating plates out there:

-Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder
-Titan Brooder Heating Plate
-RentACoop Chick Heating Plate
​-Premier Chick Brooder Heating Plate

Judging the Brooder Temperature by Watching Chick Behavior

If you want to be precise, you can put a thermometer in the bottom of your brooder to determine the temperature.

You can also judge the temperature by watching your baby chicks.  They will let you know if they are too cold or too hot based if you pay attention.

​Chicks that are too cold will huddle together under the heat lamp.  Cold chicks are very noisy.  You'll want to adjust the heat lamp ASAP to warm them up.  Cold chicks are more prone to illness and can develop pasty butt.

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Chicks that are spread around the perimeter of the brooder are probably too hot.  They will spread out away from each other.  Hot chicks don't make any noise.  They may pant or have drooping heads or wings.  Adjust the lamp and make sure they are getting plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

​If you notice your chicks are huddled together away from the heat lamp, there may be a draft in your brooder.  Brooders should be kept draft-free.

Brooder Temperature Schedule

Chicks need to stay warm until they are fully feathered.  Fully feathered chicks will have all adult feathers and no downy feathers left.

Chicks can become fully feathered as soon as 5 weeks and as late as 8 weeks old.  It really depends on the breed and the individual chicken.

You can remove the supplemental heating sooner if the outside temperatures are above the suggested heating range for the age of the chick.  This is why chicks raised in warmer months may not require heating as long as chicks raised in the winter.

Ideal Brooder Temperature for Baby Chicks Weeks 1-2

These two weeks are the most crucial for chick development.  The temperature of the brooder should be right around 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first two weeks.

After this, the temperature can be reduced 5 degrees each week.

Ideal Brooder Temperature for Baby Chicks Week 3

This week, the temperature can be dropped the 90 degrees.  Chicks should be getting some adult feathers by this point but they still have a large amount of downy feathers.

Ideal Brooder Temperature for Baby Chicks Week 4

The temperature in the brooder can be dropped to 85 degrees.

Ideal Brooder Temperature for Baby Chicks Week 5

The ideal brooder temperature for baby chicks this week is 80 degrees. Chicks may start looking mostly feathered with a few downy feathers left.

Ideal Brooder Temperature for Baby Chicks Week 6

​This week the ideal brooder temperature is 75 degrees.  Chicks may be fully feathered at this point.  If they are, you can remove the heat lamp.  If the outside temperature is above 75 degrees, you can remove the heat even if they still have some downy feathers.

Final Thoughts on the Brooder Temperature for Baby Chicks

Keeping chicks warm and adjusting the brooder temperature gradually are crucial to chick health.  Watch the chicks' behavior to make sure that the temperature is right for them.

Too hot and they will spread out around the perimeter of the brooder.  They will pant and be quiet.

Too cold and the chicks will huddle together directly under the heat lamp and will become quite noisy.

​Once the chicks have their adult feathers and no more downy feathers, you can remove the heat from the brooder.  If the ambient temperature isn't going to fall below the recommended temperature, then you can remove the heat early.

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Have you raised chicks in a brooder?  How do you create the ideal brooder temperature for baby chicks? Let me know below!

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I'm a multigenerational homesteader, former high school and college agriculture teacher, and your guide for embracing a simpler, more traditional lifestyle. Come along as I teach you how to grow your best garden, raise chickens and other livestock, learn traditional skills and create the homesteading haven of your dreams.

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