Brooder heat lamps are terrifyingly dangerous. Every year, news stories recount tales of human and animal deaths and homes and chicken coops burning down as a result of a heat lamp fire. 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 carefully used.
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 and my instincts were right. 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.
Meet the original baby chick warmer: the mother hen.
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.
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. Chicks do need to be kept warm to the tune of 90°F for the first day or two after hatch, but much less heat thereafter. When chicks get chilly, they simply crawl back underneath the walking 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 flexible
The 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 Glad Press-n-Seal to fit the top of the EcoGlow, which makes cleaning a BREEZE! (Con-tact paper was my former product of choice, but Press-n-Seal is much easier to remove.)