How to Keep Chicks Warm

In nature, baby chicks are raised by their mothers and kept warm by the mother hens body heat. When you raise chicks away from their mom, it’s very important that the chicks are kept warm right from the start. In this article I share our experience keeping baby chicks warm and raising them for the last 12 years. Learning how to keep chicks warm is one of the keys to raising happy and healthy chickens

If you are looking for more indepth information about raising chicks, see our article: Raising Baby Chicks: The Ultimate Guide.


Quick Answer: How to Keep Chicks Warm

Below I will go into detail of how to keep chicks warm, but if you are looking for quick answer, here you go.

Chicks need to be kept around 95-100 degree F for the first week and you will lower the temperture in their brooder by 5 degrees each week. While there are many ways to keep your chicks warm, our favorite way is to use a heat plate.

This is a similar heat plate to the one we’ve used on the past:

Understanding Chicks’ Heat Requirements

No matter where you get your chicks (in the mail from a source like My Pet Chicken, at your local feed shop or if you incubate your own eggs). One of the first things your chick needs is warmth. You chick can survive without food and water for a few days but needs to be kept warm in order to thrive. Below you can see the temperature chicks need for each of the first 6 weeks of their life.

How to Keep chicks warm

It’s important that you provide one area in your brooder that is at this temperature as well as other parts of your brooder that are slightly cooler so you chick can move freely into the temperature they need. This is one reason I prefer heating my brooder with a heat plate at it doesn’t make the entire brooder get too hot and you don’t risk overheating your chicks.

How to Keep Baby Chicks Warm

Now that you understand the importance of keeping chicks warm, you can consider how to best meet their needs.

Chicks should be kept in a brooder in the house if you have the space. If you need to raise your chicks outside in a barn, shed or coop, you should wait until the temperatures are warm outside to make it easier to monitor the temperature.

Besides a Heater

As mentioned above, you should use some type of heater to keep your chicks warm, but there are a few other things to consider as well. Before we get into the best heater for your chicks, here are some things you should also consider:

  • Use a brooder. Chicks need a protected area to thrive, especially when they are being raised without a mother hen. In addition to providing safety, a good brooder will decrease drafts and help build up heat for the chicks. We built an inexpensive brooder from a tupperware bin but have also used boxes, wooden coops, and a dog crate. See our plans for building a chick brooder.
  • Provide Bedding. After the first few days, chicks should have a soft and warm bedding material of pine shavings. this can help provide an insulating layer to your chicks.
  • Keep chicks in a draft free area – especially when chicks are very young, they need a draft free area. Keep your brooder in the house or draft-free warm area. We like to keep ours in our entryway away from the door to the house.
  • Always have more than 1 chick. Chickens are social animals and you need more than one chick. They will also use each other for body warmth.

The Best Heat Source

For years, we took a risk and raised our chicks with the heat lamp. This was before there was a reasonable alternative and I would stress every year worrying about the risk of fire. While many people still use this method as it is inexpensive, I do not recommend using a heat lamp in your coop or in your brooder.

Since then, we’ve been using a chick plate heater in our brooder.

Here are the best options for heating your chicks:

  • Chick Plate Heaters: Mimicking the warmth of a mother hen, chick plate heaters offer a safe and even radiant heat source distributed across a flat surface, reducing the risk of cold stress. This is the heater type we recommend using in your brooder. They are easy to adjust and generally safe.
  • Infrared Brooder Heaters: These heaters emit infrared radiation, efficiently warming the chicks and surrounding area while minimizing energy consumption. These are sometimes built into pre-make chick brooders.
  • Electric Hen Heaters: Designed to resemble a hen’s body, electric hen heaters offer a cozy space for chicks to gather, promoting natural behaviors like nesting and roosting. These heaters are less common than in the past now that people are using chick plate heaters. Like the heat lamp there is an added risk or burns and fire as the heater gets very hot.
  • Heat Pads: Placed beneath the bedding, heat pads provide a gentle, localized heat source, creating a warm spot for chicks to rest and regulate their body temperature. This can be a bit hard to regulate but can be a good option for warm environments. This can be a good back up option.
  • Heat Lamps: Traditional and widely used, heat lamps emit warmth from a suspended bulb, providing a broad area of heat for baby chicks. These are usually red or white light. We do not recommend heat lamps although we did use them for a few years. They are a cheap option, but pose a significant risk of fire.

Monitoring and Adjusting Temperature

It’s important to maintain the correct temperature in the brooder through careful observation. When you are first starting, you will want to make sure you have a thermometer in the brooder and check under your heat source that you are maintaining the proper temperature for each week on the chicks life (see the chart above for approximate temperatures).

It’s also important that not the entire brooder is maintained at the same temperature. There should be some a part of the coop that is warm, you also want part of the coop to be a bit cooler – this way the chicks can move between the different areas and maintain their temperature. If the whole brooder is kept too warm, your chicks can overheat.

It’s also important to watch the chicks body language in the brooder. If all your chicks are huddled together under the heat source, they are likely cold and you need to provide more heat. Conversely, if you see chicks laying by themselves panting, they are possibly overheating and you should lower the temperature.

Special Considerations to Keep Baby Chicks Warm

Learning how to keep chicks warm is just one way to ensure happy and healthy chicks. You also need to provide fresh water, food, and a clean living space. There are also a few special considerations if you are keeping chicks warm.

You don’t have a warm place in your house: if you are unable to keep your chicks in the house when they are young, you may want to consider waiting until the temperatures are slightly warmer where you live. You can keep your chicks in a protected structure in a garden, shed or barn. You may want to consider 2 heat sources in case one of your heaters stop working.

The power goes out: so what if you are heating your chicks and the power goes out? Here are a few options:

  • Insulation: Surround the brooder or chick area with insulating materials such as blankets, straw, or hay to retain heat generated by the chicks’ bodies. Additionally, covering the top of the brooder with a thick blanket can help trap heat inside.
  • Body Heat: If feasible, place the brooder box in a small, enclosed space, such as a bathroom or closet, and huddle the chicks together to conserve body heat. The collective warmth generated by the chicks can help maintain a suitable temperature until power is restored.
  • Alternative Heat Sources: Use alternative heat sources such as hot water bottles or hand warmers wrapped in cloth and placed strategically within the brooder to provide localized warmth. Additionally, portable propane heaters or battery-operated heat lamps designed for camping or emergency use can serve as temporary heat sources, ensuring the chicks remain warm during power outages.

Frequently Asked Questions About Keeping Chicks Warm

How warm should the brooder be kept for chicks? The brooder temperature should be maintained between 90 to 95°F (32 to 35°C) during the first week of life, decreasing by approximately 5°F (2.8°C) each week until chicks are fully feathered.

What is the best heat source for keeping chicks warm? Heat lamps and chick heater plates are commonly used heat sources, providing a steady and adjustable source of warmth for chicks.

How can I tell if my chicks are too hot or too cold? Chicks that are too hot will typically pant and move away from the heat source, while chicks that are too cold will huddle together, chirp loudly, or appear lethargic; adjusting the heat source or brooder temperature accordingly can help maintain optimal conditions.

How to Keep Chicks Warm

Looking for more information about Raising Baby Chicks – check out our online course through the Modern Homesteading Academy.

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