Raising Chicks (and other fowl) Without Heat Lamps

I am scared of heat lamps.

It’s a slightly irrational fear, but based in truth. I have known far too many cases of chicken coops and barns burning down from heat lamps that fell. Every year something happens. It is horrifying to read about it.

When we got our first baby ducklings we picked up heat lamps (with of course the modern bulb covers designed to prevent fires). I looked at them and told myself I could use them. I set it up, in our spare bathroom. And barely slept. I was so paranoid I’d burn down our home. I couldn’t do it. That first week I was drained from a lack of sleep.

I started researching to see what do those living off the grid do with ducks and other birds? Heat lamps suck up the energy after all. I read many views and thoughts from those in Alaska – if they could do it, we could in temperate Pacific Northwest.

My method will only work if you raise the chicks or ducklings inside your house, or in a room that is sealed and insulated in a barn/shop/shed. For us, this is worth the few weeks it takes to have the birds inside our home. The chicks grow quickly, our current set just turned 5 weeks this week, and will go out to their coop this weekend (the weather has warmed up and the nights are now in the upper 40’s).

We use our spare bathroom, and set up home in the bathtub for them. Thickly line the bathtub with soft pine shavings, and have their food and water in it. To avoid the “chicken stench” change the bedding every 2 to 3 days. If ducks…it can be once or twice a day, as they will flood the shavings with their water and poop everywhere.

Our house is set at 67* in the day, though the sun pushes it up higher in the afternoon on sunny days. At night it drops down to 56* for the furnace (though our house stays around 60 to 65*).

Since the bathroom is a small room it is easily heated with a tiny, energy sipping portable heater. It has an auto shut off if tipped over. We leave it on the floor at night, set to kick on once the temperature drops below 64*. It rarely kicks on though, because with the door shut and no drafts, the bathroom stays at 70* easily except as night settles in.

We only use the heater for the first 3 weeks, at most. As they grow, we back it down further, not using it in the daytime. Then we take it away – but watch them the first night. And they happily cuddle puddle and are fine.

We close the tub doors to keep them in at night, so they won’t jump out and knock the heater over.

But here is what we have determined: Not using heat lamps is a good decision. For one, the birds are exposed to natural light only, as the sun rises and streams in at dawn. With heat lamps the birds are exposed to light 24 hours a day. Our birds go to sleep not long after lights out around 8 pm. We do leave the light on in the bathroom for them during the day. But they go to sleep like birds do in the wild. They also feather out faster.

I often see people talking about how they have their chickens on heat lamps at 12 weeks! They don’t need it. We have put our birds out at 5 weeks into the coop (unheated) and they were fine. However, we are doing it in groups of 6 to 8 birds. If you were only raising 2 birds, I would probably not put them out that early (no big pile of them to stay warm with).

(At a week old)

The key points: 

  • Insulated/draft free room
  • Warm bedding
  • Change bedding often to keep it dry
  • Space heater at first
  • Expose the birds to normal temperatures, not keeping them at 80 to 90*. 70* is fine for them and then lower it as the weeks pass by. Get them used to colder temperatures.
  • A normal bathtub can fit 8 chickens comfortably up to 6 weeks, but it gets tight past 6 weeks old. With ducks you will need to move them elsewhere before this. 3 weeks is about it if you have over 6 of them.

(At 5 weeks)

Currently we are restoring a chicken coop we got from our neighbor, as they wanted to get out of chicken raising – the chicks will go into it soon.

For ease in moving we broke it down into multiple sections (it’s the twin to one of ours). Kirk cleaned it up and stained it.

We will be installing it soon, down in the orchard, where the chicks can be inside till they are older (for safety), but be near the older hens to become used to them.