Baby chicks have the remarkable ability to find their ideal zone of warmth in the brooder and if you simply note your chicks’ positions, you’ll know whether the brooder temperature is too hot, not warm enough, or juuuuust right.
If the heat level is just right, chicks will be evenly spread throughout the brooder. With adequate food and fresh water, you’ll hear them making contented peeping sounds.
If your chicks are spread out around the perimeter of the brooder the temperature is likely too high. Raise the heat lamp another couple of inches and/or switch to lower wattage bulbs. The chicks will be silent and you may notice them panting and heads drooping.
If the brooder is too cool, chicks will huddle together directly under the heat lamp. They will be noisy, a sign of distress. Lower the lamp closer to the floor of the brooder and/or put in higher watt bulbs.
Chicks huddled together in one spot on the perimeter of the brooder suggests they are uncomfortable and requires investigation. This distribution may be caused by a draft, external noises that are scaring them or uneven light distribution.
Warmth is critical to baby chicks, but their need for artificial heat diminishes as they age.
So how do you know if your brooder is the right temperature for your new chicks? In addition to noting your chicks’ positions in the brooder, a thermometer is a great tool. Brand new baby chicks prefer temperatures just under 100 degrees. However, their need for heat decreases about 5 degrees per week until they are about 10 weeks of age.
Suspend two lamps, each fitted with an incandescent 60-watt bulb, 12-18 inches above the floor of the brooder. Gooseneck lamps work, or infrared heat lamps can be purchased at your feed dealer. These can be fitted with special heat bulbs, but often an incandescent bulb will produce enough heat.
Two lamps are important. If one burns out in the wee hours of the night, the other will keep the chicks warm until morning. Placing a sheet of cardboard over the brooder helps retain heat, but be very cautious about keeping anything flammable away from hot bulbs.