It is a wonderful moment to find chicks cheeping away in your incubator when your eggs hatch but you do need to ensure the brooding area is ready for them and is heated to a suitable temperature before moving them in. This article provides you with essential information about providing the correct temperature in the brooding area and how to heat it.
Chicks should be left in the incubator or hatcher until they are completely dry and it is important to keep the lid on the incubator to maintain the high humidity level for as long as possible whilst other chicks are hatching. Healthy chicks can survive without food or water comfortably for 24 hours as the last thing they do inside the shell is absorb the remains of the yolk sack which gives them sufficient nourishment. This is how commercially, day old chicks can be shipped around the country to farms.
The most common option for heating the brooding area is by using what is called a ‘hover lamp’. This is usually a metal reflector (lamp shade!) with a high wattage bulb or ceramic dull emitter fitted to it. It hangs from the ceiling over the brooding area and keeps the chicks warm. Due to the heat that these can produce and the risk of your bedding material catching fire, it is wise to make sure it has a metal chain from which to hang it and the fixing into the ceiling is very secure. Infra-red heat bulbs are better than white light since white light can increase pecking between your chicks.
Temperature of the brooding area
Once you have your lamp securely fixed and it is operational, you should adjust the height of it to get the correct temperature for your new arrivals. Place a thermometer under the lamp where the chicks will be. The temperature should be 33-35ºC.
Every week, you should raise the hover lamp by a few centimetres to slowly reduce the temperature by around 3ºC every week. If you have a chain on your heat lamp, it is an easy job to move the clip, shortening the chain and therefore raising the lamp. Once you reach the same daytime temperature, you can switch the heat off during the day (so typically this is 4-6 weeks, taking you down to around 20ºC).
This heat lamp looks a little low for the age of these chicks.
Provide a little heat at night time (a time clock is useful to ensure you don’t forget) until the chicks are all fully feathered. Once chicks are fully feathered, they can be moved outside onto grass, providing they have a dry, draft free house and the night time temperatures aren’t too cool. If there are a number of chicks, they will huddle up to keep warm but for just a few, or if it is early or late in the season, it is best to provide some gentle night time heat from a light bulb or similar.
Something that is often overlooked is a cool area for the chicks. Ensure they have sufficient space to get away from the source of heat to cool off if they need to and try to place their food and water just outside the edge of the heat source to encourage them to leave the heated area once in a while.
Once your chicks are under the heat source, you should observe them for a while (I’m sure you’ll want to do this anyway!) and watch what they do. If most of your chicks move away from the heat source, it is too hot – raise the heat source a little. If they huddle together under the heat source, it is too cold so lower the heat source slightly.
Drafts should be avoided and chicks that are subjected to drafts will spend their time huddled in one area or another trying to get out of the draft. If you are worried about drafts, a large cardboard box can be cut into strips about 30 cm high and positioned around the edges of the enclosure to disrupt drafts. If you are raising only small numbers of chicks then a large cardboard box is often big enough to use as a brooding area and thrown away after use.