Oh, Spring! The snow in melting, and the sun is shining- or maybe it’s raining and gloomy… or you just got dumped with another foot of snow. Well, the weather might not be cooperating yet, but there is one thing that unites the spring experience for all chicken lovers, and that’s the sound of peeping at your local feed supply store.
Keeping them Warm
Whether you’re bringing home babies from the store, or welcoming them out of their eggs in an incubator, you’re going to need some place to put them until they grow enough feathers to regulate their own body temperature, even if the outside is still frozen. Their first home needs to be secure, have enough space, and most importantly, it has to keep them warm. Typically, whatever the size or shape, most people reach for a heat lamp to warm their chicks, but that comes with a lot of drawbacks; most worrying of which is its potential to be a fire hazard.
Heat plate pros and cons
Chick heating plates are one alternative, but they’re expensive. The cheapest one on Amazon I could find is over $50! Is there a better way? That’s the thought I had when I brought home my first batch of baby chicks four years ago. I didn’t have a convenient, out of the way spot in a garage or shed that also had a handy power supply, so that left inside the house as the only place for keeping a brooder: a house with dogs, cats, and kids running around, and too much potential for a knocked over heat lamp to start a fire.
Borrowing from Snakes
Instead, I got an idea from another, unusual, pet that I enjoy. If you don’t like snakes then I’m sorry, this might make you a bit squeamish. See, I raise ball pythons. These guys are native to the savannahs and scrubs of central Africa. They spend a good amount of time hiding in burrows and usually only come out to hunt at night, but like most reptiles, they can’t regulate their own body heat. The part of Africa they come from is near the equator, and while it has seasonal variance, its average temperatures are very consistent. In order to replicate that here in Eastern Washington, I need some equipment: a heat mat to produce heat, a thermostat to regulate the temperature, and an enclosed but ventilated space to contain it all.
Wait, did I just describe the perfect brooder set up? That’s what my thought was when I was driving my new chicks home. I grabbed an old Jumpstart thermostat, an unused heating pad and plastic hide from my supplies, and set up in a big cardboard box the same way I would for a snake in a tank. I set the temperature at a comfortable range for baby birds. The heating pad goes under the tub and plugs into the thermostat, the thermostat plugs into the wall, and the temperature probe goes on top of the heating pad, between it and the bottom of the tub. And it worked! It’s worked like a charm for every set of chicks I’ve had since that first group. No one gets chilled or overheated, and lowering the temperature to start prepping the chicks for their transition to the outside run is as easy as pushing a button! I did eventually switch out the cardboard for a plastic tote, similar to my snake set up. The totes are easier to clean, don’t fall apart, and come with lids for when chicks start jumping and testing their wings.
Up-cycling: Scales to Feathers
I was able to avoid spending extra money by using what I already had on hand; old equipment that was being neglected in storage. For those of you who don’t keep exotic pets– which is probably most of you– a simple programmable thermostat and heating pad are inexpensive and readily available online. Of course there are lots of ways to brood chicks, so do what works best for you, but if you’re looking for something different, well here’s what works for me, and it could work for you too!
Blogger Louis Fish-Stevens comes to us from Washington and writes that “Our chicken flock is mixed; two Easter Eggers, a Barred Rock, an Austrlorp and one Olive Egger rooster that was of course the only survivor out of a straight run of three I bought back in March. I’ve kept Welsummers, Cuckoo Marans, Wyandottes, Orpingtons and other EEs and of all of them I think the EEs are my favorite. I love their fluffy faces, they’re the friendliest of birds, and my most consistent, and prolific layers. My older EE hen was the first to start laying this year, right on February 1st when it was still mostly dark and cold as the arctic!”