Chicken Stimulus Package: Brooding 300 Chicks During the Polar Vortex

Reader Contribution by Pat Foreman
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The organizers of the Home and Garden Show heavily promoted chickens before and during the show on TV stations, radio, newspaper ads, and their website. They made a 30-foot vertical banner that simply said: “chickens” pointing down to our booth. There was a lot of anticipation and focus on these chicks. Chickens had become the centerpiece of the show, these chicks had to show up healthy and showcase camera ready.

The chicks would arrive 2 to 4 days before the H&G Show began on Friday. They had to be kept warm (brooded) at 95 degrees, fed & watered. This is the fragile time for a baby chick. If a chick can survive the first 5 days, then chances are higher that it will live to adulthood.

When I co-owned and operated our organic, free-range poultry ranch, we routinely brooded batches of 400 chicks. But that was over 12 years ago. We had a barn and commercial equipment. Plus, we only brooded in warmer weather—late spring to late summer.

The CSP chicks would arrive February 25th or 26th, the week before the H&G Show and the same time a “polar vortex” was predicted to hit our area with plummeting, sub-zero temperatures and chilling gusty winds bringing the wind chill to sub-zero temperatures.

We needed a well protected and easy-to-keep-warm area to set up the brooder. The only place big and warm enough was our main office. It has a wood stove as backup heat if the electric goes out. To keep the chicks continually warm at 95 degrees, we wanted a backup heat source. There would be fine dust everywhere in the office, so we covered all the electronic equipment with plastic.

Brooder Setup and Heating Sources

There can be several heat sources used during brooding. I don’t use or recommend heat lamps anymore for brooding or chicken care. As co-host of the Chicken Whisperer Talk Show, we heard too many horrible stories about heat lamps burning down homes, garages, and coops. To me, heat lamps are an unnecessary dangerous fire-hazard. I also think that the intense light and radiation is hard on the baby chicks’ eyes and their hormonal systems. Try it. Put a 250 watt heat bulb about 24” from your face and you will understand how intense the heat is. There is a safer, gentler way.

Heat rises. So much heat is wasted in brooding because it goes out into the ambient room temperature. Simply covering the brooding area with what we call “brooder blankets” keeps the heat down with the chicks so that lamps with 60 and 75-watt bulbs can maintain the 95 degree temperature needed by the hatchlings. DO NOT use brooder blankets with heat lamps; this is a fire hazard!

For this brood of 300 chicks, 4 lamps were suspended from the ceiling with 60 or 75-watt bulbs. I’ve also used seed starter heating pads for radiant floor heating. Plus this many chicks put out body heat that also helps keep them warm.

The brooder itself can be insulated to help keep in the heat. This includes the bottom, sides and top (with the brooder blankets). The homemade brooder for these chicks consisted of sturdy, thick cardboard boxes taped together in a 2-foot high wall and about a 8-foot diameter circle. Our office floor is painted concrete, which is cold.

Reflectix insulation as a first layer under the entire brooding area helps keep the heat in and the cold out. On top of the foil insulation was a layer of plastic sheeting. After that was cardboard and finally, thick, multiple layers of newspaper. This brooder will only be used 4 days before the H&G Show. The paper & cardboard flooring can be easily changed if it gets soaked by a spilled waterer or becomes too soiled by the chicks to be healthy. I’ll add aspen wood shavings after the chicks have settled in.