One of the challenges I faced after getting our baby chicks is the issue of having a chick brooder heat lamp inside our home. They can be quite dangerous. My neighbors use their garage but we do not have a garage (or a barn) so our only option is keeping the chick brooder inside. And even in a garage or barn, the heat lamp can be quite dangerous!
I spent many hours researching alternative options. If you know you are going to be raising baby chicks every spring there are a few good options out there for you. They are pricey but worth it!
Chick Brooder Heat Lamp Alternative
Here are a few of the options I found (the rent-a-coop listing is an accessory for their 10″x10″ heater because they did not have one of their heaters listed on Amazon):
I, however, did not want to spend that much because I wasn’t sure if I would be raising chicks again. Since I’m a newbie I wanted a more economical way to keep the baby chicks warm. I found a post from The Chicken Chick with pictures of her innovative way of keeping her babies warm.
For her chick brooder she uses….. seedling mats! They cost $10-$20 (and up for more expensive mats). And believe me….. it works! Even for day-old chicks that need a temperature of 95 degrees (more details below on how to achieve this). I made a few modifications to get the temperature stable but overall it’s a great way to do it!
If you are a gardener you may already have seedling mats in your garden supply. If you don’t, these are wonderful for getting a head start on seedlings during those cold early spring days.
I love her method because these mats will serve multiple purposes for you. Not just something you are buying to raise your baby chicks and never use again. Until, of course, you get more baby chicks!
Chick Brooder Heat Using Seedling Mats
What you are trying to accomplish using seedling mats is to create a “cave” for the chicks to go inside that is the appropriate temperature for them. When chicks are born they will need a temperature of 95 for the first week. You will need a thermometer in the brooder to regulate this.
I can tell you that adding a thermostat to one of your mats makes a huge difference. I was able to get the temperature to 95 initially and then each week take it down 5 degrees. Without having to raise the mats up. I just simply adjusted the temperature on the thermostat.
As you can see from the two pictures above, I used two seedling mats. The one with the thermostat is on the bottom. I put paper towels down to protect the mat that I change throughout the day. I left them out of the pictures so you can clearly see my setup.
For the next layer, I used a kitchen cabinet shelf and placed another seedling mat on top of the shelf to create the “cave.” Then I cut a square piece off an old thermal sleeping pad and placed it on top (draping it down the back side). It helped keep the heat in and also allowed the seedling mat with the thermostat to work more efficiently. But this is not necessary if you do not have one to get the temperatures you need. You could also use a small towel.
It’s also a good idea to place paper towels over the top layer. Very soon these little chicks will start jumping on top of it and, believe me, they WILL poop all over it.
If you don’t have a thermostat, you may need to adjust the mat positions to get the desired temperature for the baby chicks. Even removing the top seedling mat at 4 – 5 weeks old if it seems too warm.
For the first 2 weeks I use a plastic storage bin for the brooder. This alternative heat setup works perfectly for that as well. At about 2 weeks I move the chicks to an XL metal dog crate. I use cardboard from my many Amazon boxes around the lower half to keep the chicks from escaping through the large holes. And it also helps keep the pine shavings in the crate.
As you can see from the picture below, I kept a heat lamp (that I borrowed from a neighbor) on standby just in case this method wasn’t successful at keeping consistent and accurate temperatures for the little chicks. But I never plugged it in and it stayed right there on top of the dog crate for 4 weeks.
Supplies for A Brooder – with No Heat Lamp