Will Chickens Die Without a Heat Lamp?

Many new chicken owners worry their chickens will suffer in colder temperatures without a heat lamp.

Your chickens are in more danger from extremely hot weather than cold weather conditions.

When the outdoor temperature drops, chicken heating lamps seem like a logical solution to cold temperatures but are not safe with all the combustible material in a coop.

A heat lamp can catch fire itself, catch bedding on fire, and cause electrical fires.

Using a heat lamp in the chicken coop is unnecessary and too risky with all the flammable materials. While chickens can get frostbite on their feet and wattles, they are good at staying warm. Using a heat lamp doesn’t let the chickens acclimate to the outdoor temperature. 

Chickens have lived and thrived for thousands of years without heat lamps.

Chickens need plenty of food and clean water daily, so you’ll need a heat source under the waterer to keep it thawed or bring it out fresh yourself.

Some people use a light source like a bright light bulb to extend the “day” for the hens to increase egg production.

Many chicken keepers feel this practice is unnatural and will not lead to healthy egg layers since hens only have a certain amount of eggs to lay in their lives, and extending their laying time over the year doesn’t let them get a natural rest. 

will chickens die without a heat lamp

How Chickens Stay Warm in Colder Weather

Chickens are warm-blooded creatures like mammals. 

They make their own body heat.

They fluff out their downy under feathers to make an insulating layer to keep in the warmth.

The smooth outer layer of their upper feathers keeps the cold from penetrating.

Chickens perch on top of their feet to keep them warm and cluster together to share body heat.

Their combs and wattles are vulnerable to frostbite at below-freezing temperatures, so make sure their coop is dry and weatherproof.

Some chicken keepers use petrolatum ointment or a wax-based balm to protect their chickens’ combs and wattles.

Feed your chickens extra calories during the winter, as maintaining their body temperature uses up a lot of energy!

Ensure your chickens have constant access to fresh water in their water containers both for thirst and to keep their nares (nose holes) clean.

Heat Lamp Alternatives During the Winter Months For Chickens

Radiant Heat

A brooder plate like this on Amazon is a terrific way to provide supplemental heat in your coop when you have baby chicks. 

A chick heating plate kit is a safe, consistent heat source that is great for chick raising and is especially effective when used inside a larger cardboard box.

Specially designed for chicken coops, the Sweeter Heater, as seen here on Amazon, is a radiant heater you mount on the ceiling of your coop.

The Sweeter Heater boasts no hot spots and has an automatic shutoff if heat cannot escape.

As with anything electric, there is always the chance of an electrical fire, but these are specially made for coop use, unlike clamp heat lamps.

Water bottles

Chicken owners sometimes use hot water bottles or water bags as supplemental heating.

This risks spillage, which would increase moisture and chill in the coop.

Hot water bottles are not a low effort way of heating the coop but are not a fire hazard like a heat lamp.

Heated pads

Weatherproof heated pads like this one on Amazon are used as supplemental heating, although I would worry about having to clean up chicken poop from all over it myself.

Water warmers

Use water warmers like these on Amazon with your chicken waterer to ensure they have fresh water.

Thick bedding 

Ensure you provide a deep layer of bedding, such as straw or hay, for the chickens to nestle down in when they are not roosting.

The loose material in a layer of straw, for example, will provide an extra insulating layer and help them stay warm.

Light Bulbs

Ceramic reptile heat bulbs are not as fragile as infrared heat lamps but are still not recommended as they can start fires.

A plain white bulb, such as the kind people use to extend “daylight” to encourage egg production, will not give off enough heat to change ambient temperature and can start electrical fires.

The Deep Litter Method For Chickens

The deep litter method of waste management is very useful for keeping your coop warm in the winter months and providing great compost for your garden!

The chicken manure and bedding material composts in the coop, generating heat which helps during cold winters.

Starting with 4-6″ inches of dry shavings, you add other clean bedding materials as necessary and turn them in with the chicken manure to maintain moisture and oxygen and encourage composting in the deep layer.

Do not use cedar shavings as they are aromatic and can irritate your chicken’s respiratory system, skin, and feet.

Natural bedding materials such as leaves also do well with this method.

Keeping your coop well ventilated and turning the compost frequently is important for success. 

Otherwise, moisture and ammonia fumes will endanger your flock’s health.

Moisture encourages the growth of bacteria, and your chickens could end up with bumblefoot, an infection on their feet causing deep abscesses and can eventually kill them if left untreated.

Weatherproofing Your Chicken Coop

Your coop needs to be well-ventilated correctly.

Using all the alternative heat source options available won’t help if your coop is damp and drafty; you’ll have sick chickens.

In cold temperatures, the coop needs about 3-4′ square feet of ventilation using windows, vents, and doors that open for when the weather is warmer.

Your chicken coop structure should protect the roost and nesting areas from wind and moisture, as those will severely chill your feathered friend.

Lining the coop walls with plastic sheeting from old shower curtains worked well in our coop as protection from very cold weather.

They are easy to roll up, tie, and then roll back down for a cold snap.

Raising Chicks Without Using a Heat Lamp

While mother hens hatching and raising chicks are truly a joy to watch, many chick owners like to raise their chickens from chicks themselves, finding the little fuzzy darlings at the feed store downright irresistible.

Feed stores typically sell one or two-day-old chicks. 

Your chick purchases at the feed store will include:

  • Chick starter (some people make their homemade chick starter)
  • Shavings for bedding (remember, non-aromatic shavings only)
  • A waterer (we use hamster water bottles for them to peck at, it saves a lot of time and waste and provides them with clean water)
  • A chick feeder (look for something they won’t tip over or spill)
  • A safe heat source

The first thing you want to do upon your chicks’ arrival is to make sure they are all warm.

Provide extra heat to keep their environment in a healthy temperature range for chicks.

The ideal temperature for baby chicks younger than 7 days is 95-100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C); they would ordinarily spend most of this time underneath a nice toasty warm hen.

The temperature needs then decrease by 5° degrees every week until they are matched with daytime temperatures and only need the heat source at night.

We put our just-feathered chicks out in the chicken coop with a cardboard box and a brooder plate, and they thrive.

If they are in the house, the house temperature alone will not be high enough to keep the chicks comfortable.

You’ll need a separate brooder set up to keep the chicks safe from your adult chickens until they are old enough to integrate into the flock.

It’s possible to use anything from a commercial brooder kit to cardboard boxes or even a plastic tote with holes drilled into it for ventilation.

Use dry wood shavings such as pine to make warm, comfortable bedding for insulation, keeping your chicks warm no matter the outside temperature.

Use chick brooder heating plates and consider purchasing the feather skirting to go around the edge for further heat conservation and maintaining a constant temperature.

Hanging a feather duster from the top of your brooder setup gives your baby chickens a homey place to huddle and keep warm but is not a replacement for a brooder plate.

Make sure you have enough baby birds to keep each other warm.

Fifteen baby chicks are the minimum I would go with, as it is a common minimum when shipping from a hatchery, although some people recommend 25.

If your chicks are tightly huddled under the brooder plate and don’t come out to explore, eat or drink, they are too cold, and the brooder plate needs lowering; if they never go under there and are huddled together outside, it needs raising.

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Growing up amidst the sprawling farms of the South, Wesley developed a profound connection with farm animals from a young age. His childhood experiences instilled in him a deep respect for sustainable and humane farming practices. Today, through Farmpertise.com, Wesley shares his rich knowledge, aiming to inspire and educate others about the joys and intricacies of rural life.

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