Keeping Chicks Warm When the Power Goes Off

When an unexpected storm shuts down the power grid people are lucky.  We can put a comfy fleece jacket over long johns and snuggle under a toasty quilt. Baby chicks can’t.   In the old days their broody mom would welcome them into her fluffed up feathers, where they’d be warmed and comforted by her.  Today, most chicks rely on brooder heat that usually comes from electricity. If they get too cold, they’ll perish. So, how do you keep them warm when the power fails?   Fortunately, there are several ways to do it.

Move the Brooder to the Warmest Place:  On even the coldest days sunshine can warm a house or brooder. When the power fails, if possible, move the brooder to the warmest place in the house.  That often might be inside a south facing sunny window.


Grandma’s Secret:  In the old days before modern central heat grandma stayed warm by filling a bottle with hot water and tucking it under her bed’s quilts. Although called a “bottle” most were actually rubber bladders that gradually released heat from the water inside. It works as well today as yesterday, but there’s a problem.  Many people have an electric stove, so how do they heat water when there’s no power?  An inexpensive camping stove is the answer. Even folks who never go camping benefit by keeping a stove and fuel at the ready to cook their own meals and keep the chicks warm. Fill a glass or metal bottle with hot water and put it in the brooder. Replace it as soon as the water cools.


Hand warmers to the rescue:  During the past decade warmers of many brands have entered the market and are sold where farmers, construction workers, and ice anglers buy supplies. Inside a plastic bag is a mixture of iron powder, charcoal, and a catalyst in a cloth-like paper bag. All the mixture needs is oxygen to begin emitting gentle heat.   Rip open the sealed, plastic outer covering. Shake the inner pouch to activate the warmth. Many warmers last upwards of ten hours. They are inexpensive and handy.


Whether using a hot water bottle or hand warmer to keep the chicks snug it’s best to not let them directly touch either device. Otherwise, they could get burned or peck the chemicals from a hand warmer. Fabricating a barrier in the brooder to physically keep the chicks away from the heat source ensures safety while letting them enjoy warmth. Wrap them in a towel is one option.


Safety, Thermometer, and Insulation


Some people keep their chicks warm using candles. They work but present fire danger.   The tips listed above don’t require flames so are safer but can be overdone and put the chick’s health in jeopardy.


Cold is lethal to baby chicks. So is heat. Newly hatched chickens love being in a brooder about the temperature of the human body, or just below 100 degrees.  Putting too many hot water bottles or hand warmers in the brooder could raise its temperature into the lethal zone. To make sure they are comfortable, look and listen.  Chicks communicate.  If they are too cold, they’ll huddle together and usually peep loudly.  If too hot they’ll scatter away from the heat source and also peep.   Remove or add heat sources to keep the brooder the right temperature.


A thermometer also helps ensure that the temperature is just right.  Insulation helps ensure that any emergency heat sources are most effective. An old blanket surrounding the brooder holds in heat. Just make sure enough air gets in for comfortable breathing.


Hopefully a power failure is short and welcoming electricity soon warms the house and brooder. Having a backup heat plan in case the power go out makes sense.