Nothing says “farm life” quite like a passel of peeping, downy chicks. Humans have felt the draw to keep those little fluff balls for thousands of years! Scientists recently used radiocarbon dating and DNA sequencing to date chicken domestication, thanks to some 10,000-year-old chicken bones found at ancient agricultural sites in northern China. While those old school chicken keepers relied on the best heat lamp of all—mother hens—to keep the chicks warm, chicken keepers today have options for brooding chicks when a mother hen isn’t available. Here are the best heat lamps on the market.
- Best Heat Lamp for Chicks: Brinsea EcoGlow
- Best Outdoor Heat Lamp: Magicfly Chicken Coop Heater
- Best Heat Lamp Bulb: GE Red Incandescent Bulb
- Best Heat Lamp for the Bathroom: AceFox Infrared Indoor Lamp
- Best Budget Heat Lamp: Woods Clamp Lamp
The best heat lamp keeps chicks safe and healthy
The best heat lamp for brooding chicks mimics the heat and security a mother hen would provide. Chicks aren’t born with feathers. Instead, they’re covered with natal down. That soft down will eventually serve as an insulating layer beneath the feathers of an adult chicken—but it can’t keep a featherless chick warm on its own. Chicks raised by a mother hen will tuck themselves under the mother’s feathers, shielding themselves from any wind and relying on her body heat to regulate their body temperatures. Chicks raised on their own need the heat from another source.
When it comes to choosing the best heat lamp for chicks—or for adult chickens, if the coop gets too cold for comfort—there are a few important considerations. The first is safety. A good heating lamp will keep the brooder or coop toasty without risking overheating, burn injuries, or even a fire. Heat lamps for animals aren’t one size fits all. They should consider the unique instincts and behaviors of the livestock when it comes to the temperature and color of the heat light.
A heat lamp for chicks might not be the same as clambering under the protective wing of a mother bird, but they will definitely keep a brooder full of chicks warm and healthy for the 8 to 12 weeks it takes for the adult feathers to grow in.
Without a doubt, the primary consideration when selecting the best heat lamp for chicks is safety. A simple google search quickly reveals the downside of heat lamps: people lose their barns and homes to fire every year after accidents involving heat lamps.
It’s such a serious hazard that many chicken keepers recommend staying away from heat lamps when keeping an adult flock. Adult chickens enjoy a racing 400 beats per minute pulse. All that pumping blood gives a hen a resting body temperature between 105 and 109 degrees. So long as the coop is shielded from wind and rain, fully feathered adult chickens kept in a flock do just fine in even the coldest temperatures. Worried chicken keepers can offer their birds high-calorie treats to help keep their internal warming systems firing.
Chicks are a different story. They can’t keep themselves warm without help, so chicken keepers need to provide a heat light that does this job in the safest way possible. The best way to do that is to forego a traditional heat light and instead choose a radiant heater designed for chicks. This rugged heater sits on the ground and mimics a mother chicken, allowing the chicks to snuggle underneath. The radiant heat works by transferring heat from the device directly to the chick via electromagnetic waves—rather than using a light source to warm the air. Since it sits on the ground, there’s zero chance the heater will fall or get knocked down, breaking the bulb or igniting flammable bedding.
Chicken keepers who prefer a traditional heating lamp should take care to hang the light securely and consider using zip ties to ensure the lamp can’t fall even if the clamp is knocked loose. It’s also critical to make sure the cord is in good condition. And never use a heating lamp that needs multiple extension cords to reach from the coop or barn to the power source. That “tapping a tap” and a surefire way to invite a disaster.
Best Heat Lamp for Chicks: Brinsea EcoGlow
The EcoGlow uses safe 12-volt radiant heat to keep 20 to 50 chicks warm (depending on the model). It’s adjustable for use with different breeds or types of poultry. The included plastic cover keeps the heater clean when the chicks become less dependent on the heat and begin perching.
The best heat lamp will offer the chicks a warm refuge that’s the perfect temperature for their stage of development. For their first week of life, chicks should be kept at 95 degrees. The ideal temperature drops by 5 degrees with each week of life then holds steady at 70 degrees from 6 weeks on.
Some heat lamps for chicks allow the chicken keeper to set the temperature precisely. This is the most accurate way to ensure the brooder is at the right temperature for the chicks. Alternatively, installing a digital temperature like one might use for a terrarium gives a quick read on the conditions under the heat lamp.
Of course, there’s a lower-tech option for monitoring the temperature in the brooder: watching the chicks’ behavior. When the temp is perfect, chicks will move around the brooder freely. They will eat, drink, explore, and peep cheerfully. Cold chicks will huddle under the lamp as they try to stay warm and may peep loudly. If the chicks spend most of their time under the heat light, it should be turned up or moved closer to the brooder. Overheated chicks will keep to the edges of the brooder, as far from the light as they can get. This is a sign the lamp should be turned down or moved farther from the brooder. Severely overheated chicks may pant, show signs of dehydration, or develop a condition called pasty butt where the vent is covered with stool. These are severe signs of an emergency and should be addressed right away.
Best Outdoor Heat Lamp: Magicfly Chicken Coop Heater
If this wall-installed panel heater falls, the smart automatic off feature yanks the power to prevent fire in the coop. It can be operated by remote control and has a button lock option, so the chickens can’t adjust the temp by pecking.
Turn on the red light
While any color of heat light bulb will give off heat to keep chicks toasty warm, there are some good reasons to consider the bulb’s color when making a selection. In general, red is the way to go.
An old wives’ tale that regularly circulates claims red lamps are better because chickens can’t perceive red light. This is patently false (although it is true about bees!). Unlike mammals, the dinosaur ancestors of birds were never nocturnal, so the avian eye is more developed. Chickens can see all the colors that humans can and then some. Thanks to unique cones and double cones in their eyes, chickens can see ultraviolet light (which is invisible to humans) and detect motion in a way mammals simply can’t.
The idea behind using a red bulb is that the heat lamp puts out light that is less like daylight, which may help the chicks sleep better. Plus, the red hue may make it harder for the chicks to see red things—like their siblings’ combs and wattles—and therefore cut down on the chicks pecking each other.
Best Heat Lamp Bulb: GE Red Incandescent Bulb
his incandescent bulb from GE fits a wide range of socket-type heat lamps. It promises 5,000 hours of 250-watt, peck-free heat making it the best heat lamp bulb.
Keep ‘em separated (inside the house)
Many people who keep chickens in urban areas or don’t have extra buildings like barns choose to brood their chicks inside the house. While this has obvious downsides—especially in terms of smell—this may be the safest way to keep chicks warm. The major benefit is that it’s easier for the chicken keeper to monitor the heat lamp to ensure the clamp doesn’t slip or fall and cause a fire.
Heat lamps designed for use as bathroom heaters or therapeutic infrared heaters for human medical conditions can work very well for brooding chicks. These are more likely to be stable, so there’s less risk of a safety hazard. This option is also ideal for the rare chicken emergency when an adult chicken is sick or injured and needs unexpected care. Plus, the device can do double-duty and serve another purpose—acting as a traditional bathroom heat lamp—during the months when there aren’t chicks to brood.
Best Heat Lamp for the Bathroom: AceFox Infrared Indoor Lamp
For indoor brooders or emergency heat for injured or sick chickens, this adjustable indoor infrared heater does the job as the best heat lamp for the bathroom. Fill the base with water, sand, or rice to keep the heater balanced and stable.
Heat lamp on a shoestring
The simplest option may be the best heat lamp for some chicken keepers. These are usually simple sockets for a light bulb with a metal reflector for directing the heat. These heat lamps clamp onto the brooder or coop. It’s a good idea to secure this clamp with zip ties or something similar to prevent the lamp from falling if the clamp is bumped or shaken. Look for options that include a bulb guard to prevent burns from accidentally touching the bulb.
Since the risk of a fire is highest with these heat lights, it’s crucial to monitor the heat lamp and follow basic guidelines for safety. Inspect the cord and extension cord regularly for signs of wear. And never combine multiple extension cords to reach the outlet. Since the bedding in the brooder is likely flammable, keep the light as far from the brooder as possible while still maintaining toasty temperatures.
Best Budget Heat Lamp: Woods Clamp Lamp
This is the traditional clamp lamp, featuring a strong clamp for security and an extra bulb guard option to prevent burns. The 6-foot cord and adjustable reflector make this heat lamp easy to install and adjust.
Are chicken heat lamps dangerous?
Chicken heat lamps can be dangerous, especially when misused. The safest option may be to select a radiant heater that sits on the ground in the brooder or coop. When hanging or clamped heat lamps are used, mount them securely and monitor the position regularly. Inspect the cord for signs of wear and follow standard safety guidelines for extension cords when required.
What is the safest heat lamp?
The safest heat lamp is one used properly and inspected regularly. Many chicken keepers prefer radiant heat lamps that emit heat when chicks huddle underneath them, transferring heat directly to the chicks rather than heating the air. These generally pose less fire risk.
Which is better, red or clear heat lamp?
When deciding between red or clear heat lamps, it’s usually better to go with a red bulb. This lamp may put out gentler light that helps the chicks sleep and could prevent the chicks from pecking at each other’s combs and wattles.
What you should always know about heat lamps for chicks
Chicks raised in brooders require up to 12 weeks of supplemental heat—until they have fully feathered. The best heat lamp for the job will be safe and minimize the risk of fire. It will also provide the right level of heat for the chicks’ developmental stage. A heat lamp for chicks is key to keeping chicks toasty and safe until they are ready to join the coop.
Related: Best Chicken Coop