Keep Your Chicks Warm and Safe… Without Burning Down the House

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The smell of warm dry wood chips and the sound of calmly chirping chicks in their brooding area is one of my favorite parts of spring, but I’ll never forget the day I noticed smoke rolling into our laundry room curling from around the door to the garage and the sound of frantic chicks coming from our makeshift chick brooder. I rushed in to find the heat lamp had slipped from the board it was clipped to and the impact of the fall had caused the wire guard to also slip off. The light bulb was lying in smoldering wood chips. Thankfully, I arrived in time to douse the wood chips before they burst into flames. I also managed to ventilate the area before the chicks got sick.

chick brooder
That incident prompted me to seriously consider how to keep my chicks warm and safe without accidentally burning down the house. And a quick Google search reveals that homes and barns destroyed by heat lamp triggered fires are all too common.
Through a bit of research on the topic I found several safer brooding options:

1. Brinsea sells a line of “Ecoglow chick brooders” which provide radiant heat which the company says are safer and more efficient than conventional heat lamps since they use a 12 volt transformer. The company sells a 20 chick brooder for $94.99 and a model for up to 50 chicks for $189.99.

2. You can build an Ohio Chick Brooder. Though the concept was originally developed decades ago you can still get the directions published by the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in 1942. This roomy brooder will accommodate a good-sized flock, but I would definitely recommend adding a plexiglass viewing area in the top of the brooder so you can get a peek at your chicks without putting your head on the floor.

3. Set up a brooder in an insulated shed detached from your home. This proved to be a quick and easy option when I needed an immediate solution. I simply positioned my cardboard chick brooder border under a rafter. Then I used sturdy string to hang my head lamps from the rafter. This allowed me to tie the light up a little higher to keep the chicks from overheating  during warm weather. On cool spring days I could lower it to make the brooding area warmer.

With all of the above options it’s critical to provide a round border around the chick brooder area and monitor the chicks regularly. Many experienced chicken-keepers have learned the hard way that a variety of factors can cause temperature fluctuations in the brooder area. And if chicks begin to feel cool they will inevitably pile up in a corner to take advantage of the warmth of their fellow chicks’ body heat. Unfortunately those on the bottom of that heap can quickly suffocate.

Your chicks’ behavior will also tell you a lot about their comfort level. If they crowd together near the heat lamp or warmest point of another heat source it means they are a bit cold. Often a few will also be loudly chirping their displeasure with the accommodations. If they are pressing their bodies against the outer edge of the brooder area and are lying down, look a bit lethargic or are even panting they are dangerously warm and need the temperature reduced. A group of cozy happy chicks will usually be scattered throughout the chick brooder area with some eating and drinking, some running around chirping softly, and others content to doze off.

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Best Beginner Chicken Breeds

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There are hundreds of different chicken breeds out there from which to choose. Large or small? Meat, eggs, dual-purpose, or merely for  looks? Colors, shapes, sizes, feather designs, temperaments, hardiness, and personalities vary just as much. A beginner’s mistake when raising chickens is to set one’s heart on a particular breed without knowing much about that breed. Chicks may look alike, but the chickens they will become could not be more different. One might choose the unique-looking Aseel, for example, without realizing that the breed likes to fight and  tends to be quite strong and aggressive. The Malay chicken truly stands out from the crowd in looks and height, but they are likely to fight, are not meaty, and do not lay eggs frequently.  The wide variety of chicken breeds out there may be overwhelming, but fear not. Here are some of the best chicken breeds for beginners.

Top Layer—Try the White Leghorn

The White Leghorn is one of the best layers out there. This medium-sized, white bird with a striking red comb lays frequently and their large, white eggs are extremely popular. While not particularly docile and broody, this breed is hardy, active, and quite intelligent. They produce about 300 eggs per year. They are not that great for meat and can be flighty and nervous. Still, when it comes to egg laying the White Leghorn is hard to beat.

A Friendly Dual-Purpose Choice—- The Orpington

This UK breed is not only large and fluffy, but extremely docile and also excellent dual-purpose birds great for both laying eggs and meat production. Unlike White Leghorns, the Orpington thrives on human contact and tends to enjoy being held. Their inability to fly for long distances is another quality that makes this breed a good backyard bird. Orpingtons are thick and meaty birds while also producing around 200 eggs annually. They are a great breed for beginners, experienced farmers, and families alike. While not extremely flashy or brightly colored, they are extremely easy to care for. If you have children, the Orpington is a breed that is hard to beat.

Best Bet Chicken Pet—The Silkie Chicken

Are you looking for a striking chicken that truly stands out from the crowd?  Small, unique, and known for their silky smooth feathers, the Silkie Chicken is extremely tame and loves human contact. They are popular pets and love to be held.  If you want a pet chicken and are not overly concerned with eggs or meat production, this may be the breed for which you are searching. This ornamental breed lays around 150 small, cream colored eggs annually and is extremely broody. They will even hatch eggs from other chickens. The Silkie Chicken is a fantastic pet for children and is a soft, adorable addition to any backyard.

Hardy and Easy-to-Care-For— The Rhode Island Red

Docile, easy-to-care-for, and tolerant of both cold and heat, the Rhode Island Red is an excellent chicken breed for beginners. A good layer, the Rhode Island Red produces around 200 large, brown eggs each year. This bird is making a big comeback on small farms and in backyard coops throughout the United States and with good reason too. They are very hardy, produce well, and don’t require much care. They are loving and friendly too, although roosters have been known to be mean. If you want a hardy, dual-purpose chicken, the Rhode Island Red is a beautiful and useful bird to have around.

A Visually Appealing and Useful Bird- The Barred Plymouth Rock

The Barred Plymouth Rock adds flair to any backyard with their black and white checkerboard patterned feathers (other color varieties exist too). Laying 200 cream-colored eggs annually, the Barred Plymouth Rock chicken is a great layer and a great meat bird too. This bird matures and grows quickly and also enjoys a long lifetime.  She makes a brood mother hen. Most Barred Plymouth Rocks are friendly and love human contact. They are a fantastic bird for any beginner.

Best Chicken Breeds for Beginners

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“We see a thousand miracles around us every day,” American clergymen, writer, and Christian radio broadcaster S. Parkes Cadman once said, “What is more supernatural than an egg yolk turning into a chicken?” It is indeed an incredible feat to witness. Children can learn so much from the incredible miracle that is an egg hatching into a living, breathing chicken. They’ll learn the value and fragility of life, the importance of responsibility, and how to care for and raise a living being. What is better than that?

If you have the space available and the time and energy to devote to raising chickens, incubating eggs and hatching chicks is one of the most meaningful and amazing projects you can do as a family. With proper care and nutrition, your baby chicks will grow into healthy chickens and entertain and teach your family for years to come. Yet before you purchase your eggs and commit for the long-haul, consider this: some breeds are great for the novice while others are much more difficult to raise. Don’t order a specific chicken breed just because you fancy its looks.

When considering breeds, look for a common breed that is friendly, tame, and easy to care for. If you want a layer, choose a breed known for good egg production. If you want to raise your chickens for meat, choose a broiler breed known to gain weight quickly. Orpingtons are fantastic chickens for families, friendly, productive layers, hardy, and full of personality. Plymouth Rocks, Cornish breeds, and Silkies are also great bets. Other popular breeds include Wyandotte, Sussex, Cochin, Brahma, and Jersey Giant. Do your research to find just the right bird for you. There are many great choices!

Then there are breeds that aren’t quite as promising. While one can certainly be successful, these breeds are not as easy to raise to adulthood. Belgian D’Anver and Sebright chicks are difficult to rear. Japanese Bantam Chickens are beautiful but difficult for beginners; its form and plumage is difficult to achieve, 25% of chicks die shortly before hatching due to an allele combination common in the breed, and the breed is not cold-hardy. Aracauna chickens are great to raise, but a lethal gene combination common to this breed means that some of the chicks will die before hatching. This can be pretty depressing.

Certain chicken breeds tend to be aggressive too, making these poor choices for families with children. Breeds known for aggressive tendencies include Crevecoeur, New Hampshire Reds, Dominiques, Old English Game Fowl, and Rhode Island Reds. Tendencies vary by bird, too, and roosters are more likely to be aggressive than hens.

Raising chickens is a great opportunity for learning and well as a healthy way to bring food to your family’s table. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to purchase the first eggs or fluffy chicks you come across. Looks can be very deceiving. Take your time to find a docile, friendly, easy-to-raise breed and you’ll have a much better chicken-raising experience. Good luck!