Pros and Cons of a Chick Brooder Heat Plate
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I will admit, sometimes I’m a little slow to warm up to the trends. People have talked about chick brooder heating plates for years, but I never tried them myself. In fact when they first came out, I considered the cost to be prohibitive — especially considering I already had perfectly good heat lamps in my barn.
Should I use a heat lamp or a heat plate?
Heat plates are promoted as a safer way to keep chicks warm. However, we never had issues using heat lamps at our farm. They were always hung from a hook in the ceiling with an adjustable chain or heavy wire. They were never hung by the lamps electrical cord, and they were never clipped to the side of the brooder. Because we’d never had issues with the safety of the lamps, heat plates weren’t anything I ever looked too hard at.
However, while we’ve never had any safety issues with heat lamps in our barn, I’m aware that heat lamps take a lot of energy to run. I also knew our most recent hatch put us in a situation where the chicks would need to be in the house for a few days when they came out of the incubator. I didn’t want to figure out a secure set up for a heat lamp in my office, so it was time to look for a different option.
As such, I found myself at Amazon looking for a heat plate and decided to purchase the Rent-a-Coop Chick Heating Plate. I chose the 12″ x 12″ plate, which warms 20 chicks.
It was very easy to put together: basically a large heating plate with four red legs that are screwed through the corners and can be adjusted up or down for whatever height works for your chicks as they grow. The heat plate plugs into a 110v outlet. Be aware it takes about an hour to warm up, so don’t add your chicks until it’s ready!
How does a chick brooder heat plate work?
A chick heat plate is meant to mimic a mama hen. The chicks press their backs up against the heat plate to keep warm, just like they’d do to the skin/feathers underneath their mama hen. The “heat” of the plate is adjusted by raising or lowering the plate. There is no need to place a thermometer under the heat plate (like you might in a brooder with a heat lamp) because the plate doesn’t throw heat the same way a lamp does. Your chicks’ behavior will tell you if they’re too hot, too cold, or just right.
- If they refuse to go underneath it, the heat plate is either too low for them to fit underneath, or it’s too low and the space beneath it is too warm.
- If they refuse to come out from underneath it at all (and they’re constantly chirping in an unhappy way) it generally means they’re too cold. Lower the plate a couple clicks.
- If they’re in and out, eating and drinking and sleeping and hanging out while making happy chick noises, you’ve probably got the plate at the right height. A good tip is to adjust the legs so that one side of the heat plate sits lower than the other (so it looks like the plate is at a diagonal to the brooder floor.) By doing this, you will provide an option of comfortable heights. Smaller chicks can hang out where the plate is lower to the ground and still be warm while chicks that are bigger/growing faster can hang out where they have a little more room.
- The chick heat plate needs to be raised as the chicks grow, so pay attention to the chicks’ behaviors to know when they need a little more space.
What are the advantages of using a chick brooder heating plate?
A heat plate uses less energy. The Rent-a-Coop version of heating plate I purchased claims to use a mere 20 watts/hour compared to a heat lamp’s 250 watts/hour. Definitely a benefit for those who are more energy conscious or even off-grid.
A brooder heat plate poses less of a fire risk than a heat bulb. I can rest my hand on the underside of this particular Rent-a-Coop brooder heat plate without issue. I cannot, however, touch a heat lamp without burning myself. For those who are nervous about the fire hazard of a heat lamp, using heat plates might give you more peace.
Chicks seem to like it! Once out of the incubator and into the brooder, most of the newly hatched chicks immediately figured out the heat plate and they were happy to hang out underneath it.
What are the disadvantages of using a chick brooder heating plate?
You can’t see what’s going on under the heat plate. Unless you lift up the heat plate or do awkward yoga poses to try and look underneath, you don’t really know what’s going on with the chicks—a totally different experience from using a heat lamp! When the chicks were in my office the first few days, they were out and about all the time, but once they moved to the barn where it was significantly colder, they stayed under the plate quite a bit more. (They were still perfectly happy, though!)
There are discrepancies regarding how long the chicks will actually use it/fit under it. Many people claim the chicks outgrow the plate too soon and are then switched to a heat lamp anyway. You also may end up with a chick who just can’t figure out how to go underneath the plate and instead they run around freaking out because they can’t find their chick friends. There’s at least one in every group, I tell you.
If you don’t buy the roof, chicks spend a lot of time on top of the heat plate. And whatever a chick can sit/stand on, a chick will poop on. I highly recommend you buy the roof, or figure out a similar contraption to keep them off the top of the heating plate. (The link I provided for the Rent-A-Coop plate is for a set that includes the roof piece.)
A heat plate doesn’t keep the chicks’ waterers open. Having always run brooders with heat lamps, I never had to worry about the waterers icing over or freezing solid during spring in Minnesota! It was always warm enough in the brooder that the water stayed open. That’s not how it works when you use a heat plate! I very quickly became aware that I’d be changing out frozen waterers in the brooder, even though the chicks themselves were quite toasty and happy!
Final thoughts on using a chick brooder heating plate?
The chicks seem to like the heat plate, and I can see why people do, too— especially if they’re nervous about heat lamps. I, however, will keep both heat plates and heat lamps on hand, because it’s very important for a girl to have options. 😉
Have you used a chick heating plate? I’d love to hear your experiences, tips, and tricks in the comments!
– Amy Dingmann, 4-2-23
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