6 Safe Heat Lamp Alternatives for the Homestead

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New chicken owners are often quick to purchase heat lamps to keep their flock warm in the winter and to maintain warmth within the chick brooder. However, this heating method is not safe and there are MUCH better options available. Today we are going to discuss the best alternatives to heat lamps for chickens and other barnyard animals.

Choosing a Safe Heat Lamp Alternative

Heat lamps have been used for years to warm livestock during freezing temperatures. They are also used in brooders for young chicks. These lamps have contributed to hundreds upon hundreds of barn and house fires so I have sworn them off, but my animals still need to stay warm… so… what are my options?

What is the Purpose of a Heat Lamp

Before we discuss heat lamp alternatives, let’s talk about why livestock owners use heat lamps to begin with. 

Heat Lamps in a Brooder

When baby chicks are purchased from a hatchery or if you hatch your own chicks, they don’t have a mother hen to sit under for warmth. Since they don’t have mama hen’s body heat and they can’t regulate their body temperature, there has to be an artificial heat source. 

Day-old chicks need a temperature of 95 degrees F in the brooder. 2-week-old chicks need 90 degrees F and the temperature requirement continues to drop 5 degrees per week until they move out of the brooder. 

Heat lamps are used to provide this heat for the chicks until they are ready to move outside.

Heat Lamps in the Coop

A heat lamp is also often used to warm a chicken coop during cold weather. This really isn’t necessary, but in some areas where the temperatures drop below freezing, the extra heat can be helpful.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Heat Lamps

Providing your animals with heat isn’t a bad thing, but using unsafe heating equipment is. There are a few reasons why you should avoid using heat lamps for your livestock so let’s jump into those.

1. They are a fire hazard

The number one reason to stay away from heat lamps is the high risk of fire. Heat lamp bulbs get very hot and the heat cannot be regulated. This heat is concentrated in one area and, if placed too close, can catch nearby materials on fire.

Traditional heat lamps are hung up with a metal clamp. These clamps are known to shift and release causing the lamp to fall. When a heat lamp falls, the heat is transferred directly to the surface that it falls on. If this surface is coop bedding, wood, or another combustible material then you almost certainly have a barn fire.

2. They shatter easily 

Heat lamp bulbs are not shatterproof. This means that if a lamp falls, the bulb may shatter and spread glass shards all around the floor of the coop, barn, or brooder. 

A hot bulb can also shatter if practically anything touches it while it is hot. Imagine your animals splashing a bit of water or a loose feather flying around… once that water or the feather hits the bulb, bam! You have glass everywhere and potentially a fire. 

Even if the fallen heat lamp doesn’t catch anything on fire, the broken glass would still be a huge safety concern. 

ducklings and chicks under a heat lamp | fire hazard

3. They don’t distribute heat evenly

The heat from a heat lamp does not distribute evenly… it concentrates in the center. This poses a fire risk and it can make it difficult for the chicks or other animals to find a spot with a comfortable temperature. Since heat lamps warm up the entire space, chicks (and other animals) have a difficult time if they get overheated. 

4. They produce disruptive light

Heat lamps emit a bright light that animals can’t get away from. This light can disrupt their natural sleep patterns as well as their hormone production. If you are using a heat lamp for laying age birds, this additional light can cause them to continue to lay eggs even when their bodies want to rest. 

5. Chickens can keep themselves warm

Adult birds don’t really need supplemental heat in the winter. As long as you provide a healthy environment with proper ventilation and a wind break, their feathers keep them warm. This is the same for most farm animals. 

If you do need artificial heat for your animals, check out the safe heat lamp alternatives listed below.

6 Safe Alternatives to Heat Lamps for Chickens

Heat lamps are one of many options for keeping your animals warm. Let’s dig into safe alternative heat sources for your homestead. 

1. Heat Plates

This is my go-to choice for a heat lamp alternative. Heating Plates serve the same purpose as heat lamps without the high risk of fire. There are horizontal heat plates that are made to be used with young chicks and there are vertical (stand-up) heat plates that can be used with older birds. 

Horizontal heat plates provide heat to chicks using much less electricity than a heat lamp. The chicks gather under the plate just as they would gather under a mother hen. You can adjust the height of the plate easily as the birds grow. 

A vertical heat plate can be used for ducklings and older birds as well as some other livestock. This is a plate that heats up to warm animals that are standing or laying down near it. Some plates switch from horizontal to vertical so you can use them throughout the lifetime of your chickens. 

Heat plates allow the birds to choose if they want to be in the heated area or if they want to move to a cooler spot. In fact, these plates don’t even warm the air. They will only warm a solid object (like a chick) that passes through the radiant heat emitted from the plate. This is important because different chicks may be comfortable at different temperatures. 

Chicks under a heat plate as a heat lamp alternative

The surface of a heat plate doesn’t get hot, either. When you touch it, it should feel warm, but it won’t burn you or your animals. 

Heat lamps put out continual light that can disrupt the animal’s natural sleep cycles, but heat plates produce no light so sleep patterns are undisturbed. 

I use an Ecoglow brooder for young chicks and this heating plate for ducklings and older birds. 

Advantages:

  • Less Electricity
  • Very Low Fire Risk
  • No Shatter Risk
  • Mimics Mother Hen
  • Radiant Heat
  • Low Surface Heat
  • No Artificial Light
  • Height Adjustable

2. Heat Pads

Electric heating pads are used as a heat lamp alternative for small animals (chicks, piglets, etc.), but they have to be protected from water. They can be placed under bedding, on the wall, or under a towel.

You can also make a faux heat plate by turning a small metal basket upside down and placing a heating pad on top. If you choose to use a heating pad, try to find one with a built-in thermostat.

Advantages:

  • Lower Electricity Usage
  • No Artificial Light
  • Low Burn Risk
  • No Shatter Risk

3. Hot Water Bottles

Bottles with hot water can be placed in with the animals that you are trying to warm. These bottles will need to be replaced frequently, but they can offer warmth temporarily. This is a safer alternative to a heat lamp that works well in an off-grid situation with no electricity, but it does require more labor on your part. 

If you choose this method of heating, be sure to insulate the bottles with a rag or dish towel to keep the animals from burning themselves.

This won’t work for very young chicks that need high ambient temperatures (80-95 degrees F).

Advantages:

  • No Electricity Usage
  • No Fire Risk
  • No Shatter Risk

4. Ceramic Heat Emitter

Ceramic heat emitters are used in a similar fashion as heat lamps, but they provide heat without emitting light. No artificial light means that the animals’ natural sleep patterns are undisturbed.  Since there is no glass bulb, they do not pose a shatter risk and the fire risk is much lower (but still present).

The surface temperature of the emitter can get very hot which can burn your animals if they touch it.

Advantages:

  • Less Electricity
  • Low Fire Risk
  • Low Shatter Risk
  • Radiant Heat Source
  • No Artificial Light

5. Deep Litter Method

During the winter, you can increase the heat inside your coop or shelter by layering new bedding down on top of old bedding. Piling the bedding up like this is called the deep litter method. This method will increase the temperature inside the shelter for your animals without a safety risk. 

deep litter method as a heat lamp alternative

Advantages:

  • No Electricity Usage
  • Increase Ambient Heat Naturally
  • No Fire Risk
  • No Shatter Risk
  • No Artificial Light

6. Natural Warming

The best heat lamp alternative is no supplemental heat at all (except when it comes to baby chicks). Most animals are just fine in the winter without any artificial heat. Just be sure to provide your livestock with a shelter that has a windbreak and proper ventilation. This will keep them dry and out of the wind. 

Advantages:

  • No Electricity Needed
  • Increase Ambient Heat Naturally
  • No Fire Risk
  • No Shatter Risk
Winterized chicken tractor with ventilation and a wind break

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