Q: How can I keep my brooder warm during a power outage so my baby chicks don't die?
A: Power loss can happen at any time due to storms, fallen trees, traffic accidents, construction, lightning, and more. A prolonged power outage can be a real problem if you have baby chicks or waterfowl in the brooder and are depending on an electric heater to keep them warm. You don't want anything to happen to your babies, so it's important to be prepared in case the power goes out on you.
Here are some ideas to help keep your chicks safe in the event of a power outage:
- Hot Water Bottles - One of our customers from Vermont told us this story of how she used hot water bottles to save her baby chicks during a power outage:
I lost power due to hurricane Irene for about 15 hours. The storm hit southern Vermont very badly, and I was unable to take the chicks anywhere to get power for their infrared lamp. What I ended up doing was heating water for hot water bottles on our grill. I then dropped the water bottles into my son's old tube socks (to keep the chicks from being scalded) and put the hot bottles into our chick 'nursery.' At first the chicks retreated from the strange monsters, but within a few minutes, the chicks investigated and cuddled up to their new pseudo-mamas. I got up at 2:30am to reheat the water bottles and the chicks made it to morning when the power returned.
- Canning Jars - If you don't have water bottles, you can use canning jars filled with hot water instead. Be sure to handle the jars of hot liquid with oven mitts or towels to keep from burning yourself, and wrap the jars in a towel to keep the birds safe, too. Make sure the jars have sealed lids affixed to keep the water from spilling on your birds.
- Bricks or Rocks (seriously!) - You might try warming a brick or similarly-sized rock in an oven or on a grill. After warming, pick it up carefully with oven mitts and wrap it in a towel before placing it in your brooder. Depending on the size of your brood, you might need more than one brick or rock.
- Reptile Warming Packs - Disposable warming packs designed for use in reptile enclosures or animal shipping could also work for temporarily keeping baby chicks or waterfowl warm in an emergency.
- Insulate Your Brooder - Covering or partially covering the top of the brooder with a towel can help prevent drafts and conserve heat. You can also add extra bedding to help insulate the floor and wrap the sides of the brooder with a blanket or insulation.
If you place a blanket or towel on top of your brooder, be sure to UNPLUG your heat lamp or other heat source first, or it could start a fire or overheat your chicks when the power comes back on. Be sure to monitor the power carefully and as soon as you notice that it has turned back on, remove the covering and turn on the heater. This will help you avoid the risk of fire or overheating.
What about incubators?
These suggestions may also help with fertile egg incubation in a long outage, but it is important to know that maintaining an appropriate temperature and humidity level in a incubator will be extraordinarily difficult, to say the least. Chicks can move closer to or further away from a heat source, but your fertile eggs can't, so with fertile eggs, please be sure to use these options only as a last resort in a long outage.