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Heat plates vs. heat lamps for your home brooder

Chicks require heat starting at 95 degrees Fahrenheit when first born so a heat source is required unless you have a broody hen. When I started reading about heat plates vs. brooder heat lamps, I wondered why I used a heat lamp for so many years. There are pros and cons to each type of heat source, though, and I’ll go over them all with you!

pros and cons - brooder lamps and heat plates

Why I stopped using a heat lamp in my brooders and invested in a heat plate instead.

What is a heat lamp?

A heat lamp is the stereotypical heating source you see used when raising chicks (or ducklings, quail, geese, etc.). Many beginning homesteaders use them, and I used them for 4 years. Folks still use them during the winter when providing extra warmth for their flock.

You can buy red bulbs or soft-white bulbs to attach to a metal ‘base’. I used a base with a sturdy clamp on the bottom to position the heat lamp over the brooder.

Other folks opt for a stand for the heat lamp bulb to hang above the brooder, similar to this one. When I first started raising chicks I used white heat lamp bulbs. I quickly learned that chicks are more likely to peck at each other and switched to red bulbs!

heat lamp

What is a heat plate?

A chick heat plate is a rectangular brooder heating plate that simulates a mother hen keeping chicks warm beneath her feathers. Plates have four height adjustable legs for raising and lowering the plate as your chicks grow. Chick brooder plates are a great alternative to a heat lamp for baby chicks.

How does a brooder plate work?

Brooder plates provide warmth for your baby chicks as they grow. Set your chick brooder plate up by screwing in the four height adjustable legs and plug it in securely.

With a plate, the heat radiates from the top of the device, providing a similar effect to that of a brooding mother hen sitting on her chicks.

How high should the brooder plate be?

Adjust the legs of your chick brooder plate to a height where your chicks can comfortably stand without their head touching the heat source.

As your chicks grow, you’ll adjust the legs to be higher and higher away from the ground. Keep an eye on your setup because baby chicks grow quickly!

heat plates

Are brooder plates safer than heat lamps?

Yes, a chick brooder plate is safer than heat lamps because the surface temperature of the plate only reaches 125 degrees Fahrenheit, presenting a lower risk than a lamp. A heat lamp has a light bulb that, if fallen off its base, is very hot and can start a fire.

To put it in retrospect, a heat lamp runs at approximately 250 watts compared with 14 watts for a brooder heat plate. Not only does this make a chick brooder plate less hazardous, but they’re far more energy efficient.

Many people go their whole lives using heat lamps without a problem. To break down the pros and cons, I’ve supplied you with some simple, informative tables below.

The benefits of a chick brooder heat plate vs heat lamps

Pros of a brooder platePros of a brooder lamp
Simulates a mothering, broody henOften more inexpensive than plates can be
Provides chicks with the natural stages of developmentReadily available at local farm stores, in case of emergency
Doesn’t produce any extra light or unneeded heatCan be used on other livestock if needed (babies who need extra warmth, etc.)
Allows for domestic fowl to adjust to the natural day/night cycle by eliminating unneeded brooder lightBetter for climates that drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit
High efficiency, saving $ on the electricity bill!Easier to use when raising large amounts of domestic fowl (20+ birds)
Takes up less space when storing and easy to cleanCan reach more square footage when utilizing a very large brooder
No bulbs to replace!
Each leg is adjustable to accommodate the runts of the flock
The heat is centralized, allowing for a slightly smaller brooder if needed
Suited for tropical, moody climates (like Florida, hello!) since the plate’s heat is centralized and contained.
The chicks can safely touch the warm side of the brooder plate without being burned (like touching the mama hen’s belly!).
Less risk from pasty butt due to dehydration or overheating

The cons of a brooder plate vs heat lamp

Cons of a brooder plateCons of a brooder lamp
Since the chicks are developing quicker, you have to stay on top of adjusting the legsThey get very hot, very quickly making them an extreme fire hazard. Hot lamps + bedding = FIRE
If you’re raising a large number of domestic fowl, you might need more than one plate or a larger oneSince the lamps get so hot, you have to be careful to protect young children, animals, etc. from coming in contact with them.
They’re more expensive than brooder heat lamps (although they’re a one-time purchase!)Since there’s a continuous light, your young fowl aren’t able to adapt to a regular wake and sleep cycle as they should.
The cord is a little awkward, coming out the side (also not that big of a deal)Since the brooder heat lamp is so bright, keeping the flock inside is hard unless you have a spare room…or don’t mind a BRIGHT night light
Not the best for outside brooders in extremely cold climatesAdditionally, keeping them in the barn or hen house also provides light for any other animals roosting and resting.
Will require additional, supplemental heat or protection if your brooder is outside and exposed to wind/breeze.Aggression can also be triggered by continuous light.
Some say constant light exposure to young fowl can delay development.
The bulbs eventually burn out and have to be replaced
The bulbs are glass so if the lamp falls for some reason, you could have a dangerous, unfortunate mess to clean up.
They’re bulky and difficult to store away when needed
They’re not ideal when using a plastic tub for a brooder (heat melts plastic)
Chicks can overheat quickly if they can’t get away from the hot lights
Chicks can be burned if they come in contact with the heat lamp

Why did I use a heat lamp for chicks for so long?

Honestly, I just didn’t know about brooder heat plates. Everything I read said to buy a heat lamp, so that’s what I did. Luckily, I never had a problem using heat lamps for chicks in the brooder.

I was always very cautious. Checking multiple times a day to make sure it was secure, not overheating the chicks and not up against any flammable materials. I needed a heating element for my brooder and, at the time, I used the heat lamp bulb because it’s what I knew to do.

I would still recommend them to individuals on a strict budget to use under close surveillance. I had the time to check the brooder lamp, make sure the clamp was still secured and my chicks weren’t overheating.

When my chicks are too big for a plate but small enough to where I want to give them heat during cool nights I use a heat lamp. I don’t want to lie to you! I still know folks who use a heat lamp bulb for chickens when they’re trying to warm their flock during the winter months, also.

Chickens can withstand cooler temperatures than you might expect. In fact, an adult chicken’s internal body temperatures vary from 105°F and 107°F (40.6° and 41.7°C).

Newly hatched chicks’ body temperatures start around 103.5°F (39.7°C) and increase daily until roughly three weeks of age.

Before adding supplementary heating to your coop, it’s best to properly construct and insulate your chicken coop. This way you might not even need to add lamps!

If you’re worried about the winter temperatures for your backyard chickens, find alternative ways to add supplemental heat before utilizing a brooder lamp.

two chicks in a brooder

Can I use a brooder plate to raise my ducklings?

Yes! Ducklings are heartier animals than chickens and don’t require quite as much heat as chicks do. Additionally, raising ducklings is a messy feat and constant radiant heat on their brooder could promote mold and fly activity due to moisture and warmth. If I ever raise ducklings again I’ll use a brooder plate every time.

It’s important when raising ducklings to provide enough space for the mess made from eating and then clearing their beak with water. The best way to use a heating element for ducklings is to create a brooder long enough for the heat to be at one end and sustenance at the other. This gives the ducklings the opportunity to make a mess of one side of the brooder while preserving the other end for a clean, relatively dry and warm area.

Why I finally made the switch (and why it took 4 years).

I decided to finally invest in a brooder heat plate because we had only 2 chicks hatch in a batch of 7 incubated eggs. I needed them closer to me to monitor them since the incubation process didn’t go well. The best place to do that was the feed shed and adding a hot lamp into an already moist-enough feed shed didn’t sound like a good idea. I don’t love the idea of mold, or fire.

Additionally, I only had a small plastic storage bin to put them in. The heat lamp would’ve made the brooder far too hot, not allowing the chicks to escape the warmth if needed.

It took me 4 years to make the switch from a brooder heat lamp to a heat plate because:

  1. I was unaware of the dangers and uninformed.
  2. I was stuck in my ways once I was aware. Truthfully, I didn’t think it was really THAT big of a deal (then I started seeing pictures of burnt barns and homes. YIKES).
  3. Afraid to pay the money for a chick warmer plate, even though they aren’t actually that pricey, I’m just frugal.

Is a brooder heat plate worth the money?

I’m a pretty frugal person, and love a good deal. Spending money on “fancy” appliances on the farm is a large decision that I don’t make lightly.

I often take weeks to decide on large purchases and 75% of the time it’s a big fat “No, it’s not worth the money” or “No…it can wait a little longer. I don’t need it now”.

I’ll give you 10 reasons why I (for some ridiculous reason) did not invest in a proper piece of machinery to tackle my wild yard for years, and why a walk-behind weed eater was the best purchase made in a long time.

I would pay the money over and over again to use a chick warmer plate in my brooder vs dealing with the potential dangers of heat lamps any longer. Plus, who doesn’t love saving a bill on the electricity bill?

Knowing I can go to sleep and not worry about busted glass, chicks attacking each other or fires is enough for me.

chick under a heat plate

What brooder heat plate brand I use and why.

I chose the “Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder for Chicks or Ducklings“. Equipped with an extra long cord, a light confirming the brooder is on and working, and 4 adjustable legs, this plate is suitable for any brooder size. Plus, the reviews were great!

Another reason I chose the Brinsea heating plate is I’ve used the Brinsea Products Mini II Advance Automatic 7 Egg Incubator for 4 whole years now and love it. I’ve incubated dozens of eggs in this little incubator.

I love that the eggs are automatically turned, it’s see-through so I can watch the eggs progress when hatching and there’s a countdown to HATCH DAY! The incubator was an investment my husband and I made when we moved onto the homestead (he talked me into it) and I would make the investment 1,000 times over!

The Brinsea brooder heat plate has been an incredible addition to my livestock toolbox and I highly recommend it to any person looking to try a heating plate. Brinsea has proven to be an extremely reliable brand. Honestly, when it comes to raising livestock, they deserve quality, reliable products to provide them with the best chances to thrive.

How I feel about my decision and what my final word is on brooder heat plates vs heat lamps.

As far as raising chicks moving forward, I have officially converted to a plate lover and highly recommend them! They’re easy to clean, energy efficient and height adjustable. I do own three brooder heat lamps still and don’t plan to get rid of them, because I do think they could prove useful in other situations.

For example, we’ve had a few ‘cooler’ nights here on the Florida homestead so I hung the heat lamp over our almost-fully-feathered teenage chickens since they’re not used to the cold.

If you have the time to closely monitor your brooder heat lamps and chicks’ behavior, I would say to go ahead and use them, but save up the money for a heating plate in the future.

brooder heat plates vs heat lamps

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4 Comments

  1. Shawn Gonyaw says:

    Hello Chelsea, I am putting together a newsletter for the Vermont Bird Fanciers Club that I belong to. Would you mind if I shared the table of pros and cons to heat plates vs heat lights? We have had many members with coop fires this year and I think your information would be valuable. I will of course give you credit and make a hyperlink to the entire article.

    Thanks for considering.

    1. Hi Shawn! I’ve emailed in response to this comment in case you don’t receive my comment response. I’m more than happy for you to share this information! I appreciate you properly citing the information, as well. Please feel free to send me the newsletter once you publish it! Looking forward to seeing it. -Chelsea

  2. I bought a heat plate last year, and the chicks I ordered – half died. I do think it was mostly shipping conditions – although even though the hatchery gave me replacement chicks, they told me I was “obviously” not keeping them warm enough. (The chicks did take an extra day to arrive, and that was late April in New England.) So, I went back to the heat lamps.
    Well this year I almost had a house fire. I had baby quail and a heat lamp. Because I didn’t have a good watering source that they wouldn’t drown in, I had to go down a couple time of night to make sure they had water. I am GLAD I DID. The heat lamp clamp had toppled and was beginning to set the bedding afire. I caught this just in time – this was in the basement of my HOUSE. I think I will move back to heat plates – rather lose a few poultry than my home! (Right now the heat lamp is tied to a rafter and hanging down – no danger of it falling… ) I’ll try your brand. PS, I did lose one quail that was directly under the lamp when it fell, but the rest survived.

    1. Oh WOW! That is so scary. I, luckily, never had a scare like that and I still do like heat lamps for SOME things. But you are so right – they HAVE to be completely secured so they won’t fall. I’m so sorry to hear about your chicks. The travel with shipping is very hard on chicks and puts a lot of stress on their bodies. If there was a delay in arrival, I wouldn’t have expected them to all survive. Possibly order from a new hatchery next time or buy them locally, if possible. It is very unlikely that they weren’t warm enough under the heating plate unless you had it so high up that they couldn’t feel the heat. Just make sure the heating plate is at perfect levels when using it so the chicks stay warm enough. I’m so sorry to hear about the one quail you lost, but I am so thankful that your home survived and you caught it in time! Thanks for stopping by my blog, reading this post and sharing your experience with me. That’s how we grow and succeed in this lifestyle!