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How Long Do Chicks Need a Heat Lamp?

chicks under heat lamp

Whether you are new to raising baby chicks or are preparing for chicks that will be hatching soon, there is a lot to take into account. Like any baby animal, chicks can be difficult to raise when it is your first time. Keeping your baby chicks warm and healthy is part of it. For that, you are going to need a heat source, like a heat lamp, to develop correctly. This leads to a few questions like: How long do chicks need a heat lamp? Is a heat lamp optional or necessary?

You are about to find out.

How Long Do Baby Chicks Need a Heat Lamp?

Until 4 to 6 weeks old, chicks do not have a lot of insulating feathers on their bodies. In the beginning, chicks are covered in a fuzzy down, which is adorable, but it is not enough to keep their bodies warm. They need a temperature of about 95 to 100 degrees F; this is standard for about 6 weeks. Due to this, your baby chicks are vulnerable to sickness during the colder months. Often, chicks huddle together to share body heat; but it is not always enough for them.

Keep in mind that many breeds of chicken develop at different rates. Broilers, for example, will develop at a higher rate compared to other breeds. If a chick is born during the colder months, they will also mature more quickly than birds born in the summer.

If you have a breed that you are unsure about, be sure to get advice from a veterinarian or experienced chicken breeder before removing your chicks from the heat lamp. You can also observe your chicks to see if they are ready to be removed from the heat lamp. Any chick that stays away from the lamp in the brooder is most likely ready to go without the heater and huddling with their brothers and sisters or mom.

Do Silkie Chicks Need a Heat Lamp?

As mentioned above, there are breeds like Silkies that take much longer than others to grow. If you are hatching Silkie chicks, they will need to remain under the heat lamp until 15 to 18 weeks old. Silkies and similar breeds are some of the slowest to grow up, and they will not get their adult feathers until they reach 4 or 5 months old.

However, if you have hatchery bred Silkies, they may mature more quickly than those who are bred for ones bred for showing.

How Long Should Chicks Be Under a Heat Lamp?

chick uner heat lamp close up

On average, chicks should be under a heat lamp for 4 to 6 weeks (though some may go until 10 weeks or 18 weeks), until their adult feathers begin to grow. Your chicks will gradually acclimatize to the outdoor temperature. In the beginning, your chicks should be under 95 degrees F (35 degrees C). You will notice that the chicks won’t want to leave the additional heat. After that first week, gradually decrease the temperature of the heat lamp.

Avoid reducing the heat too dramatically, because your chicks may not be ready for the ambient temperature. If your chicks get too cold or too hot, they could die.

Here is a table showing the ideal temperature for the heat lamp week by week:

AgeDegrees FahrenheitDegrees CelsiusNotes
1 Week95 degrees35 degreesChicks should not leave their heat source for longer than a few minutes. Chicks should either have their mother hen or a heat lamp.
2 Week90 degrees32 degreesYour chicks will start spending some time away from the heat lamp or their mother hen.
3 Week85 degrees29.5 degreesFurther distance from the heat lamp is achieved.
4 Week80 degrees26.6 degreesChicks begin to benefit from time outside, so long as it is not too cold.
5 Week75 degrees24 degreesAt this age, chicks do not need the heat lamp on 24/7, particularly if the ambient temperature is 75 degrees.
6 Week70 degrees21 degreesChicks can spend the entire day outside as long as they have their feathers. The heat lamp may no longer be needed.

Please note that the table above is depicting guidelines — not rules.
This may vary depending on the breed of your chicks.

How Can I Tell If The Chicks Are Warm?

little chicks under the lamp

Monitoring the temperature of the brooder is important. That said, chicks can still struggle with maintaining their internal temperature. If you are worried about your chicks, simply observe how they are acting.

When the temperature is correct, your chicks will have plenty of energy and will socialize with one another. You should hear plenty of cheeping, too.

A lack of such behavior does mean that something is wrong, and you should consider the environment being unsatisfactory. To help you figure out if your chicks are too cold or too hot, here are some things to look out for:

Signs The Chicks Are Too Cold

If your chicks feel cold, they will do the following:

  • Huddling together even under the heater lamp.
  • Making continuously loud and distressed sounds.
  • Chicks feel cold to the touch, especially their feet and legs.

The best way to disperse the heat around the lamp, use reflectors around the brooder box. There are some bulbs that have reflector materials included. You can also buy domes for the bulbs to spread the heat around the boxes more efficiently.

Signs The Chicks Are Too Warm

Here are signs that your baby chicks are too hot:

  • Chicks do not huddle together.
  • Lethargic and quiet, the chicks are low energy.
  • Chicks hide in the corners farthest from the brooder, far from the heat lamp.
  • Wings are held farther away from the body to help them cool down.
  • Chicks have a poor appetite and do not get excited for food.

It is important to set up the brooder box so that there are cool places and warm ones. Your chicks should have a place to retreat to, should they get too hot. Remember, your chicks could die of dehydration or overheating if the heat lamp is too intense.

How to Set Up a Heat Lamp For Baby Chicks

Curious about the best way to set up a heat lamp? You want the heat lamp high enough from the pine shavings or other materials in the brooder box. In the beginning, it is best to set the heat lamp about 18 inches above the floor of the brooder box. Set the temperature to around 95 degrees F. Put the heat lamp to one side of the brooder so that your chicks can move in and out of the light. Also, put the food and water on the opposite side of the brooder, away from the heat.

Depending on the developmental rate of your baby chicks, you can reduce the weight by five degrees every single week until week 4 or 6. Observe how fast your baby chicks are growing their feathers. Eventually, the temperature of the brooder is going to match the ambient temperature outside.

The Best Wattage and Color Bulbs

There are both small and large brooders, depending on the number of chicks you are raising. Choose a 100 watt bulb for small brooders. If you have a large brooder, select a 250 watt bulb. The only downside of a 250 watt bulb is that the bulbs can easily become overheated and make your chicks too hot.

Now, which color? Red lights are often popular, but they do increase the chance of your chicks pecking at one another. So long as you have a few chicks in the brooder and no overcrowding, a white light is fine.

A ceramic socket is best for heat lamps. Any plastic pieces could melt, especially with a 250 watt bulb. Choose a lamp that can be secured to the side of the brooder box or a guard that prevents the lamp from damaging or connecting with the box should the lamp fall over.

Do Chicks Need a Heat Lamp 24/7?

one week old chicks huddle under the heat lamp

Should the lamp be the only heat source available to your chicks, then they are going to require it 24 hours every single day. During the first few days, your chicks will need light and heat. Light should be given around 22 hours a day, since your chicks are going to need illumination to find their water, food, and heat source.

Later, there can be more darkness. Although older chicks do not need sunlight throughout the day, they do require heat around the clock, especially for the first 3 weeks. Around 3 or 4 weeks of age, the heat lamp can be switched off for short spans of time. The ambient temperature should be around 75 degrees, however.

In short, the heat lamp should be on around the clock for 24 hours a day for up to 4 weeks old. After this age, the chicks can regulate their internal temperature and clocks better.

Bottom Line

How long do chicks need a heat lamp? Until 4 to 6 weeks of age, your chicks are going to need a heat lamp. Once your chicks have grown some feathers, the heat lamp is necessary to keep them alive. However, keep in mind that some chicks do develop more slowly and will need to use the heat lamp for a little longer.