Do Baby Chickens Need Light at Night?


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When raising day-old chicks, many people understand that chicks require constant heat for the first several weeks of life, but what about light? It is important to know whether chicks need light or not since they are very fragile during the first weeks of their lives.  

So do baby chickens need light at night? Baby chicks kept with their mother do not need light at night, and get warmth from their mother.

However, new chicks hatched without a hen do need warmth, and they also need a little light at night. Typically, chicks who are not with their mother can get both warmth and enough nighttime lighting with a heat lamp.

Why is a heat light so important to baby chickens at night? Read on to find out more about the reasons baby chickens should be kept warm while being raised in the brooder, and its importance for their development and health. 

Baby Chickens With Their Hen Don’t Need a Night Light

Under normal circumstances, baby chicks are protected by and provided for by their mothers. Chicks in this situation are typically raised in the coop or within a sequestered area of the coop (typically a brooder crate) and do not require lights or additional heat in the coop.

Many farmers have lights in their coops that beckon the chickens at dusk to come inside. Many coops are not lit, however, and the baby chickens raised in them by their mothers do just fine.

This is because the mother hen is able to communicate vocally to her chicks to keep them gathered together.  The chicks will naturally gather under the hen for warmth.

However, many people who raise baby chickens choose to raise them by hand from a hatchery or even hatch the chicks themselves in an incubator. Unlike chicks raised by a hen, these hand-raised chicks need a constant source of warmth.

Typically, a heat lamp is used. This provides the chicks with the warmth they need as well as keeps their area slightly illuminated.

Baby Chickens Need to Find Food and Water

After being hatched from an incubator or shipped from a hatchery, for the first 24 to 72 hours of life, chicks that are raised on their own without a mother need to figure out how to find their own food and water. 

Chicks during this stage of development are very fragile, and it is easy for a chick to become hungry or dehydrated, especially if it is weakened from hatching or is just generally weaker than its clutch-mates. 

Chickens have terrible night vision, so once the lights go out, chicks are generally unable to find their way around a brooder. This means that if you leave the lights off for eight hours or more at a time, chicks who have not had a chance to find their food and water will become desperately hungry and thirsty. 

To make sure that chicks are able to learn where their feeders and waterers are for the first few days, be sure to leave a light on for them. That way, when they’re not sleeping, chicks are able to explore freely and can see what they’re doing. 

If you are using a heat source other than a light, just make sure that chicks have access to a regular day/night light cycle so they develop normal sleeping and waking patterns.

Will a Light at Night Disturb Sleeping Chicks?

Leaving on a light at night for baby chickens does not disturb them. On the contrary, when they are able to easily see where their clutch-mates are and where they are in relation to the brooder, they are more comfortable in their surroundings. This is especially true when red bulbs are used vs. white ones.

Sleeping chicks will happily sleep with the lights on, so there’s no need to worry that leaving the light on overnight will keep baby chicks from being able to sleep. Like baby animals of other species, baby chickens sleep sporadically throughout the day. 

If you are using a heat source like the EcoGlow brooder, that does not have a lighting component, no additional light is needed as long as chicks have access to natural light. If you are brooding in a room with windows, for example, supplemental light is not necessary.

If you are brooding somewhere that is naturally dark, like a garage or bathroom, you will want to add a light on a timer to mimic natural daylight. This will help the chicks to establish their normal sleep/wake cycles.

Baby Chickens Are Afraid of the Dark

Since they are so new to the world, baby chickens can be insecure and uncertain about their environment, especially in the first few days after hatching. 

Since turning a light off abruptly does not mimic the natural gradual fading of the light when the sun goes down, the sudden change from light to dark can be very startling to baby chicks. They will often cause a volley of frightened peeping if you turn the lights off all at once. 

Besides not wanting to scare the poor little things, it is better not to turn the lights off abruptly for safety reasons as well. Panicked chicks cannot see in the dark and will often huddle together wildly in order to try and feel safe. This may lead to weaker chicks being trampled under their brothers and sisters and even suffocated. 

Once they are older and more used to the brooder, it is safe to begin turning the brooder light off at night as long as you have an alternative heat source for the chicks.

But in this case, it is still best to turn off ambient lights around the brooder first for about ten to fifteen minutes before turning off the brooder lamp so that the transition to darkness is more gradual. 

Some Night Lights Help Keep Baby Chicks Warm

Along with providing much-needed light for baby chickens to see their way around an unfamiliar brooder, in many cases, a brooder’s heat lamp also acts as its source of light. In this case, the heat lamp over the brooder should definitely not be shut off at night, as this will remove the chicks’ only source of heat. 

Because they don’t have feathers for the first few weeks of life, baby chickens are not easily able to regulate their body temperature. Newly hatched chicks depend on a constant heat source from a lamp if they aren’t kept with a mother hen. Signs of hypothermia in a baby chicken include the following:

  • Legs that are cold to the touch
  • Legs that are puffy or swollen
  • Lethargy/inactivity
  • Loss of appetite
  • High-pitched distress cheeping

Turning off the lamp over your brooder at night can lead to your chicks becoming chilled and possibly dying. Baby chickens are biologically designed to have their heat regulated by their mothers’ protective down, and without this body heat, they will quickly turn hypothermic. 

A cold chick cannot digest food properly and will be too weak to seek out water. A chick weakened by cold is also more likely to be trampled and killed by other chicks, because it will not have the strength to move out of their way. 

Dangers of Chicks Getting Cold

Besides becoming hypothermic and dying, even if chicks survive becoming too cold by being reintroduced to heat before death, this bout of hypothermia will often stunt their growth and development. Chicks that become cold end up with suppressed immune systems and can often fail to thrive, more likely to be taken down by illness days or weeks after being chilled. 

When an entire group of chicks is too cold, they will huddle up together instinctively to try and share warmth. This can lead to weaker, smaller chicks being trampled underfoot by their larger, more aggressive siblings. 

These weaker chicks can either become suffocated by their siblings and die or sustain life-threatening injuries, such as broken legs. Once a chicken has broken a limb, it is often very difficult for the baby chick to survive the injury. 

For this reason, it is vital that if you are using a heat lamp as your source of light in a baby chicken brooding pen, this light should stay on 24 hours a day up until the point that the chicks are feathered out and ready to be introduced to the coop outdoors. 

Red Light vs. White Light

This brooder is using a red light.

When deciding to choose a light source for baby chickens, most people tend to choose between white light lamps and red light infrared lamps. 

Red lamps are usually recommended for baby chickens over white light, as 24 hours of bright white light can be stressful for chicks and can lead to pecking behaviors and other negative issues, while red lamps are calming and deter chicks from pecking each other. 

Chickens do not perceive red light as daylight, which allows them to sleep through the night undisturbed.

The reason red light deters pecking is that chickens are attracted to peck red, which can lead to them ganging up on and pecking a chick with a small wound. This pecking can also begin as a result of a bit of red umbilical cord hanging from the chick’s vent. 

Under red lighting, any blood on a chick is camouflaged and will not attract its siblings to attack it, so everyone in the brooder is able to sleep a little easier. 

Baby Chickens Need Heat for 4-6 Weeks

One of the reasons baby chickens need light at night is because the light on most brooder pens also acts as its heat source. Up until the age of at least four weeks, baby chicks need a constant source of supplemental heat if they are not being kept with their mothers. 

Once a baby chicken finishes getting all of its true feathers around four weeks of age, if the weather is cooperative, it is usually safe to take the chicks off heat at this point. In fact, if kept on supplemental heat once they have true feathers, many chicks may then begin to overheat. 

Overheating and excessively bright light can cause stress and behavioral problems such as pecking and cannibalism, so it is important to strike a good balance between enough heat and too much light with your chicks. 

Monitoring the Behavior of Baby Chickens in the Brooder

While it is important for baby chicks to have heat and light for several weeks while they’re growing up, it is also important to make sure that there is not too much heat, or too much light

Monitor your chicks for signs of the following behavior in order to strike a good balance:

  • If chicks are huddled up in one area of the brooder near the heat source, they may be too cold. Check the temperature on your heat lamp and adjust its distance from the brooder pen if necessary.
  • If chicks are huddled up in one area away from the heat source, they may be getting too hot and moving away from the heat lamp in order to escape it. Check your heat lamp to make sure the temperature is optimal for your chicks and adjust if necessary. 
  • Chicks that are too hot will often pant or splay their wings to try and cool off, though seeing baby chickens laid out in the bottom of the brooder is no cause for alarm on its own – many chicks will happily sleep this way.
  • Happy chicks will be spread throughout the brooder, moving towards and away from the source of heat and light as they need to in order to make themselves comfortable. 

In order for chicks to be happiest, the best option is to keep your heat and light source on one side of the brooder and offer an area of shelter on the opposite side. This will allow chicks to move freely between both areas, able to choose between warmth and shade. 

Another good idea is to find some way to monitor the temperature of the brooder pen. Optical temperature guns are a good option for this since you can simply aim the gun into the interior of the brooder pen and get a digital reading of the ambient air inside.  

Lights for Baby Chicken Brooders

There are many different kinds of light sources available for brooder pens, such as the following:

  • Metal halogen heat lamps
  • Infrared heat lamps
  • Radiant heat lamps

Metal halogen heat lamps are probably the least advisable option for a heat and light source over baby chicks. These lights get very hot, and it is difficult to regulate the strength of the heat they put out. This can lead to chicks quickly becoming overheated. Metal heat lamps also pose a significant fire risk. 

Infrared heat lamps are a better option since they put out a soothing red light and tend to not get as hot as halogen light fixtures do. The recommended wattage for an infrared heat lamp suspended above a brooder pen is 250 watts. 

Perhaps the best option available for chick brooders is radiant lamps, such as the Brinsea Ecoglow. Not only do these lamps provide heat at a level that is fire-safe, they also hold the heat a few inches above the brooder floor, allowing chicks to snuggle up underneath them for maximum comfort. 

These radiant lamps do a double service – along with providing a steady 96 degree (fahrenheit) temperature for chicks, the design of these lamps mimics the underside a broody hen and makes the chicks feel more secure. Because these lamps are cool enough to touch without being burned, they are also safe for close contact with delicate chicks. 

Lights for Outdoor Coops

Once baby chickens move outdoors, the next thing on the agenda is to train them to go up in the coop at night. Young chickens that stay out of the coop at night are much more likely to be picked off by predators or become hypothermic without their coop-mates to help keep them warm, especially in cool spring temperatures or rainy weather. 

Ideally, baby chickens should be locked up in the coop for at least a week after introducing them to the outdoors so that they associate the coop with their roosting area and are familiar with its layout. 

After that, it can be beneficial to put a night light in the coop on a timer that has the light come on at dusk. Chickens are attracted to light and will gravitate towards it naturally.

Timed lights can help teach chickens that they need to return to the coop at twilight. 

This is especially important training for chickens that are being trained for a coop with an automatic door, as any chicken that does not return to the coop at dusk will risk being locked out for the night. In rural areas with predators, this can often lead to missing, injured, or killed chickens.

A Night Light is Vital for Baby Chickens

Raising baby chickens is not always easy, but if you get set up properly with a good heat lamp and light source from the beginning, you can usually avoid a lot of the stress that comes with stressed, frightened, and chilled chicks. 

It is important to keep a source of light for your baby chickens, especially if you are brooding them indoors without a mother to take care of them. Baby chicks in this situation need all the warmth and comfort they can get. 

April

April has owned and worked with domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guineas since 1998. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA where she studied genetics, nutrition and reproduction.

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