It seems like almost every day there is another chicken coop fire in the news. With good intentions, people try to provide heat for their chickens during winter but so often these good intentions lead to disaster. While there are benefits to adding a heat source, such as keeping water from freezing, there is one huge reason to avoid it, and that reason is fire. Sure, having supplemental lighting will help raise egg production. Having a heat source will save you countless trips back and forth to the coop toting water during freezing temperatures. The convenience and benefits of coop heating are definitely there, but in addition to those pros come cons.
While fire is the most obvious reason not to heat a coop, there are others. For example, if your coop is heated, your chickens will come to rely on that heat. In the middle of the night when freezing temperatures are present, what if the power goes out? A loss in power will put an immediate end to the source of heat in a coop, allowing the cold to seep in and take over. Chickens are not equipped to cope with a sudden, dramatic change in temperature as the numbers on the thermometer plunge downward. This could result in the decimation of an entire flock in one night without you even realizing what happened. After all, if we are sleeping snug under blankets in our homes, the chill will be less obvious to us and that power outage could go unnoticed by you unless flashing appliance clocks greet you in the morning.
Something to remember is just how flammable a chicken coop\'s contents can be. Dried bedding, insulation, and even feathers will ignite and burn with ease. Having them in close proximity to a heat lamp could be all it takes for a fire to start. Even if you have a raised heat lamp there is no guarantee of safety; heat lamps have clamps that could break or work loose in addition to several other failure points.
If you must heat your coop, the means by which it is done needs to change. Traditional heat sources are not working and chickens are dying as a result. Using items with thermal mass (absorption of heat for later release, such as an earthen floor and large watering containers) will help as will providing extra straw and bedding for warmth. If that is still not enough in your particular situation, having a professional install a heat source may be in your best interests. An alternative to even that is radiant heat.
Radiant heat works by passing through air without warming it, instead warming only solid objects. An example of radiant heat is sunlight; the heat energy it emits warms people, animals, and other objects rather than directly warming the air itself. Radiant heat is becoming popular as a replacement for traditional, convection heating, both inside homes and outside of them as well, such as in the case of chicken coops.
To adopt using radiant heat for your chicken coop, you can do so with a radiant heat mat. Just be sure that what you purchase is intended for use specifically where you need it. If what you need is heat for chicks, there are radiant systems available for that purpose as well. If you have any doubts about the safety of radiant heat, know that it was recently endorsed by the Wheat Ridge Fire Protection District.
Another advantage of radiant heat is that it is low in wattage. A radiant heat mat designed for chicken coops can actually run on less energy than a household light bulb. As winter draws to a slow but steady close, having a source of heat in your coop may become less of an issue on your radar. However, next winter will be here before you know it, bringing the cold right back to the forefront of our minds, and there is no time like the present to prepare for what\'s coming.