Recommended Brooding Temperatures

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Q: What is the proper brooding temperature for day-old chicks? I have seen such a variety of recommendations that I am confused. I have seen recommendations that range from 92 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit. What is the temperature range where they thrive the best?

A: It concerns me that anyone would recommend 92 degrees Fahrenheit as an acceptable brooding temperature for a day-old chick. Newly hatched chicks do not thrive well at temperatures this low. Low brooding temperatures such as these can cause slow passage of food and severely hinder normal development. Anyone who recommends temperatures lower that 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher than 98 degrees Fahrenheit is misinformed.

The temperature that we use with the greatest success during the first few critical days is 97 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a half degree lower than is recommended in the hand-feeding book. Chicks have their development and digestion slowed during any time intervals that the brooder allows the temperature to dip too low. Although this is not an ideal situation, the chick does recover and begins normal digestion and development as soon as the temperature climbs back up to the point where it should be.

This is not unlike what happens to a chick when the mother leaves the nest to forage for food. It must be remembered that this is something that she does not have to do very often when the chicks are only a few days old. If she has a good mate that feeds her, she will seldom leave the nest during these critical days.

My point is, even though brooding temperatures that continually drop below optimum levels are creating a negative situation, it is a stress that the chicks have evolved to withstand. Its negative effects on the chick are reversed as soon as the chick is warmed back to proper temperatures–as long as the cooling does not continue for extended periods of time.

Overheating on the other hand can be quite dangerous. Chicks have not evolved to cope with overheating and can suffer permanent ill effects or death. When brooding temperatures reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit and above, chicks suffer greatly. There is a general consensus among professional aviculturists that 99.1 to 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimum temperature range for the incubation of eggs. Incubation temperatures that are higher than this yield a higher percentage of chicks that die in the shell.

Most also agree that lowering the temperature by one half to one degree for hatching is also advantageous. Taking this information into account, it is easy to realize that brooding above incubation temperatures will cause a noticeable increase in chicks that die before hatching.

My reasoning for recommending 97 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to 97.5 or 98 degrees Fahrenheit is due to the temperature fluctuation in most brooders, as well as the inaccuracy of many thermometers. With the majority of the brooders in use today, it is not uncommon for a 98 degree setting to cause intermittent temperature “spikes” of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This is known as overshoot. It happens because the hot heating element continues to heat the air for a few moments after the thermostat has turned the power to it off.

Due to this, you must consider the temperature variable that the babies will endure at any specific setting. This is especially true when you consider that many of the best thermometers that are in use are only accurate to within one half of one degree. If you use a setting of 97 degrees Fahrenheit, and have good equipment, you should be able to have confidence that your brooding temperature will never slip below 95 or peak above 99 degrees Fahrenheit.