Lesson 718 – Saving chicks when the power goes out

Although we didn’t get massive amounts of snow, we did get a combination of rain + snow which made for very icy roads this morning. Hey, what’s a neighbor’s mailbox or two, right?

A reader who lives in the path of the storm asked me if I had any suggestions for keeping chicks warm if the electricity went out. She didn’t have a generator but she did have a nursery of very young birds.

The obvious solution was to keep the chicks in a box, insulated on the outside by blankets near a fireplace, except that I can see lots of problems with that –

The first is that she told me she’d have to move her dogs to another room in order to protect the chicks. That’s not a lot of fun for anyone, especially when you like the company of your dogs.

Second, chicks don’t need great amounts of heat, they need moderate heat and more importantly a heated area to go to if they get cold. By keeping a box of chicks near a fireplace, you are running the risk of overheating the babes with no place for them to cool down.

I started thinking of different non-electrical solutions. I continued thinking about this all day yesterday (modifying my approach) and this is the design I’ve come up with for:

Wendy’s-chick-warmer-for-when-the-power-goes-out

We had recently gotten two Kandle Heeters, which uses the heat of a candle along with the absorptive capabilities of clay and metal to heat an area. We’ve used these and they do throw off a fair amount of heat (we also learned that you need to use clean candles for the best results.) It’s a neat little device, but not something you can use around chicks due to the open flame.

But why not use a same basic idea for chicks? I went to the craft store and bought a clay pot (with a hole in the base) and a larger clay base.

I put a small candle in a glass (from the dollar store) on the base and then covered it with the pot. Great idea, right? Except that I forgot that the flame needs a constant supply of oxygen in order to burn.  It didn’t take long for the candle to go out.

So then I went into the kitchen and grabbed a metal trivet to put under the pot. It created space for air to enter and the top of the pot had the natural hole in it for air to escape. Good but still not great as the glass candle tended to slide on the metal trivet. A bit more rummaging in the drawer and I found a plastic jar opener that fit perfectly on the trivet and acted as a non-skid surface.

2013-03-07_14-51-28_560

I lit the candle and let it burn. After a few minutes, the clay started warming up. Not hot, but warm.

After about 30 minutes the top of the clay pot was hot, this little device was capturing quite a bit of the heat from the candle. This could definitely work.

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It may not be elegant, it may not be the most effective, but this is a cheap and easy way to save the life of your chicks if you find yourself without any electricity.

There are a few precautions here:

  • Whenever you have a flame near an animal that means *you* need to be near the animal. Nuff said.
  • Make sure your chicks have access to plenty of water, heat can be drying.
  • Because you are using a flame, make sure that there is ventilation in the nursery box. Don’t put a lid on top.
  • Monitor the heat of the clay and if it gets too warm adjust accordingly (you might have to take the candle out for a bit.) You can use a thermometer in the box, or you can just use the “mom” method – warm is okay, hot means a fever and you stay home from school.
  • Some candles, especially cheap ones, have a lot of perfume, try to avoid those around animals (and humans for that matter)

Please note that this is a short-term emergency heating device to be used as a way to save your chicks in the event that the power goes out. Do not use this technique on a regular basis, an electric heat lamp is the way to go.

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I write about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact me at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com

Also, join me on Facebook to find out more about the flock (children and chickens) and see some pretty funny chicken jokes, photos of tiny houses, and even  a recipe or two.

8 Comments

Filed under Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Chicks, Life Lessons, New Hampshire

8 responses to “Lesson 718 – Saving chicks when the power goes out

  1. Janet

    When this happened to me in the fall, I simply wrapped a hot water bottle with a chunk of fake fur and put it in the corner of the box. They all cuddled up to it and fell asleep. I think they liked it more than the heat lamp.

  2. How about using the “hand and foot” warmers inside a blanket or towel? They work for 8-10 hours, are sealed so no chemical gets out and only work when exposed to air? I have used them to keep my feet warm and the hand warmers in pockets. You can buy them at any outdoor store and I know Wal-mart carries them. They aren’t expensive and would get you through a power outage. I would absolutely recommend some sort of cover between chicks and warmers though…they get fairly hot and could possibly burn. Follow directions for humans with a bit of adapting and I think they would work.

  3. Cindy

    There’s also the 24-hr. candles available through some of the on-line catalogs to use during power outages that you might want to use that burn very slowly. They don’t have perfume. I can’t remember where I saw them but maybe the Vermont Country Store, or Duluth Trading Co. might have them on-line. There is also available a hot ‘water’ bottle that you heat in the microwave – there’s no water involved. That might also work. Just some thoughts . . . .

  4. maribeth

    I just use a string of Christmas lights under the pot. Works beautifully!

  5. the microwaveable hot water bottle and Christmas lights are good ideas if your warmer has gone out, but if your electricity is out, which is what this article is about, then they are useless. looking for natural ways to keep your chicks warm when you have no power.
    my idea would be to use something similar to those old bed warmers they used back in the day. wrap it with something thick and nonflammable so it doesn’t burn to the touch, but still radiates heat while maintaining its temp for a decent amount of time. or even rigging up something similar to a hot rock pit covered with a cinder block and something soft for bedding. to maintain it’s heat just add more rocks heated up in a fireplace as needed.

  6. Interesting article. This is one of the reasons we heat with two sources one that uses electricity and one that does not require it.

  7. I like a “Scentsy” type ceramic wax fragrance thing, just without the wax. A small 15w bulb is inside where the chickens can’t get to it, and you just put the lid on top. I used this last spring when I put my 5 week old chicks in the coop but it was still getting quite cold at night. Now I am in a colder climate with snow in the winter so plan to have a few of these in my new coop. There are quite inexpensive knockoffs at Walmart.

  8. Why, you clever lady. I love your “making do”.

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