Wandering Cherry Meadow

A 3 Acre Homestead Renovation Project

Mama Heating Pad Brooder – Brooding Chicks Without A Heating Lamp

Aussie and Blue heating in to nap under mama heating pad.

My first year of raising chicks, I naturally didn’t have a broody hen to take care of raising chicks. Instead, I raised them indoors. Since it’s almost chick days at the local feed store, I thought I’d share what I did for their heating needs instead of using a heat lamp.

My original brooder box set up in an old water heater box.

After reading a number horror stories about heat lamp fires, heat lamps falling and killing the chicks, seeing the chicks trample each other under the heat lamps in feed stores, and hearing them chirp relentlessly since they didn’t have darkness to sleep comfortably, I decided I wanted to see if there was something else I could do. After searching around backyard chickens, I heard of something called an ecoglow brooder from brinsea.  It seemed like a great product that used radiant heat to warm up chicks hiding underneath like they would their mamas, but it was so expensive for such a small one!  I would likely need the $150 version for my chicks since I had 9 chickens and 4 ducks at the time, not to mention later when I needed to swap to another heating method for the ducks when their trampling ways became a problem I would have suffered the expense again.

So I decided I needed an alternative.  After searching the net, I eventually heard rumblings of people who used heating pads as brooders.  It seemed fairly simple.  People found a heating pad worked really well as long as it didn’t have the auto off function.  I personally purchased this sunbeam extra large heating pad because it was 1 ft x 2ft, making it plenty large to brood my chicks, it was under $20, and it didn’t have an auto-off function.  It also worked well using the highest setting for the first week, then medium.  On top of that, during the winter when my chicks were chickens, I used the same heating pad to help keep my water unfrozen when weather was under 20 degrees F in my barn.

Chicks run around until cold, then go under mama heating pad!

Making the brooder was quite easy.

  1. Cover the heating pad with either a puppy piddle pad or an old towel you don’t mind bleaching rigorously
  2. Make a cave shape using a solid material that will allow the chicks to feel the heat still (I used hardware cloth scraps, but I’ve seen other people using fencing left overs as well – the important thing is it needs to be stable enough to stand up even with some chicks sleeping on top of it)
  3. Make sure sharp edges are dulled or cover sharp edges with electrical tape or something similar
  4. Tuck the towel edges down so that chickens can have darkness like being under a hen when sleeping below
  5. Make sure cave has two exits for younger birds in case fatty birds take up all the space

Hardware cloth worked well to adjust the shape of the brooder as the chicks grew so it could be taller.  Since I raised bantams with fatty dual purpose birds, I was also able to keep the back of the brooder lower than the front like a cave so smaller birds could go further back for heat.  One thing I learned was to make sure none of the edges are against a wall.  Chicks leaping out wasn’t so much an issue was the fact sometimes they’d pile up and one would slide into a weird spot against the wall.  There were no casualties, but it freaked me out enough that I made sure it wasn’t an option in the future.

Hardware cloth frame with electrical tape over edges covered by heating pad then towel.

Sturdy enough for chicks to sleep on top while others sleep underneath.

Exits on both sides in case fatty ducks are blocking the way!


Large pad size makes the shape changeable as the chicks grow.


Brooder moved outside when the chicks did, though they mainly just huddled together on the floor to sleep until they learned about roosts.

I hope this helps anyone looking into using a method other than a heating lamp for brooding their chicks in the upcoming months!  Please let me know if anyone has any questions about it, since I was really glad this is how I chose to brood my chicks.  It was inexpensive, allowed chicks to have a fairly normal sleep pattern and to get away from heat when they didn’t need it on their own, and transitioned easily with them as they grew.  I definitely recommend it to anyone who would consider brooding chicks.


  1. How many chicks max can warm under the cave at the same time?

    • I had 16 chicks under the XL heating pad cave throughout, though honestly once they got to about 3 weeks old they preferred cuddling on top of it at night. They had room for more, but this number was able to get out of the cave without trampling each other through both exits.

  2. I would love to do this. What was the air temp in your home in the early weeks of using this method? Our home is kind of chilly because we heat only with a wood stove, so air temp is usually high 60s. Two years ago we used a heat lamp but I’d rather do this if it will provide enough warmth.

    • It should be fine then. Honestly, I had a friend use this method in the dead of winter in her coop when a hen was stealth brooding and ended up hatching an egg then decided she was only interested in taking care of her chick during the day and wanted to roost at night. So she set up mama heating pad inside a cardboard box in the coop where it was about 25 degrees F at night and 35 during the day. Little guy slept there at night, then hung out with mama during the day. In my house, it was about mid 60s, and in my garage it was about 40-50, and it resulted in 100% survival rate for all the chicks every time. I strongly recommend it. No worry about over or under heating, and no protesting chickens at night about the light being on!

  3. Very nice article! Thanks so much. I tried to do this at home, and the chicks used it one night with no problems. Then we had to graduate to a bigger box, and now they won’t use it! Silly birds. Ha

    • Ahaha, do they sleep on top of it all huddled together? My brood usually thinks it’s time to snuggle their mama brooder from the outside a few weeks in instead of under unless it’s very cold out! Silly birds!

  4. do you leave it on 24/7? has it ever caught on fire?

    • Definitely leave it on 24/7! The chicks go under it when they’re cold. It’s less of a fire risk than a lamp due to the lower temperature. Right next to it, the warmest I’ve measured right next to the heating pad is 95 degrees, well below fire risk temperatures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *