After hatching and then raising thousands of chicks, one values anything that will decrease time, risk, and trouble invested in the process of bringing up the brood. Almost every fire associated with a chicken coop or brooder is caused by a red heat lamp. With the traditional heat lamp, one is risking a fire no matter how carefully the brooder is constructed, due to the incredibly high wattage of a standard 250W red heat bulb and the inherently difficult clamp lamp with its clumsy attachment. One could decrease the wattage required if the space to be heated was smaller or if breezes could be eliminated. However, the red bulbs are difficult to find in lower wattage, and endless white light can cause undesirable behaviors, such as feather-picking or other violence.
New options have become available lately to help brood chicks, to the great delight of hatching enthusiasts everywhere: radiant heater tables under which the chicks stand when cold.
A brief review of the Brinsea Eco-Glow 20 brooder heater can be found here. Brinsea also produces a larger size, the Eco-Glow 50.
A different option is now available for the same form of indirect radiant heat with the Sweeter Heater line of brooder heaters. The Infratherm comapany produces the Sweeter Heater radiant heat panels in 4 sizes, starting with the 11" x 11" at only 32 watts and .3 amps, and moving up to the massive 11" x 40" panel which still only uses a 3/5 of the power of a traditional heat bulb at 150 watts.
The Sweeter Heater ordered for this review arrived well packaged in just days, with mounting hardware for use either hanging or via the sides. The sealed white plastic shell is easy to clean with a wet cloth. I like to put contact paper on the top of it because chicks learn to jump atop right away, and this leads to...deposits.
This heater is warmer underneath than the previously reviewed Brinsea, so clearance should be allowed for the chicks to avoid touching the surface. This panel can be mounted at an asymmetrical tilt using the enclosed chain and hooks so that smaller chicks can self-regulate by heading for the end closer to their height.
If possible, 24-48 hours of heated use should be allowed prior to actually exposing chicks to the new panel, as off-gassing is experienced when the brand-new unit is first plugged in. While this doesn't appear to be dangerous, the smell of the newly heated plastic isn't pleasant and should be avoided. This panel is very versatile and provides ample heat for chicks to dictate their own comfort.
If transitioning to a radiant heat panel like this with chicks that are already accustomed to a heat lamp, the chicks may require a few days to learn that heat isn't associated with light in this unit. Also, expect panicked peeping as the sun goes down, because they'll need to adjust to a natural light cycle between day and night. Ignore them despite the shrieks- they will get over it, I promise.
The savings enjoyed by using a brooder heat panel is immediately noticeable, as there is significantly less power expended over the course of each brood. Most breeders will use heat for at least 8 weeks with each batch of chicks, and the difference in 250 watts for 8 weeks and 32 watts during the same time can be as much as $75-100.
Overall, the safety of the Sweeter Heater vesus a conventional heat lamp is plenty of motivation for moving to this or a similar brooder heat panel. The electrical cost savings of a single use of this heater pays for the heater, and every use thereafter is just a bonus!
I recommend this unit, and prefer the 11" x 11" model, as I like to hatch 25+ chicks at a time.