Fires on the farm can be a very real and frightening possibility that can leave assets destroyed and livestock hurt. Many fires can be prevented by using some common safety measures and knowing the risks of using equipment that is especially hazardous when used improperly.
An ounce of fire prevention will be worth a pound of cure in the long run!
Common Fire Hazards for the Chicken Coop
1. Heat Lamps
I know more than one person who has lost their entire flock and coop in devastating coop fires due to unsafe heat lamps.
Chickens can get rowdy and knock lamps down, clamps can come loose, and lamps can be placed too close to flammable objects such as bedding.
2. Extension Cords
The unsafe use of extension cords can be very dangerous. Overloading a cord or leaving cords exposed to the elements especially at connection points is a recipe for disaster.
3. Flammable Bedding
We have an excellent fire starter fodder at the bottom of almost every chicken coop. Straw and pine shavings are both excellent bedding options but they are also highly flammable and it is essential to manage them responsibly to minimize the hazard.
4. Heated Waterers
Heated waterers are excellent tools during the winter and will save a lot of time for the farmer weary of breaking ice every single frigid morning. However, any time when electricity is a factor, it can be a fire hazard, especially outdoors.
Wildfires are bigger issues in some areas than others, but nonetheless, a devastating event that can affect many and make one feel powerless when it comes to protecting their property. I’ve known many chicken keepers personally that have had to evacuate their farm with their farm animals in tow.
Rooftop sprinklers are well worth looking into if you live in an area prone to wildfires.
How to Prevent Fires in a Chicken Coop
1. Heat Lamp Safety
Chicks need a heat source until 6-10 weeks of age depending on the surrounding temperatures where they live. A common mistake made by owners is when they put heat lamps in the coop during the winter to keep the chickens warmer or boost light hours for egg production.
Your hens do not typically need extra warmth during winter, and if you live in a particularly cold climate (frequently below 0°F), there are safer heating options that we will explore later.
If you are providing a heat light for your hens to reach the recommended hours of light exposure for egg production, there are safer lights that can be purchased and put on a timer so light does not burn 24/7.
When using a heat lamp for your chicks, secure it and then double secure it. I often drive a nail into the mounting surface and put the light clamp over the nail. Even if the clamp slips a little bit, the nail will hold on to the clamp. You can also use something like paracord to double secure your light.
It’s a good idea to suspend your heat lamp outside of the brooder with wire cover over the brooder so the brooder is heated, but chicks can not bump the light around, as another way of fire prevention.
2. Heat Lamp Alternatives
With the fear of heat lamp induced fires, many chicken keepers including myself have switched to heating plates. Heating plates are a much safer alternative to heat lamps that chicks and their owners alike give a hearty stamp of approval to.
Heat plates are a bit more expensive than heat lamps, but they are built to last longer and you won’t have bulbs to replace. Most heat plates come with adjustable legs so you can raise the plate as your chicks grow. Heat plates are much more soothing to chicks because they stimulate the warmth of a mother hen rather than a light shining on them all the time.
3. Extension Cord Safety
Extension cords can become a fire hazard when they are used improperly. Always make sure the cord you are using is properly suited for the job and environment that your cords are in. Fire prevention plans include checking your extension cords. Since they are not meant to be permanent, keep a close eye on your cord to make sure it isn’t being worn through and exposing wires.
Unfortunately, there are few perfect alternatives to wood shavings and straw, but one possibility is sand. There are many debates on whether this is a healthy option or not and when it comes down to it, it’s a choice you’ll need to research and decide if it’s a fit for your flock.
Sand is not flammable, it drains well and is fairly inexpensive. However, there are downsides to this option. Bacteria can grow well in sand and it can get very hot or cold depending on the temperature around it.
5. Heated Waterer Safety
Heated waterers are fairly safe to use, most of them don’t even activate until they sense it’s below freezing. The biggest safety issue with these handy gadgets is making sure when you connect it to electricity, it is done safely. Don’t misuse extension cords or overload circuits and you should be in the clear.
6. Heated Waterer Alternatives
Heated waterers are generally pretty safe when used properly. However, if you live in a climate where you only get below freezing a few times a year, you may find that rubber buckets work well for fire prevention as they have zero fire risk. 3-gallon shallow rubber pans can be found at many feed stores and the ice can be stomped out easily.
7. Smoke Alarms
Since chicken coops are not always near the house and within earshot, you may want to consider installing a wireless smoke detector that notifies your phone when there is a fire. It can be an absolute lifesaver.
8. Coop Cameras
Coop cameras are convenient for more than just fire safety. Many people use them to monitor flock behavior, see who’s picking on who, who’s eating eggs, and even identifying mystery predators. Baby monitors are also used as an easy alternative.
9. Hoses and Fire Extinguishers
It’s an amazing idea to have a yard hydrant installed within a hose’s reach of the chicken coop. This will be an absolute lifesaver in the event of a fire. As an added bonus, no extra hauling water!
If you are unable to have a water source nearby, keeping a fire extinguisher near the chicken coop almost goes without saying.
What to do in the Event of Fire
1. Safety First
If you should experience the unthinkable and have a fire, your safety is always more important than animals. It is always best to call the fire department and let the professionals do their job. If it is possible to spray the fire from a safe distance with a hose, doing so may be beneficial, but never get close enough to endanger yourself.
2. Raise the Alarm
Notify your neighbors as well, in case the fire might spread. They need to have as much notice as possible to prepare their property. But call the fire department first. Secondly, do everything in your power to notify and warn any neighbors that could be affected.
3. Animal Safety
If your chickens are inside the coop or run, open up the doors if you can do so safely and let the chickens loose. Your birds will return at the sight of food, but they'll do best free where they can get away from the fire.
Never enter a burning building to get animals out.
4. Remove Hazardous Material
If you have flammable things such as gasoline or straw near your coop, remove them as quickly as possible to prevent the fire from spreading. Wetting down the area around the coop to prevent spread is also a good way to keep things under control until the fire department arrives.
Hopefully, you and your farm never have to deal with such horrifying events, but it can happen to anyone. Fire prevention helps you be prepared. Preventing fires with these simple fire prevention precautionary tips can go a long way in keeping your flock out of harm's way.