About a week ago I picked up some chicks at the local feed store. They looked to be about a week old. I grabbed the usual brooder lamp and 250 watt bulb and came home.
After setting them up to brood and putting the light on we discovered a problem. Our battery system is not working very well. During the day we have more than enough power coming in with the solar array, but once the sun drops below the horizon then we're on batteries.
Now three deep cycle batteries at 115 amp hours each is SUPPOSED to provide us roughly 2080 watt hours of usage before the batteries are drained to 50% and our inverter shuts off. However running a 250 watt bulb for 3 hours shuts down the power system with the batteries falling below the critical threshold.
As best I can figure, we damaged these batteries early on in the process when we were still using them in the RV and charging them with the generator. So new batteries have been budgeted for and we're stepping up the storage side of the system.
But back to the chicks ... we can't put a light on them all night long when it's coldest.
The first night or two I set an alarm and went out and ran the generator to recharge the batteries for them. Clearly that wasn't going to work. So finally we dropped down to a 60 watt bulb and they survived that, but it STILL drains the batteries in about 3-4 hours. There's a real problem there.
So I asked myself ... how did they do it in the old days? I think the preferable method would be for a mother hen to raise her own dang babies, but without that available to them, how did the off-grid pioneers do it?
Luckily I had the all-knowing internet at my disposal. A quick search indicated that many other people have overcame this obstacle.
We heated two milk jugs full of near-boiling water and then covered them with towels, placing them in the brooder box with the babies. Around midnight or so the light will cut off but the bottles emit heat until early morning (around 7am we're waking up now). The baby chicks burrow up under the towel to snuggle with the jug like it's a momma hen. So far after a little over a week, our chicks are all still alive.
The temperature dropped back down from the high 60's last night to about 51 degrees F, but the chicks still survived next to their jug-o-warmth. They're feathering out nicely and I suspect it's just going to be easier and easier from here on out.
So there's your off-grid solution to raising chicks ... tried and tested.