Many back yard flocks rely on electric devices such as brooder lamps to keep birds warm, but for those of us without power to our coop, we have options. There are many devices that operate without electricity, however that means utilizing some sort of fuel. Regardless of appliance, all combustion (fire) produces Carbon Monoxide, AKA: “The Silent Killer”. There are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of CO poisoning;
Ventilate the area. Combustion consumes fuel and oxygen, so there needs to be a flow of outside air coming in. Since we are trying to heat the coop we want to close up the drafts, but a coop that is sealed too well will become a gas chamber.
Detectors can save lives, be it yours or your birds. Buy a battery operated CO alarm for your coop. Be sure to distance it from the heat source to prevent melting the detector and out of pecking distance.
Catalytic heaters are known for producing very little CO. These units are popular in the RV world, and some are wall mountable. These do consume oxygen, so you still need fresh air coming in. One downfall of these heaters is that the catalyst “poisons” easily, becoming fouled by dust and dander. When the catalyst fails, the heater will produce just as much CO as any other heater. Beware of tipping hazards with these, they can start a fire if knocked over. If interested, I would suggest looking into a Camco Olympian Wave or a Mr. Heater’s “Buddy” series, both of which can be plumbed to use regular sized propane tanks.
Vented heaters are a great solution, but require installation and will likely cost more than you’re willing to pay. A vented heater puts the CO outside your coop.
Most professional farmers use a suspended gas brooder to provide heat in their barns. I use an L.B.White brand suspended propane brooder in my chick barn and I love it! If you would like to try a suspended brooder, try the Space-Ray® which is very similar to the L.B.White but about half the cost. These are convenient and efficient, but are not catalytic heaters.
Other dangers of fuel fed heaters are, well, the fuel it’s self. Kerosene, gasoline and diesel will ignite, but natural gas and propane goes boom, so handle accordingly. Consult a professional if you need a gas line installed or special hoses made, but pre-made hoses and regulators are available at your hardware store or local Tractor Supply Co.
When used safely and properly, propane can add heat to an otherwise inaccessible coop while being reasonably convenient. I did not touch on liquid fuels much here, because they introduce more hazards than I’m willing to contend with. Unless you’re really stuck, I would suggest avoiding liquid fuelled heaters.