Safe Use of Heat Lamps and Barn Monitoring System

Jason Hartschuh, Dairy Management and Precision Livestock, Field Specialist

During the winter lambing and kidding seasons, ensuring that lambs and kids get up and dry as fast as possible is critical for survivability and thus operation success. As producers, we can assist with this process by providing a warm area by offering supplemental heat and reducing barn draft while the young are still wet. For many operations, a heating system is part of their lamb and kid survival strategy with the lower critical temperature for lambs and kids being 50°F. Below this temperature lambs and kids are chilled and either need additional energy or supplemental heat. Unfortunately, heating systems add risk to our livestock barns. Any system has at least a minimal increase in fire risk. Especially the most common way of adding heat with heat lamps over deep bedded straw.

When using heat lamps there are some best management practices to keep in mind.

  • Always make sure heat lamps are secured with non-flammable hangers. The best option is to use chains and a locking chain connector to make it very hard for the heat lamp to fall into the straw. Heat lamps should be secured like they are permanent.
  • Purchase high-quality heat lamps and thick glass bulbs. While this may increase your costs, heat lamps like the ones made by Premier are designed to withstand a fall and lay in the pen without starting a fire and not allow the glass to fall into the pen if a bulb breaks.
  • Heat lamps should plug directly into an outlet and not utilize extension cords.
    • Outlet receptacles should be both Ground Fault, GFCI and Arc-Fault, AFCI. An arc fault is an unintended arc created by a current flowing through an unplanned path that could create a fire such as a heat lamp sparking when knocked into the pen. Ground fault trips when there is a sudden change in the amount of current going out versus coming back. These two, together help with fire prevention from a spark and electrocution if an animal happens to chew on the wire.
  • An older option is to use to single fuse outlets with a low amperage fuse. Your fuse or breaker box is sized based on the wire used not the individual outlet load. To size, an individual heat lamp fuse use the following calculation: rated watts/volts equals amps (i.e., A 250-watt heat bulb/120v uses 2.08 amps). This is no longer considered the best defense; instead GFCI plus AFCI is a much better option.
  • Have a fire extinguisher at each entrance to your barn so that if there is a fire you stand a chance to extinguish it if you are near the barn.
  • Invest in a barn temperature or fire monitoring system.

While most commercial buildings have automated fire alarm systems, our livestock barns which often have a greater risk of fire do not. Barns are often not connected to a phone line or internet and the dust and ammonia gases in barns can create challenges for conventional fire alerting systems. Between cellular network internet access and the ability to create an internet network from your home to the barn fire monitoring is now available. Conventional fire monitoring systems using smoke detection do not work well, but linear heat detection systems that use a wire throughout the barn to sense a temperature rise can work well and be connected to a system that automatically calls the fire department.

Another option is barn monitoring systems that would call you, and then you investigate and call the fire department if needed. Many of these systems now use the internet and once you have internet for them you can also install cameras to monitor your animals. Multiple companies offer barn monitoring systems that allow you to monitor multiple barn zones. Multiple temperature sensors should be placed throughout the area you use heat lamps in so a temperature rise can rapidly be detected. While these systems are better than nothing, they do require the fire to have progressed to the point of raising the barn temperature which is a more advanced fire than a smoke detection system. Systems alert producers based on user inputs such as a maximum temperature and a rate of rise in temperature, when temperature increases at an alarming unnatural rate. Most of these systems are designed for poultry and swine producers but can be used by any producer to monitor temperature, water usage, and humidity. They also collect data that allows for better barn ventilation management. Help producers protect their livestock investment from fire and disease.