Chickens Coop Care Health Issues

Heating the Chicken Coop

heating the chicken coop
Winter 2010

Chicken owners that live in cold climates often have to make some decisions when it comes to colder Fall and Winter weather.  One such dilemma is whether you should be heating the chicken coop.  We live on Cape Cod,  where we have windy winters and temperatures that occasionally dip below zero. The Cape is a man-made island surrounded entirely by the ocean. The ocean greatly affects our weather and causes us to experience small temperature fluctuations between day and night.  Snow fall varies from year to year.  Some years we have very light snowfall and others deliver a wallop of 2 feet or more.

One decision that people need to make just as important as personalities and egg color is weather hardiness.  I will never forget hearing that Martha Stewart one year wanted to add “exotic” chickens to her Connecticut flock.  She soon realized that they were not cold hardy.  They perished early their first Winter.  My Pet Chicken has a wonderful breed selector that includes cold hardiness here.  All of our eight chickens are cold hardy, including the Silkies.  Choosing the right type of chicken for your environment is a very important factor not to be overlooked.

Chickens are birds and not mammals. Their bodies, circulatory system, respiratory system, reproductive systems are different. Therefore, we can not assume that they interpret, adapt or react the same way as our mammal bodies do in the cold.
We do not heat our chicken coop.  Knowing that we do experience occasional power outages, we did not want our flock to become accustomed to an artificially warmed coop.  Tales of flocks perishing from lack of a heated coop after an extended power outage was just something that we did not want to encounter.

Here are some tips for you to consider to help keep your coop warm without an additional heat source:

1. Consider the size of your coop.  Smaller coops heat up more quickly from the heat produced by the chickens than larger ones.  Coop size and flock size should match.

2.  Insulate around your coop with bales of straw.

3.  Keep your flock away from drafts, yet allow for adequate ventilation (usually vents in the rafters).

4.  Provide a thicker layer of pine shavings in colder weather than you do in the Summer.  Introducing, straw on the floor of the coop can also be a welcomed addition.

5.  Provide your flock with warm treats and warm water throughout the day.

6.  Feed your flock scratch 1 hour before they retire for the night.  Chickens’ metabolism is higher in the Winter as they burn more fuel keeping warm.  A full tummy of scratch helps them to generate heat and an egg if they desire.

7.  Ensure that your chickens’ roosts are wide enough and their feet are completely covered by their bodies when perched.

8.  Allow for Winter’s sunshine to warm the coop by clearing away unnecessary trees and shrubbery.

9.  Repair areas of the coop that are vulnerable to water leaks.

10.  During the coldest evenings, apply Vaseline to the flock’s combs and wattles to prevent frostbite.

11. In areas with sub-zero temperatures, consider insulating the inside of your coop.

Unexpectedly, yesterday the Northeast experienced a strong storm, a Nor’easter, with strong winds and lots of snow.  Most of our trees on the Cape are still with leaves. Still warmer than the rest of the state due to the ocean, we were spared any snow.  However, over 600,000 homes in Massachusetts are without power and many received 2 feet of snow.  A Nor’easter this early in the season is rare.  This storm was a great reminder to me that I cannot rely on the power company to keep my flock out of harm’s way.

Here is a link to more tips on Winterizing your Coop and Flock. 

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

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