Keeping the cold out, or how to make “Chickencicles”

Hey! It's cold out here!

Hey! It’s cold out here!

You wake up to frost on your bedroom window. It’s 6AM and you need to be on the road by 7 to get to work, so you get up and start your day. You shiver your way to the coop, the fallen leaves crunching frostily under foot. The girls are puffed up and huddling together in the coop this brisk cold morning. You go to top off their feeder and check the water. Frozen! You scrounge around for the makings of your daily omelet and find several eggs, but they’re all split and swollen. Frozen!

Now you have to rethink your breakfast and figure out how to get unfrozen water to the girls before going to work. You only have one water dispenser, so you bring it inside to defrost. It’s 6:45AM now, you need to be on the road shortly, but the waterer is still a solid frozen block! You toss it in the kitchen sink and crank up the hot water. It still takes longer than you hoped, but now you have a defrosted waterer at last! You fill it up and start walking back to the coop, then you realize you’re colder than before… that would be because the jug you just filled is leaking all over your clean work pants. Damn! Now you don’t have a waterer, you need to change again, you still haven’t made breakfast and now you have 5 minutes to get into your frozen car and drive to work! Not fun.

Don’t let this be the start to your day!

Cold weather can creep up on us, especially up here in New England. Here are a few basic preparations we can take to remedy the issue. Follow along as I show you my winterizing check list. Follow these basics and you can say good bye to frozen eggs and broken water dispensers. You can thank me later.

The check-list:

Stop drafts: Your birds perch and fluff their feathers to create a fragile barrier of hot air. This hot air barrier is caught between the skin and the outer layer of feathers and is rather effective at keeping birds warm, but it’s a very fragile barrier. If there is a breeze to ruffle your bird’s feathers, the hot air escapes and the bird chills. Sick or dead birds will ensue in cold weather. Open windows, doorway gaps and random holes throughout the coop will allow a breeze through your coop, so close windows and seal gaps either with spray foam or any other remedy available.

plastic sheeting like this come in real handy.

plastic sheeting like this come in real handy.

Reduce Ventilation: Notice I said reduce, not eliminate! You still want fresh air to come in and old, stale and wet air to escape, but you don’t want all of your heat to escape! Close down vents or windows to reduce heat loss. In my brooder barn (you can read about that HERE), my sole ventilation is the 4 big windows on either side of the barn. I now use plexiglass inserts to close them up in the winter, but before I had them fancy inserts I used the thickest plastic painter’s drop cloth I could find. It’s a translucent plastic sheeting you can find at any box store or your local hardware shop. Just staple it to your window openings, screen doors and vents. If you need a little more air, just peel a corner open.

250w heat bulbs are very common. Be sure to use a brooder lamp rated for 250w

250w heat bulbs are very common. Be sure to use a brooder lamp rated for 250w

Add heat: This may be more complicated for some people. If you have electricity to your coop then a light bulb may be enough. If you need a bit more than a 40w or 60w light bulb to keep it warm, then grab an infra-red 250w brooder lamp (available at any feed store). Be sure to use a lamp that is rated for 250w. Using a lamp that can’t handle the wattage can cause a fire. No electricity? Then consider a propane-fed infranconic heater. I use an L.B. White infranconic heater and I love it! I’ll be talking about this and various other heat sources in a separate article. If you insulate your coop, you should only need this during the coldest of weather.

A note about combustion: Ever hear of the combustion triad? There are three things that need to exist to ignite a fire. Heat, Fuel and Air… Air and Fuel are in plentiful supply in a chicken coop, so adding heat can complete that triad. Be cautious about how much heat you use, where you install it and it’s proximity to anything that may go boom…. Ie: a gas can or propane tank. Just be cognizant of the potential danger.

Waterers: Sometimes things break, your heat source included. Be prepared and have a backup in case you do find your waterer frozen solid. If you’re a smart cookie, you took my advice and built a nipple bucket for your coop. For those of you with one of those, look for a bucket heater like the farm innovator’s bucket de-icer. There are also heater bases and self-heated waterers, but they are trough-style dispensers. If you wan to know why I don’t like them, read my nipple bucket article here.

So if you reduce your drafts, limit your heat loss, add a heat source and use a water defroster then you should be all set for winter! This is what I do and it has worked well for many years. Is this an exhaustive list? Hardly. Want to add to it? If so, start below in the comments! This is what I do and it should work for you, but I’m interested to hear what other tricks you have up your sleeve.

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