Saturday, November 12, 2011
Chickens need a little extra care to survive cold weather. Their coop needs to be waterproof but still provide some ventilation. A heat lamp will help keep them warm, and can increase their egg production. As always, they need good food and fresh water, and the water needs to be kept from freezing.
We have a small chicken coop, about 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet tall. There’s a hole in the floor just big enough for a chicken to access the ramp that leads down into the enclosed area under the coop and the attached chicken run. There is a wire covered vent near the roof on the side opposite the hole in the floor. During the night, the hole is covered with a heavy piece of wood to keep out predators and also to help the hens stay warm. Pine shavings cover the floor and line the nest (the plastic basket to the left of the door).
During the colder months, we add a little warmth to the hen house with two heat lamps placed inside the coop just below the roof. These are plugged into an inexpensive thermostat that plugs into the heavy duty power cord carrying electricity from the house. When the temperature drops to 38 F, the lamps come on. When the temperature reaches 50 F, the lamps shut off.
This heat also keeps their water from freezing. They always have access to the coop, so we never have to move their water outside. Another way to handle keeping the water from freezing is to use a heated base. This is a good option for larger flocks with outside water during the winter.
In addition to keeping the chickens comfortable, we have found that egg production increases when we’re using the heat lamps. This is partly because when chickens don’t have to use up so much energy to keep warm, they have more energy available for egg production. The other reason the lamps increase egg production is that chickens lay eggs according to how much light they get. Without supplemental light, their egg production slows or stops during the fall and winter and resumes as the days get longer. The added light they receive from the heat lamps has the same effect as having longer days.
Also, we give our chickens some cracked corn when it's especially cold. This is in addition to the chicken feed that they always have access to. The cracked corn helps them produce a little extra body heat to keep them warm.
This is our third flock of chickens and our third coop. It’s a small, simple set-up that’s easy to manage in our average sized backyard. With just a little extra attention, our hens over-winter nicely and provide us with a nearly year-round egg supply.
We've kept backyard chickens for several years and find them to be less trouble (and certainly quieter) than any dogs we've had. Even with a bit of extra time and effort to keep them well during the winter, we enjoy having these funny birds and appreciate having fresh homegrown eggs.
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