Gayle and I were absolutely breaking into a sweat over the onset of winter and the prospect of freezing temperatures endangering our hens: Buttercup, Holly, Broodie, and Harriet. Instead of sweating, we should have just chilled out, however. The girls are cool with winter weather.
We did a bunch of research online. Some folks put heat lamps and heated pads or even a heated perch in their chicken coops and seem to swear by them. Others, a great many others, assured online readers that chickens could take temperatures as low as 30 below zero. Then I read that heating up a coop could actually throw the girls’ biological rhythms off, like when they should be molting. After considering the fire hazards associated with trying to heat a coop, the anti-heating arguments finally swayed me over.
The girls taking a winter dirt bath. From left: Holly, Broodie (the boss hen), Buttercup, and Harriet.
So, what did I do to get my girls ready for the cold stuff? First, I made doggone sure that absolutely no wind or rain could inside their coop and run area. Probably a word of explanation is due here. My girls are out of their coop and run area all day long while they forage in our huge backyard. It’s close to an acre of land, making those hens essentially pasture raised. When they coop up at night, however, three of them–Broodie, Harriet, and Buttercup–don’t actually go into the coop, the wooden “apartment” that’s truly weatherproof. Oh, no! They jump onto a perch in the run to go to bed and use the wooden coop ONLY for egg laying and nesting. Holly, on the other hand, sleeps up in the apartment more often than not. Maybe she’s a little smarter than the other three. Once in a while, though, I’ll count four birds in a row on that perch in the run. Frustrating! Accordingly, my mandate was to weatherproof the run.
Setting about the task of making the run rain and windproof, I duct taped plastic sheets around all the areas open to the wind. Then I threw waterproof paint cloths (one side of which was plastic-lined) over the run to boot. Finally, just to make sure, I then put duct tap over every inch of the north-facing end of the run. I mean, I could squirt a fire hose at the north side, the side where Old Man Winter will really huff and puff, and those girls of mine would stay dry and out of the wind. Admittedly, it’s not insulated, but then again, it’s not heated anyway. (I do have some deep shavings and such at the bottom of the coop and run in the hope that it’ll all compost and generate a bit of heat, but I don’t expect much.) From all I’ve read, as long as they stay out of the wind and keep dry, they’re good to go as far as their shelter goes.
The girls’ winterized coop and run. The wooden coop is upstairs in back. I’ve had to winterize the run by using duct tape, plastic sheets, and a paint drop cloth with plastic on one side to keep out the wind and rain. It’s not pretty, but it all works just fine.
NOW, I’ve also changed up their diet in these colder times. I ran off to Tractor Supply and bought a big ol’ bag of cracked corn. It takes a lot of energy to digest it, and will, therefore, keep my girls warmer at night. I’m also giving them plenty of scratch (seeds and grains, including more corn in the mix) and even spinach. Both scratch and spinach generate that body heat, as well. Then just before bedtime, I show up and distribute another handful of corn and, for the coup de grace, mealworms! Those girls love their mealworms. I don’t know if mealworms generate heat or not, but I read on at least one site that they do. One way as the other, it’s a treat for my good little girls, eh?
So far, it has gotten down as low as 15°, and the girls act like it’s 70° or something. When I go outside to let them out into the yard, they’re gossiping and fussing with each other and generally having a high old time. Once I open the door and let them out, they skip right out and commence to forage and act like it’s just another day in the sun. Whatever doubts I had about not putting a heater into my tinderbox of a coop, the one with dry wood shavings everywhere, have been laid to rest. Just like my girls, I’m cool with winter now. We’re all just going to chill out.