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It's cold tonight!

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

I am a veteran chicken owner and I've long believed in the virtues of not heating the coop. I've read all the threads before, and feel pretty knowledgeable about chicken care in cold weather but I'm having some very specific trouble today so I thought I'd come for some advice. This isn't the usual "should I heat my coop or not" question!

 

I have 5 barred rocks and live in Portland, Oregon, where it rains a lot but rarely freezes. I have an excellent coop that was built by someone who took every possible detail into account for our climate, IMO. It has a raised, enclosed roosting area, with a 2x4 for a roost and a sliding door that can be left open during normal weather but shut tight during freezes. It is a completely enclosed box with good sized ventilation holes near the ceiling. There is a tiny bit of air leak at the nesting box door, but it is seriously a very thin crack. There is no waterer inside the roosting area. I normally feel pretty secure in my coop's ability to fend off the cold but let out moisture so that my chickens' body heat can do its job in keeping them warm.

 

One of my hens, Bluetta, was adopted as an adult and has always been an outcast and picked on by the others. She also molted late this year, so she's not very well feathered right now. This morning when I went to check on the ladies after a very cold past 2 nights, I noticed that she had a tiny bit of frostbite on her; just a bit of a black spot at the tip of one of the peaks on her comb. Not too surprising due to her lack of feather cover and the fact that she probably does't get much cuddling on the roost. But I did everything I had time to do this morning to keep the hens warm and comfortable. I kept their waterer filled with warm-ish water a few times during the day to help them stay hydrated and warm up and kept them inside their coop today just because the winter wind has been blowing the door shut and I didn't want them separated from the feeder and waterer. By nighttime, when I went to go check on them, the outcast hen's comb had worsened, which I did not expect, and was now bleeding slightly. So instead of just putting vaseline on her comb and refilling their nesting area with nice, clean, deep shavings, I brought her in and put her in a cage in the garage. 

 

Now I'm worried about the rest of them out there tonight. Normally I don't worry, but normally my hens don't get frostbite in freezing temps and normally it doesn't get down to 21 degrees F. I know that to a chicken keeper in Buffalo or Alaska or Minnesota, 21 is nothing, and your stories do calm me down when I start to worry, but I feel like the fact that I have one hen with frostbite already is cause for concern for the others tonight. I was able to put vaseline on two hens' combs and wattles tonight, but couldn't reach the other two.

 

I'm also worried that Bluetta's reintroduction to the flock is going to be troublesome, since her relationship with the other ladies already wasn't good.

 

Oh, and to make matters worse, we've got an extended cold spell until Monday but I leave town on Saturday and my roommate is not exactly the type of person who's going to feel comfortable catching chickens to coat their combs and wattles with vaseline!

 

Can I get some advice from the BYCers on any of these topics? Should I do anything else for the ladies in the coop before I go to bed? What can I do for the outcast hen? Any information is greatly appreciated.

1 mutt dog, 1 mutt cat, 4 Barred Rocks
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1 mutt dog, 1 mutt cat, 4 Barred Rocks
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post #2 of 19
The "completely enclosed box with good sized ventilation holes near the ceiling" bit has me worried. It sounds like it might be underventilated. Could you post a pic?

I know it is already morning now, but my advice would have been clean the coop. Sometimes a quick change out of all bedding can help mediate the issue and buy a little time to make modifications.

I'd probably put the hen back in with the others so she doesn't lose what standing she does have with them.

Portland is pretty moist in general, right? You might want to pick up a hygrometer to measure the humidity in the coop vs that outside. If they are the same then there really isn't anything that additional ventilation will do.
post #3 of 19

Agrees with TAL....you probably need more ventilation and pics of your coop and run would help.

Humidity is the real culprit of frostbite...so lots of good ventilation really helps it escape the coop.

Great article on VENTILATION, one of THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of coop design.

Fantastic treatise to help decide how much SPACE your chickens need.

 

Chicken math is not just 'addition'...but also should include Division, Multiplication and especially Subtraction!!!

 

Quoting centrarchid:

"Make every effort to understand your chicken's biology and the environment that supports it."

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Great article on VENTILATION, one of THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of coop design.

Fantastic treatise to help decide how much SPACE your chickens need.

 

Chicken math is not just 'addition'...but also should include Division, Multiplication and especially Subtraction!!!

 

Quoting centrarchid:

"Make every effort to understand your chicken's biology and the environment that supports it."

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post #4 of 19
Yes, some information on the coop size and configuration, some ideas on how much ventilation you actually have, stuff like that, can help. Photos really help but including some basic dimensions can also help. With you having only five chickens I get the feeling it’s a pretty small coop and maybe elevated.

Whether or not a hen is molting has no connection to frostbite on her comb. Obviously I can’t see the crack at the nesting box door, but if it’s what I envision it’s not creating a problem. It would have to be a certain size to allow a breeze through.

I agree with the others. It sounds like your ventilation is inadequate. There are several posts on here where people in colder climates than yours have solved frostbite problems by increasing the ventilation up high.

This too shall pass.  It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

 

"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-much-room-do-chickens-need

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This too shall pass.  It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

 

"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-much-room-do-chickens-need

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post #5 of 19

Agreed a hygrometer will help you monitor, be sure and test it! Might bring peace of mind or help you adust. I have been posting @Beekissed solution for combs here quite a bit: Castor Oil. I slathered it on my chickens small combs and wattles two days ago. I believe she says she does it only once a winter. YMMV, but it doesn't have to be put on all the time. Boy did those combs brighten right up!

 

Sounds like a lot of us are struggling with winter right now. I know you are much more experienced than I with chickens...mine had a short time to acclimate but they are doing great. My most recent discovery: flakes of straw in the run...they are scattering it all over and I know it is very insulative...not everyone e likes it for the interior of the coop tho..I use pine shavings which you can certainly deepen...6-10 inches here...I am not closing the pop door anymore due to hygrometer readings...not necessary...

 

Here are my temps today FWIW:

 

9F outside. RH: 60% according to accuweather.

16F in coop. RH: 71% according to remote hygrometer.

 

Chickens happy and healthy...they LOVE the straw in run, keeps them busy, active, warm feet etc. I agree to put the molter back in with others...mine have been molting too and it was a cause for concern. Up her protein by feeding her mealworms may help encourage growth of feathers across about two weeks...warm food and water in a.m when you can...I think they will be okay...

post #6 of 19
Thread Starter 

Thanks everyone for your advice! This morning my ladies inside the coop all seemed at least a bit frostbitten. So today I need to take some drastic measures, I think.

 

Ok, I took some pictures this morning. First is the coop from the outside. You can see the tiny crack I'm talking about on the exterior side where the door to the nesting boxes is. 

Here's a close-up of the interior door that shuts up the roosting area. I only close this in extreme cold conditions to help keep drafts out.

 

Here is what's directly above the door shown in the previous image. This is where the ventilation holes lead.

 

And this is a picture looking up from inside the coop. You can see the roost and two of the three ventilation holes. Hard to get a sense of their size from the image, but I'd say they're about 4" diameter, maybe.

 

What I neglected to mention last night, is that two nights ago there wasn't much bedding, so last night I cleaned out all the poo and put in a ton of fresh pine shavings. After I posted, I took two gallon milk jugs, filled them with nearly boiling water, put the caps on tightly, and took them out to the coop for some heat. I can't say as how it seems to have helped, but I hope it didn't hurt.

 

Today, I'm sending my husband to buy more plastic sheeting so I can cover all the sides of the inner run to protect them from the wind today and over the next few weeks. I hope that helps protect them during the day. I might also ask for a water warmer and a hygrometer (if he doesn't already have one). I'll ask for some straw, castor oil, and I'll also ask him if he is able to make the ventilation holes bigger. (He's not going to like that...he's huge and hates being near any place where poop has ever been. I can't see him squeezing his head voluntarily into the chicken roosting area!)

1 mutt dog, 1 mutt cat, 4 Barred Rocks
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post #7 of 19

Total novice opinion here. Seems to me that the risks of heating a coop I've heard are:

 

1. The chickens don't acclimate to the weather in their climate, so end up relying on the heat you provide them.

2. Most methods of heating involve risk of fire.

3. The source of heat depends on you being able to provide it. Should the power go out, something break down, etc., the source of heat isn't there anymore, and the chickens are in trouble.

 

To my thinking, these three issues are ones that you're at increased risk of OVER TIME. The odds of the power going out on a particular night are small. Over the course of a winter, much higher. Likewise, the ability of the chickens to acclimate to their climate is not going to be impacted by one night of heating, the same way it will if they always have heat. And also along the same lines, the risk of a fire in the coop is very small on any single night. It's the risk being present over time that adds up, making it unacceptable.

 

So my totally novice conclusion is, if you identify a reason you need to heat your coop for this weekend, it seems to me the risks are rather small.

 

BUT: it's my first winter with chickens; I'm not experienced at this. So let those with more knowledge shoot holes in my opinions.

 

If I'm right though, then hopefully this is reassuring. Seems to me that we ought to do what is best for our chickens, both over the long haul and immediately. Is the risk of providing heat in the short term greater than the risk to the chickens in the long term? Or not?

 

I'm in one of those really cold places. As a result my birds have been acclimating to weather a lot colder than yours. However tomorrow it's supposed to get seriously cold very quickly. Much colder than it has been. I'm wondering if this 24 hour event doesn't justify me providing heat. Don't know. I've got the ability to do so if I decide it does.

post #8 of 19
Just to clarify, that triangular space with hardware cloth is NOT open to the interior roost space, correct? It leads from the run to an airgap that the 3 holes in the last picture also lead to?

Basically, the only areas of air exchange are the 3 holes in the roof that lead to somewhat of a dead air space, and the pop door.
Edited by TalkALittle - 12/16/16 at 10:09am
post #9 of 19
Was your pop door closed on the nights they got frostbite?
post #10 of 19
Thread Starter 

I think that's correct. It's hard for me to know if I'm understanding your phrasing correctly. I don't know the term "pop door" but if you mean the little door leading to the roost from the run, yes, that door was shut. And the three holes lead to that triangular space above the nesting/roosting box, which can then vent out into the rest of the run.

 

One little item of interest is that the person who built the coop had originally made it so that the board above the "pop door" could open up, I assume to vent. But at some point, he decided to screw it shut, so I don't know if there was some practical reason he decided that board should no longer be allowed to open.

1 mutt dog, 1 mutt cat, 4 Barred Rocks
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