Preparing Your Flock for Storms & Adverse Weather Conditions
A few disclaimers to start off my article submission. I live in the suburbs of Southern California. Our storms and adverse weather conditions are pretty mild compared to the rest of the world. I also have had very spoiled suburban chickens easily upset by the slightest "storm" or "weather condition". I cannot claim to know how to batten down the hatches for major storms, hurricanes or tornadoes. I have dealt with fires, evacuation, and normal storms/weather.
The key thing to remember when a storm is coming, or the weather takes a sudden turn, is to stay calm, assess the situation, and move forward toward solving the problems. I am very fond of using what is laying around to fix an issue. Some things that I keep around for storms are: tarps, ropes, bungie cords, hammer, nails, 2" wood screws, battery screwdiver (charged), 2x2s, and fence planks. Other things to keep handy, sandbags, emergency pet carriers (folding cardboard carriers, hold 2-3 birds depending on size, they have them at Petco near my home).
The flock's basic needs are shelter, food, water, warmth, dry space. When you are considering what to do to prepare them for storms and weather imagine how they will get their basic needs met, especially if you are not able to reach them for a few days.
You could plan the coop from the very start to handle all kinds of weather. I don't know how many of us actually do that! My coop always seems to be a work in progress.
Here are some tips for the coop in the planning stages:
Locate your coop under an overhanging tree that is not so large that it would smash the coop if it should fall over, but large enough to provide natural shade.
Put the coop on a slope so that water will not pool under the coop.
Ensure the coop has a built in slanted roof for shade and some rain protection.
Side coverage of coop/yard. Our coop did not have sides, it was more of an aviary and planned more for keeping predators out. So we had drop down side tarps that tied down at the bottom for serious rain, or when the temps dropped at night. It was important for our coop to have open sides as the heat is usually an issue here more than the cold. These roll down tarps can be found at farm supply online stores or made yourself from supplies used to make roll down outdoor shades found at Home Depot.
Plan for sturdy construction. Consider possibilities when planning, will you have high winds, heavy snows, sideways rain, floods, high heat days, dogs jumping on top, something digging under?
Evacuation tips, planning for emergencies:
Keep an emergency cage in case you need to grab a few of your favorites and evacuate. I learned this one during the fires. I didn't have a cage that could 1. fit all my birds, or 2. fit in my car with the rest of my pets. It was very difficult to leave and hope they would be ok.
Keep extra water dispensers and food dispensers ready to deploy in case you must leave the birds on their own. You can add these to the coop and calculate how long they can go before you have to get back to them.
Just as you would have an emergency kit for your human family, have an emergency box of supplies for your flock. Imagine what you might need if you had no power, transportation, phone for a few days. What would you need? How about a binder with emergency chicken care information that you have collected, bottled water, extra bag of dry food, first aid kid for birds, towels, heat lamp bulb, plastic bin brooder for a sick bird.
Normal weather conditions:
Provide a heat lamp and an enclosed area that the chickens can get into in case of cold. Make sure the lamp is high enough that the birds will not burn themselves on it, and that the electrical parts are not exposed to the weather, or too low to the ground, so that you do not get a short, or cause a fire. You could have it hooked to a thermostat or if you need to manually turn it on make sure you can explain to someone else how to turn the heat on.
Easy to deploy rain protection, I really wished I had one pull cord to drop all of the tarps down. I have been soaked many times trying to deploy the tarps in rain that is flying sideways. Or better yet a remote control I could push and cause the tarps to unroll!
Easy to deploy heat help. Misters that are attached to a hose helped drop the heat index a bit in my area. I have also used frozen liter soda bottles full of water and just layed them in the coop for the birds to sit near. They didn't go for that as much as the mist and shade. If you can get a breeze going over a bottle of ice in the shade you can really give them a cool spot to hang out. They will also dig a hole in the dirt to get to the cooler dirt. I used a kitty litter tray and would fill it with cool dirt when the birds could not free range.
Now it's time for me to go design a better coop.