Alaskan chickens - to heat or not to heat, that is my question

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by AlaskanDad, Nov 9, 2011.

  1. AlaskanDad

    AlaskanDad New Egg

    Nov 9, 2011
    I recently bought six fine laying hens from friends in the Valley where we buy goat shares and fresh organic eggs - best goat milk EVER. We had them one month and last weekend the biggest hen (my favorite) acted very sluggish and did not dash to the corner of the run when I came in to change out the water and fill the feed. Two days later I saw one missing from "the girls" and hoped maybe she tarted laying for us (finally) but found her dead on the nest instead. The coop has been scraped and cleaned, and I added fresh straw. I keep an oil-filled heater running (enclosed) at the lowest temp setting. and add light in the early evening hours until about 8pm to extend their Alaskan winter day.
    Yesterday found the first bit of ice in the galvanized 3-gallon watering can, despite the 50-watt oilpan heat pad purchased at NAPA. I took the upper ceramic tile off the pad to put it in direct contact with the water tank.

    I switched from the 20percent soy-based feed to a non-soy organic feed at twice the price and it is only 16percent. My better half does not want me to feed them corn - believes there is no such thing as un-altered corn grown anywhere nowadays - and I'd have to agree (any other ideas?). Some in AK say salmon meal is a good choice, others think it "flavors" the eggs (what eggs, I ask?)

    I got these grain-scarfin', feathered friends to provide a local source of breakfast food, but no luck, so far...

    I also bought the best electrolyte, probiotic powder I could find at AK Mill & Feed - did the math and added slightly less than 1/8th teaspoon to the 3-gallon can to improve their health and durability in the cold weather. Figure the 8-oz bottle should last two years past the stamped shelf-life expiration date at this rate. One (tiny) dose every month, I figure.

    I welcome good advice, and please don't flame me or I will just never come back. I am over fifty and have no patience for those kind of folk...I believe my granddad was the kindest person in the world, and I want to be like him.
  2. mcjessen

    mcjessen Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 22, 2011
    Coeur d Alene ID
    I'm sorry to hear about your hen. That's saddening to happen upon. Sometimes they just die for no apparent reason.

    I agree with you on the "corn" topic. I feed corn to my three hens but about a 1/4 c once a week as a treat.

    It's been below freezing overnight for about three weeks now. I did purchase one of the plastic heated waterers and opted out of the metal base heater as it was way too expensive. So far so good for the plastic one.

    As far as the electrolyte powder. I don't know what brand you are using or what the directions said but my feed store chicken man said that a tsp per gallon of water is sufficient and you can use it all the time. I started using it when they were chicks on a daily basis and have cut back to every two waterings.

    As far as providing heat for them. Depending on the breed, they should not need heat until it gets below zero. I heard others on this board say they don't provide heat at all but given you are in Alaska, if they were my chickens, I would provide heat on REALLY, REALLY cold days. They will huddle together and keep each other warm. I have also read that if you provide too much heat it can weaken the feather structure of the bird and they won't be able to protect themselves. I've also read that heat will create condensation and that's when you run the risk of frost bite.

    Overall I think you're right on track. Good luck!
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2011
  3. Muggsmagee

    Muggsmagee Menagerie Mama

    Dec 15, 2009
    Central NY
    We get some nasty winters here in Central NY. The months of January and February we run a heat lamp to the coop. Right now there is just a regular light. I have girls that are 7+ months old that are not laying, and the decreased daylight doesn't help us get them laying.

    As far as heating for your flock...there have been threads on this. Most good advice is to not heat the coop. We live in an open area where the wind whips through our property...on the days/nights it gets to -10 to -20 with the windchill not factored in, you bet I'll be running the heat lamp for my girls.

    Here's a link for you to peruse:
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2011
  4. AlaskanDad

    AlaskanDad New Egg

    Nov 9, 2011
    Thanks for the excellent advice. I will turn off the heater until it gets into the minus temperatures, to keep the birds stronger and save some pennies. Adding all that nice straw should make the coop more tolerable, and their new and improved coop is under construction in my garage. Right now the coop consists of plywood floor over 6inches of insulation, uninsulated plywood scrap tucked in around the three sides, a plastic tarp thrown over my youngest son's play tower, and cardboard covering the entry side with a hole torn in one corner as the "door." The associated run is 5ft x 10ft and 4 ft high with 1/4-inch mesh wire cloth and a couple outside roosts for them to jump onto a foot above the floor of the run so they can sit in the sun on a roost during the day. It's supposed to be the "temporary" coop until next summer, but i will trade out the present coop with the insulated one, including nesting boxes.

    Current flock = three Black Jersey Giants (funny name for a small bird), and (now) two New Hampshire Reds - all hens

    Q: Would having a rooster make them lay better? No eggs so far, and they seem settled in. I was even able to allow them to roam freely in the yard for couple hours, and they put themselves to bed so all i had to do was latch the gate.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2011
  5. edselpdx

    edselpdx Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 10, 2008
    Portland, OR
    Welcome to BYC! I can't really address your heating question. In most of the lower 48, heating is not generally recommended, esp if you have cold-hardy standard size breeds. I recommend checking out some of the other forum areas on BYC. The search function works well, but you will likely get better responses in the different forums for your various questions, rather than emergencies. I know there are many threads about pros and cons of heating the coop, including Alaska and other northern climes threads. One con of heating is that the birds are (allegedly) actually less tolerant pod the cold if they're heated at times. I do recommend some kind of heater for your waterer, since what you're doing with coop heating isn't working.

    Regarding feed, if maintaining a GMO-free flock is important to you, both corn and soybeans are out. There's a whole section on feeding your flock on BYC. In theory, certified organic feed is supposed to not include GMO crops, but I, too, believe that pollen flies, no matter what they say.... Organic will cost a pretty penny, as will most feeds that are not soy-protein based. You can try the fish-based and see if the (eventual) eggs taste bad to you. I'm lucky to have a locally sourced organic layer feed available at my independent feed store.

    I know you are lighting your coop, the general recommendation for "enough" light is 14 hrs/day of enough light to read a newspaper by. I am planning on an LED light rope this year for the first time once their molt is over.

    Regarding your lack of eggs so far, check out the laying section. there's a sticky on top of the forum with multiple causes for non-laying. Causes include everything from being new to the coop (not settled in yet), to hens' ages, to light, to lice or mites.

    Welcome once again, and sorry for the loss of your hen. I had a similar death last spring, just dead under the roost at age 2 with no previous signs of illness--without a necropsy, you won't ever know what happened. If you have similar deaths, you might consider trying a necropsy, available via the state often at low or no cost-- keep the next one refrigerated but not frozen if possible if you are considing a necropsy. Read the forums with a grain of salt, as there are myths and some differing opinions out there (myself included). Read extensively and make your own choices after reading the differing oppinions. Try not to focus too much on the emergencies and diseases section, as most people DON'T have all those problems. My approach is to keep things relatively clean, feed good food and almost all my food scraps, keep the water clean and unfrozen, and eat yummy organic eggs. I don't spend money on supplements or vitamins (or probiotics, personally), and my ladies have been healthy and happy with the one exception of the sudden death.

    Edsel in Portland OR
  6. edselpdx

    edselpdx Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 10, 2008
    Portland, OR
    Quote:Sorry, forgot to answer this. No, the rooster won't help with laying, will just mean another mouth to feed and fertile eggs if you ever plan to let them try to hatch some out. You will have to wait for a broody to hatch, or plan on some extensive learning about incubator hatching.
  7. Yay Chicks!

    Yay Chicks! Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 15, 2010
    Forest Grove, OR
  8. jeannieo

    jeannieo Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 25, 2008
    Collinsville, CT
    Yay Chicks! :

    I'm sorry about your hen.

    A thread that you might find interesting is called "Think it's too cold for your chickens? Think again..." It was started by someone in Alaska so you might find it pertinent:

    Excellent thread! I was going to recommend it but wanted to see if someone else did first and you did! I'm only in CT and the nights can get pretty cold here, zero and below, and I used to put in heat until I read this thread. The only thing I do now is put in a light to stimulate egg laying.​
  9. JodyJo

    JodyJo Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 27, 2010
    I live in the high desert (8,000 ft) in southern Colorado...we have already dipped into the sub zero temps...
    NO added heat....heated water base, water inside coop, food outside.

    Deep little, pine shavings...a curtain over the door way to keep out drafts, but allow chickens in and out.

    I will not add light for egg producing, my girls need a break...out of 11 girls I am still getting 9 eggs a day...fine with me!

    No added medications to water, no medicated feed...mine free range all day...

    A rooster won't help with egg laying, for the poster who asked, but mine serve as super protectors...I don't mind the extra 2 mouths to feed.
    *they are great fun to watch also!*

    Welcome to BYC! [​IMG]

    Please come back with ANY questions you have....I am sure your grand dad would be proud of your attitude....! [​IMG]
  10. featherz

    featherz Veggie Chick

    Mar 22, 2010
    Saratoga County, NY
    Upstate NY.. No heat here.. didn't heat last year, won't heat this year. And I have crappy uninsulated coops with lots of ventilation and deep litter. All my chickens came through. Got a scare when it was minus 26, but they weren't even huddled!

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by