Freezing Cold: an emergency heating idea in a non-electrifed, small prefab coop

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by skymama65, Jan 10, 2015.

  1. skymama65

    skymama65 Out Of The Brooder

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    Sep 17, 2014
    Vermont
    I live in VT, where yes, we do have cold and snow. Sometimes we have 'cold-snaps', where there is a significant dip in temperature. When my daughter and I decided to raise a few chickens of our own, I knew we would not have access to electricity for the coop, as we rent, rather than own, our home and were lucky just to get the permission from the landlord to have chickens in the first place (well darn, we live in an apt in an 18th century barn, with more than a full acre for a back yard--a former horse pasture).

    We are also quite low income--raising a few chickens was, in part, meant to supplement our groceries with some good, fresh eggs --so figuring out ways to keep our chickens warm enough to survive a deep, freezing cold snap was a serious matter. I've searched and searched for solar options--most are way to far out of my financial reach. While we did choose what was described as a "very cold tolerant" breed (easter eggers!!), I worried as the autumn passed, and still I had no solution.

    One night, during autumn, we had a power-outage. Now, my daughter also has a 4 1/2 ft Ball Python snake in a 75gal tank in her bedroom. Keeping it warm is absolutely vital. When she first got it, as a tiny li'l less than 1' baby snake, I decided to keep "hand warmers" around, for those colder nights in which we might lose power. When it happens, we place the snake in an empty, small 10gal fish tank, a and toss in a few in a thick socks (folded over so Slithers doesn't slither inside one) in which I've placed the activated hand warmers. Cover the mesh top of the tank with a blanket or towel to help hold in heat, and voila! a toasty & warm, happy snake.

    Well, this past week we were hit with a brutal cold snap--colder than I can remember, really, especially for my neck of the woods. We had temperatures as low as -17 degrees F. That's 17 degrees below zero, plus wind chill factors that hit -20 to -30 degrees F.

    A few days before the cold was expected to arrive, I bought a larger than usual quantity of handwarmers, the ones that offer heat for at least ten hours. I found an old baby bottle at home, too, as well as a few old woolen socks I could part with. While a few were used in the coop during the day --in case the girls needed to warm up a bit, I used most at night.

    At around 7pm I brought out some warm water, to replenish their inside water, which was starting to freeze over; I put a few activated hand warmers into each sock, and tossed them into the center of the coop, under the roosting bars where the girls were snuggled together.

    Their water bowl is the kind that you fill, screw on the bowl, then tip upside down. Because I knew that the shallow bowl part still might freeze, and block any liquid in the jug, I used duct tape on the bottom to create a pocket, paying particular attention to the divot where the water actually comes out. Into that the pocket under the bowl, and the pocket under the divot, went a few more hand warmers. Finally, the baby bottle, with a bit of elmers glue dried inside the nipple: inside the bottle went another warmer or two. Put the top back on the bottle. replace the cold water with the warmer water and put the sealed baby bottle inside with the water. screw on the bowl portion and tip back over. The bottle couldn't turn completely sideways and thus end up just floating on top, but instead lodged at an angle, keeping the heat more to the center of the water.

    The water wasn't warm enough to create moisture in the air, but did help bring the inside temperature of the coop up just enough to take the sting out of the sudden cold I'd allowed in in order to add the hand warmers.

    Finally tho, I also added of a only blanket, and then a tarp, over the whole coop (always, Cloth before Plastic, C before P--learned it from a homeless lady I chatted with once). Underneath their coop there is also a thick layer of composting straw & their droppings that comes up to the floor of the coop, which we started in the earlier fall--it, too, has acted as a low heat source from below.

    And it worked. My feathered family members have survived the cold snap in fine fashion, with no frost bite, and plenty of available water throughout most of the night (by betwen 3 to 4AM, it still began to freeze. I checked the first night. But, since fresh water would be out shortly after the sun came up, I let it go after that).

    Sure, it was more expensive for such a temporary fix (I spent $15 on handwarmers -2 packs --containing 6 hand warmers each--for $5, times 3 sets total) but it worked.

    It's still colder than usual, being near 17 degrees, 4 days later, so I'm continuing to do the warmer-in-the-bottle-in-the-water-jug, and still have the blanket and tarp over the coop, with snow keeping it in place on the roof.

    I just had to share all this with you. I had been worried sick that I was raising chickens only to be doomed to freeze to death, because I've been too poor to afford some kind of alternative solar power source so that I could add heat, if necessary. But now, I know I can keep them healthy, alive and well, even happy, despite poverty. And I want other folks here who may be struggling financially to have some other options to protect their small flock in an emergency situation. Of course, it may not be feasible if you have a larger coop, but at the very least, if the coop is draft-proofed, the water can be kept from freezing early in the night and leading to potentially dehydrated hens.

    **as an aside, my coop may be small, (at least 8 hens could fit -- my 4 roost on one pole together- but with no room to really move about) but it seems my girls generate enough heat to keep their inside water liquid most of the night during the average cold nights--as low as 30 degrees. My daughter an I originally had 6, but lost one to the neighbor's evil dog, and the other turned into a roo, and had to go live on a farm with 10 new babes to crow over, lucky guy! We are considering adding one or two new girls in the later spring. The combined heat of 5 or 6 hens would surely be to keep the inside temp warm enough to prevent freezing in winter.
     
  2. Percheron chick

    Percheron chick Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 12, 2013
    Boulder, Colorado
    Everyday there are new posts about providing supplemental heat or not. There is a rather deep division on the subject matter. Speaking from personal experience, I've had night get to -19 and -15 without factoring the wind chill this past week. My chickens are in an open horse stall (just wire on 2 sides) without heat and they are fine. The night it got down to -15 my guineas got spooked and ended up roosting 20-40 feet up in a tree in front of the house. They were stuck up there scattered all over the tree so they didn't have each other to keep them warm. They all were fine in the morning. Guineas also have hard feathers that don't fluff up like chicken feathers or the down underneath. If anyone would succumb to the cold, it would be the guineas.

    The other part, chickens do not eat or drink in the dark. Once they roost for the night, they stay put until morning light. Just remove the waterer and bring it back out in the morning. I have found the plastic waterers very unsatisfactory in the winter. They will split and crack when they get cold. It just takes you kicking it and it's done. I use rubber dog bowls and just dump the water if it will freeze overnight.

    Save the handwarmers for the snake. They make you feel better but you are just wasting your money using them on the chickens.
     
  3. skymama65

    skymama65 Out Of The Brooder

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    Sep 17, 2014
    Vermont
    Thank you for that! I really wasn't sure, and didn't want to take the chance of losing them. I know that most animals can and do acclimate to colder temperatures when given the opportunity, and certainly my gals have built up a good amount of fluff-n-feather over the autumn. But even cold weather acclimated animals can, and do, freeze to death when the temperatures drop so dramatically. But I think that as long as I can keep their coop draft-free, they'll be ok.

    Are you sure they'll be ok without water for the whole night? that's from about 5pm til about 7 the next morning-- a very long time!
     
  4. Percheron chick

    Percheron chick Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 12, 2013
    Boulder, Colorado
    Chickens can freeze to death but it's usually because of something else going on. Chickens also die just because they can. We'll blame the weather when a chicken dies and we can't explain it but it probably had an underlying reason and the planets just aligned. Just make sure they go to bed every night with a full crop and the digestion process will help keep them warm. The only ones eating your food and drinking the water at night are the mice. Chickens have impaired vision in the dark so once they settle down for the night, they are done.

    EEs are a great choice in cold weather. They don't have the enlarged comb or wattles that are prone to frostbite and mine have been decent winter layers.
     
  5. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Dec 15, 2014
    Massachusetts
    Check out a cinderblock heater like this one https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/428896/my-diy-water-heater

    You can make it for less than the $15 you spent on hand warmers and as long as you can sneak a heavy duty outdoor extension cord to the coop, your landlord will never know that you use it for the handful of nights when the temps get scary low.

    FYI, most hand warmers need oxygen to fuel the exothermic reaction that generates heat. Depending on how many you put in the sealed baby bottle and the rate at which they convert the oxygen, it's possible the warmers in the bottle may not even have generated heat for any extended period of time.

    I did some internet digging and found this interesting bit of information. Broilers produce about 5BTUs/lb. of body heat per hour ( http://www.avianadvice.uark.edu/AA PDFs/avian_advice3no4.pdf ). So if you have five 5lb birds they will collectively produce 100BTUs per hour. I assume broilers produce more heat than layers because they have a higher feed to energy conversion, but it was the only data I could find. 100BTUs is almost 30 watts providing I got the conversion right. So if my math is good, it looks like those five birds are generating the equivalent of a 30 watt light bulb.
     

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