Heating the coop in severe cold weather climates?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by HensAK, Nov 17, 2009.

  1. HensAK

    HensAK Hatching

    Dec 21, 2008
    Hello, I live in Alaska and I'm pretty new to chickens. Last year was my first winter with hens and I had a chicken coop that was not really great - drafty and often soggy. This year I built a new, dry, more draft-free chicken coop and decided to try going without heating it. The thing is, the temps drop really, really low at times, and right now we're experiencing an early cold snap. The temps have been well below zero for the past couple of nights and last night it was -18. The high today was zero.

    Since it's been getting darker, a few days ago I put in a light and started keeping it on for about 10 hours a day to see if it would boost egg production, but now I'm thinking the cold weather is taking a toll on my hens because they are not laying much at all. I have 20 hens of various ages and I would expect to be getting at least 12 eggs a day but it has varied between only 4 to 6! So today I bought two heat lamp bulbs - one bright white 150 watt bulb for the daytime and one red infrared 250 watt bulb for nighttime. I even installed a remote thermostat so I can watch the temps out there.

    So my question is: Just how warm should I expect these bulbs to keep the chicken coop? Should I just break down and put a radiant heater in there? I don't think the hens are suffering much from the cold, but I do believe they are stressed enough by it to stop laying eggs. I would very much like to continue getting eggs through the winter, so if I have to break down and put a heater out there, I guess I will. Problem is, electricity is really expensive up here, so I'm hoping the bulbs will do the trick.

    Anyone who has experienced severe weather conditions like this have any thoughts or suggestions??

    J Ranch and the Flock
  2. faykokoWV

    faykokoWV Mrs Fancy Plants

    Nov 4, 2008
    Cross Lanes, WV
  3. chookchick

    chookchick Songster

    Aug 18, 2008
    Olympia WA
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2009
  4. AK-Bird-brain

    AK-Bird-brain I gots Duckies!

    May 7, 2007
    Sterling, Alaska
    All you really need to do is give them 14-16 hours of light and up their protein to help keep them laying. We use heated water bases to keep the water cans liquid and put a light on a timer. When it dips really cold like this we close the coop and keep the birds inside, they actualy put off a lot of heat. The trick is to keep their body heat in while letting the moisture out.
    Vasoline on combs helps prevent frostbite.
    We tried using a heater a couple of years but got a $500 electric bill the first month. Now we just collect eggs as often as we can before they freeze.
  5. vermontgal

    vermontgal Songster

    I try to keep my coop above 10F. Last winter, we had a night of -30F. According to my max-min thermometer, it got to 6F in the insulated coop that night with 4 heavy-breed chickens (approx 60w of chicken body heat) and 100w heat emitter pointed at the roost.
  6. Leslie In North Pole

    Leslie In North Pole Songster

    Mar 7, 2007
    North Pole, AK
    You didn't mention what part of AK you are in.

    I am out in North Pole and I have an unheated coop, the only lighting is high efficiency bulbs. Lots of bedding, keeping the water dish away from the outside walls, high protein feeds, and allowing my birds to all house together really helps. I am on my 6th year of keeping birds and to be honest, I actually lessen their lighting during the coldest months, so they spend more time sleeping and then start jumping the lighting back up at the beginning of February. It seems to work to get them through their winter molt and start laying for early spring. Even my muscovies and guineas respond to this.

    As to heating, you will find the cost in electric will not be worth the egg production. 250watt bulbs use a tremendous about of electric, especially when you are getting charged just as much in "fuel surcharges" as you are in actual kwhours. If I had to heat my coop, I would first put a drop ceiling in, so as not to be wasting a lot of heat in a space the birds are never in, would stack straw or bags of wood shaving all around the outside and even put a blanket acrossed the door to help keep heat in. I find that you are better off putting the money in up front on your building materials, it will save you money later. Judging by what some of my friends spent on electric bills in their coops last year, my investment of 1100 in to my 10 by 24 coop has paid off over the last three years.

    I use my birds to heat my coop... it is well insulated, they are well fed, and I have quite a variety. I have geese, turkeys, ducks, chickens, and guinea hens all living in my coop. Even at -60 F, my water doesn't freeze but I do admit that I don't count on the eggs at that temp to not freeze. This year, I plan to move my breeding geese back to their coop earlier after I figure out a way to give them a deep enough pool to breed in by the end of February, so as to increase their fertility.... but that is different issue.
  7. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Quote:Very very true. Do not underestimate the value of a giant whack o' insulation, including the ceiling [​IMG]

    I don't know what size your coop is, but trying to keep it electrically heated in very cold temps without lots and lots o' insulation will make a significant bump in your electric bill. To figure out the direct charges for the electricity used (does not include any funky surcharges or time-of-use adjustments or that kind of thing), multiply the total wattage of what you're running in the coop times the number of hours per day the heat is turned on, times 30 (=days per month), times what you're paying per kilowatt-hour. Ka-ching.

    As far as drop in laying, two thoughts: 1) if you only added the light a few days ago, it is not going to have any effect yet. You probably waited too long in the year, thus it may not have *any* effect for quite a while; really if you are going to add supplemental lighting you should do it as soon as daylight hours (as experienced in the coop, whcih may be shorter than outdoor daytime) drop below 13-14 hrs per day. Thus, the fact that the hens are not laying well DOES NOT MEAN it's a separate problem from too little light. And 2) do you have a thermometer in your coop? Are those indoor or outdoor temps you are quoting? Unless you are running way too much ventilation open right now, or have a very tiny coop with few chickens, you will find it stays warmer in the coop than outdoors. So, to assess what temps the chickens are experiencing at night you really need a max-min thermometer in the coop, preferably at roost level. Unless your indoor temps are getting really low, like below zero, or the chickens' feed is inadequate, you are probably not seeing *temperature* effects on laying at this point.

    Good luck, have fun,

  8. Chickiemom1012

    Chickiemom1012 Chirping

    Apr 21, 2009
    From most of the posts I have read, the hens really need the additional daylight to continue to lay regularily. I added LED christmas lights to my coop this week. Not sure if it will work but it is safer to me than a light bulb. I also bought a cheap timer and have them going on at 4:15 and shutting off at 8:15, yesterday as their first night and I as watching them through the window. They did go up into the coop early but were awake in there preening and moving around until the lights shut off.

    If you were considering a heater you may want to check out this website www.sweeterheater.com, they have different sizes for different applications. I also have this and it is attached to a thermostatic outlet you can plug into an extension cord or outlet. This way you can set the temp. The initial investment would be pricey but the thermostat may cut down on electric bills so it doesn't run non stop. The heater also has a three year guarantee which is nice. Just some thoughts I am a little obsessed with may girls so this may be over the top for you!!!!

    Good luck!
  9. I've heard that poor Alaska is suffering severe temps very early this year. I think you will be very happy at having made several changes for your birds. Other Alaskans can advise you of the specifics, I know that many of the coops and runs require extreme baffling from the wind, without compromising adequate ventilation for moisture but that the balancing act is tricky. We made the decision to insulate and the coop was cosy this morning at 9 Celsius when the outside temp was -4C. We also have a thermometer outside, in the main barn and in the coop proper to keep track of how we are doing. As Pat says, it's a way to know what your extremes are. We also use an electric dog bowl and extra light from 5am - 8 am. Averaging 10 eggs daily from 12 birds this week.

    I've put some thoughts together about coping in the temperate zone (below) but I hope your fellow Alaskans can fine-tune your operation for Arctic conditions! Oh and it occurred to me that your hens must be going through a lot of feed, even though they have reduced their laying. A lot of us farther south have been through molts but I would think with the Arctic night that you will need time to get it back, even with lighting. Be sure your hens get 14 hours a day! And the best of luck..[​IMG]
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  10. HensAK

    HensAK Hatching

    Dec 21, 2008
    Thanks so much for all of the comments and suggestions! I forgot to mention I'm in Wasilla, AK. I don't get temps as low as some of you do on a regular basis. We usually have several severe cold snaps throughout the winter and we're having one now, although it seems to be finally ending.

    I like the idea of insulating the coop. I didn't have time to get to it this summer, but I think that will be next summer's goal. Looks like I'll have to install a drop-ceiling, too. I can do the blanket over the door right away - that's a great idea. I really want to avoid putting any heat out there aside from a light bulb during the day and I just plugged in a heated water dish to lessen the number of trips I have to take out there to change the water.

    I got a remote thermometer, as suggested, and I love it! I've been watching the temps out there and it's been really interesting. The red heat lamp at night seems to be doing a good job of keeping the temps up. For now it looks like I'll have to keep it on at night during these cold spells. I didn't have the thermometer or the heat lamp when the outside temps dropped to -18, but looking at the coop temp with the heat bulb now, I'm guessing it was dropping below zero in there. Now it's not, thank goodness.

    I wish I had known about putting the light bulb up earlier - and that it needed to be on for 12 - 14 hours. Somebody told me 8 hrs and that's what I went with, but probably started that too late, anyway. Now I'll get everything squared away and see what happens. I won't be broken hearted if they don't lay a lot this winter, I just want to be sure they're not suffering. The coop was up to 24 degrees today and they were looking pretty happy. [​IMG]

    Thanks again for all the help!

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