Looking for some help with winter transitions after using MHP.....

Discussion in 'Raising Baby Chicks' started by ChickenHawk12, Dec 11, 2016.

  1. ChickenHawk12

    ChickenHawk12 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 7, 2015
    All you lovely folks here at BYC (I'm especially looking at you, @azygous , @henless and @Blooie ) have helped me SO much with getting my chicks living out in the coop, and with finding a system of FF feeding that worked.

    I hatched them inside the house at the beginning of November (100% hatch rate and no deformities or losses....woohoo!), had them in a brooder inside for about a week, then moved them into the garage under the heat lamp, then ditched the heat lamp for a MHP, first in the garage for 2 days, then out in the coop by 2 weeks old. At first, I had them in a bottomless chicken wire cage up on bricks so they could go in and out but the 3 adult hens I have couldn't get in. Then as they got bigger, I ditched the cage and put up a chicken wire "wall" with a hole in it, small enough for them to get in and out but not big enough for the hens to get in.

    As they are getting older and bigger, and it is getting much colder, I need some help with transitions......

    1. How and when do I get rid of the MHP? They are now 5 1/2 weeks, and most of their feathers are in, just their heads are still a bit scraggly looking. The MHP is still out in the coop, and is about as tall as I can make it. They are about 9-10 inches tall but can definitely still fit under there, just not a full standing position. I haven't gone outside after dark to see if they are sleeping under it still because it's been so cold! Later in the week, though, it is supposed to dip into the teens and single digits, and they are saying it will feel like 10-15 below zero. Obviously I will keep the MHP in there for that, but it's supposedly to be a pretty polar-vortex-y winter. At what age will they be ok without it out there, even if it gets frigid? Here in NJ we don't often go below the teens in the winter, but wind chills frequently make it feel much much colder. The coop door stays open unless it is a blizzard, because the run is secure, and the chicks' "panic room" and MHP are on the other side of the coop from the door. The coop and run are blocked on 2 sides by a 6-foot vinyl fence (the coop is 1-2 feet from the fence), and the 3rd side faces the house, so there is a little buffer from the wind. The coop is not insulated and I have no supplemental heat other than the MHP.

    2. 2 days ago, it started getting cold enough to freeze the water outside. Not only is the hen's waterer outside the coop freezing, but the chicks' waterer inside the coop is also freezing. By 10-11 am, the water in the coop has still been frozen. My hose is no longer working because it is frozen, so I have to bring water outside in gallon jugs from the house. Last winter, I just put the water in a rubber bowl and kicked out the ice twice a day and refilled it, but I still have the chick water in the coop. The hens chase them about a bit in the run, which is where the big girl water is hanging. I'm likely going to break down and buy a heated waterer, but I hang it under the elevated coop and the chicks aren't tall enough to reach it yet. Should I be concerned about the hens not letting the chicks drink from the bowl? They haven't actually hurt any of them, I think they are just trying to show them who's in charge, but I don't want to put the babies in danger. Also, I don't know how long it will take them to go outside when they need water, after being used to having it in the coop.

    3. I am feeding them FF once a day. I usually put it out there around lunchtime. I've tried earlier, but I find they don't really eat as much and a lot sits for hours (maybe because they've been picking all morning at what was leftover the day before?). First, is once per day enough? Also, should I still keep it in the coop? I tried once to put it in the run, away from the hens' food, but the hens came over to the chick food and chased them away. Also, should I consider feeding dry during the winter, or do most FFers feed FF all year round?

    4. Finally, at what point do I no longer need a "panic room" for the chicks? When can I feel confident that they will be ok without having a getaway?

    Thanks so much for all your advice!
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2016
  2. Blooie

    Blooie Team Spina Bifida Premium Member

    Feb 25, 2014
    Northwestern Wyoming
    My Coop
    Your questions deserve more of an answer than I can give at the moment - got a sick little one over here and I just never know when she'll need the bucket again. Her folks have gone up to Billings to get the stuff they need for their upcoming trip to Denver, so I've got Katie and Kendra for about another hour. <Sigh> So I'll just get started and if I poof off here you'll know what happened!

    As for FF, I don't feed it so I can't answer your questions. That would be more along the lines of advice you can get better from @Beekissed or @lazy gardener so I'm tagging them in hopes that they'll jump in.

    Leaving MHP on at this point is a gamble, which is absolutely the biggest reason I don't like to brood chicks when temps are heading down for winter rather than up for spring. If you leave it on they'll take even longer to acclimate, but if you turn it off too soon, before they've fully acclimated, I'd worry about them not being able to cope as it gets even colder. So while my gut says to turn it down if you can so that it just takes the edge off (maybe down to 1 or maybe even 2 if your dial is set up that way), I know that in the long run and with falling temps they may end up needing it longer if they aren't weaned off it soon. So this one has to be your judgement call, I'm afraid. I've seen times when the East can sometimes experience several consecutive days of power outages with severe weather, so that would be a real concern if they are still very dependent on MHP. I wish there was a cut-and-dried instant answer for you - yes, turn it off or no, keep it on - but you are there, you know how strong they are, know how well they've integrated in with the flock. I can't see all that on a day-to-day basis.

    Seems to me that at 5.5 weeks, Mama Broody Hen would be taking them up onto the roost with her and they'd still be snuggling with her to keep warm at night. How are they doing as far as integrating with the flock? Do they spend most of their time with them, just ducking under MHP at night, or do they keep themselves isolated in their brooder pen most of the time? From what you say, it sounds like they are spending a lot of time in with the flock and there haven't been any issues. If that's the case, and they're still just getting an occasional warning that they are overstepping their bounds, you can probably do away with the panic room. That, in turn, frees up more space for all the birds and that always helps during the winter when they are confined for longer times. You could certainly try putting a huddle box in their accustomed corner. You might have to shove them under there a time or two, but @azygous uses a huddle box with great success. It's a cardboard box, lined with that space blanket type stuff (I believe that's what she uses in hers) and with an opening cut in the front. According to her, they go into it at night and being huddled together with the space blanket reflecting their combined heat back to them, it takes the edge off the cold. That might be worth a shot - taking out MHP, disassembling the brooder pen, and subbing with the huddle box. In a perfect world, they wouldn't need anything and will just go to roost with the adults, but I can't guarantee that.

    Water in winter is a wooly booger. I have mine using a 5 gallon bucket with horizontal nipples as soon as they can trip the mechanism, so it's basically all they've ever known. We put a stock tank heater in it that's rated as safe for plastic. When it needs to be replenished, we have to do it the hard way and haul water out in a gallon pitcher, usually making two trips, but hauling water once or twice a week beats hauling it out a couple of times a day! I had one chick who froze his feet when the water froze so we had to adapt the design a bit to prevent that from happening again,and we've been trouble free for the past 2 1/2 winters now. Again, mine are fully integrated with the flock at about 4 weeks, and the heating pad is out and so is the brooder pen, so no panic room either. And since they've all been using the water together all spring and summer, there is no transition for winter so I just need the one bucket for everybody. A heated water bucket might be your ticket, but don't expect it to stay segregated.....they'll all take advantage of every opportunity.

    Your situation is so different than my experiences with MHP and outdoor brooding that it's so doggone hard to give you rock solid advice. If I tell you the wrong thing and you lose chicks, then I'd feel just awful. Well, there you have it....a whole post of answers that tell you absolutely nothing concrete. I hope someone else will jump in here and tell you what you want to know, Me? I'd take out the pad and the brooder, put in a heated water supply of some kind, and let them just learn to be chickens. acclimating as soon as possible, roosting with the adults, finding their place in the order on the roosts, and taking advantage of the fact that they'll likely cuddle together for warmth, but if I do that with my own chicks and it's a disaster I have nobody to blame but myself, you know?
  3. junebuggena

    junebuggena Chicken Obsessed

    Apr 17, 2015
    Long Beach, WA
    I'd turn off the pad, but still leave it for them to snuggle under. It will still help warm them just by holding in their body heat. Or switch it for a huddle box, and keep the heating pad on low underneath.
  4. ChickNanny13

    ChickNanny13 Chicken Obsessed

    Jun 23, 2013
    Hilo, HI
    Blooie & junebuggena = Good advice on the MHP, huddle box & acclimating to weather conditions. I'm raising 38 chicks (2wks) under MHP, my brooder is in the patio & draft free. I've been turning the MHP off during the day (huddle box), using an incandescent (40w) for light as it's dark in there, a the thermometer hanging hasn't gone below 70 & not higher than 80. At 4pm the light goes off, some natural light comes in & the MHP goes on around 5pm when it's starts getting cooler. They are thriving & now complaining.



    Beekissed & lazy gardner would be the ones to ask about FF. I've been doing it for the past year and love it & the benefits! Living here in Hawaii don't have the severe winter conditions you all have.

    I've raised 2 sets of (9) chicks on FF, prior to 8wks they were eating about 3 - 4x day using a ladle (1 scoop). As they got older increased the scoop (2) cutting back to 3x day. I now have 5 Wynadottes (37wks) they get 2 heaping ladle full of FF in the morning (est 7am) and another 2 scoops in the afternoon (est 2pm). They do get a handful of lettuce around noon since they're confined in a 8x12 Run daily. When I feed them in the morning they gobble a few bites but then go about scratching around. Their bowl is empty by the time they get their second feeding but here's where they got spoiled. They were given to me (28wks old) & trying to taming them I'd feed them by hand & now they like being fed by hand in the afternoon, just a few handfuls, leaving the rest in the bowl which they finish up before I close them up in the evening (est 5pm). My Mom says they like FF warm which may be but can't see warming it in the micro. But I've read some do go to dry feed in the winter because of the freezing.


    Panic Room I can't help with as I've never had to integrate, I raise chicks for a breeder until they're about 8wks then she takes them back. The Wynadottes I have are here to stay, raising chicks help with my Chicken Math :)
  5. Pats Poultry

    Pats Poultry Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 17, 2016
    Colorful Colorado
    Thank you ChickenHawk12 for asking all of the same qustions that I had and thank you all for the thorough answers. I have our 4 chicks(3 weeks) outside during the day with access to the MHP when they need it. Hopefully I an get them all weened off of the heat in a couple more weeks. I am still needing it for a while as it will only get to the mid teens this coming weekend for the high, but if I cave and allow them to the heat until I feel comfortable and get them thru this winter what will happen for next winter as real chickens. Will they acclimate to the cold as the temps begin to fall later in the year, I am assuming that it should not be a problem but you never know. Hope that all makes sense
  6. Beekissed

    Beekissed Flock Master

    Hope that helps! If it doesn't, I'd ask these questions again on the MHP thread.
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I debated with myself on whether I should respond to this or not. I don’t use FF or the MHP so I can’t help with specific questions with that. My temperatures don’t drop to what you will see in the next few days either, though I’m looking at single digits with wind chill below zero pretty soon. I kind of feel like Blooie, you are right in that area where it could go either way. So I’d probably err on the side of caution.

    Yours have been acclimated to cold weather. That’s a huge benefit to raising them in the coop or at least outside. Yours have been raised with the adults. Again, that really helps integration. You’ve been doing a lot the right way in my opinion.

    I’ve had chicks raised in my brooder in the coop so they were acclimated. They went through nights in the mid 20’s in my unheated grow-out coop when they were 5-1/2 weeks old. That grow-out coop had good breeze protection and great ventilation up high. I have a wire floor in my grow-out coop. Those chicks were not on a solid floor, let alone snuggled down into bedding. They were not in a huddle box. It’s surprising how tough those chicks can be.

    My chickens, adults as well as chicks, avoid strong cold winds. As long as it is calm, mine go out in cold temperatures. But if the wind is blowing hard enough to ruffle their feathers they are not going out there. I don’t worry too much about wind chill as long as they have a way to get out of the wind. As long as they have options they can self-regulate that.

    I really like the idea of a huddle box, whether there is a heat source or not. Their bodies put off a lot of heat and that will capture it. Dry bedding to snuggle in would help too, much better than my grow-out coop. Another advantage if you keep the height where the chicks can get under it but the adults cannot is that it becomes a safe haven from the adults.

    I don’t know what your coop or outside facilities look like. Do your adults spend a lot of time outside or in the coop? Do the chicks have places they can avoid the adults? My nests are pretty low so the chicks often hide under there. My chicks are often on the roosts when the adults are on the floor when I let them out in the morning. Once the pop door is open my adults spend practically the whole day outside so they don’t bother the chicks.

    I often just open the brooder door at 5 weeks and let the chicks make their way with the adults. It usually doesn’t take long for the chicks to start going outside either. I’ve had broody hens wean their chicks at three week old (summertime of course). It doesn’t bother me to integrate fairly young chicks with the flock if they have been raised with the flock and they have plenty of room. I don’t know what your facilities look like or where your adults will be spending their days. We are all unique.

    I use black rubber bowls to water in the winter. When they freeze up, I just bust the ice out of them. I set some of them where the sun can hit them when the sun is shining. In bright sun those stay thawed well into the teens. The sun doesn’t shine at night and some days aren’t real bright either, but I’m retired and usually stay home in winter so I manage as best I can. I installed a frost-free hydrant near the coop so water is available on the spot. That’s really convenient.

    I like multiple watering and feeding stations. Even when they are fully integrated adults can be bullies and keep chicks away from feed and water. It’s a pain in the butt but I think yours will benefit if you can figure out a way for multiple feeding and watering stations.

    When I set up feeders where young chicks can get to them the adults treat that lie candy. Even if it is the same feed, they really enjoy wiping out feed set up in something new. I’ve used a creep feeder with broody raised chicks though like Bee not for very long. By two weeks my broody-raised chicks are flying up to the main feeders as long as the older hens aren’t around. I’ve had broody hens make sure the older hens didn’t bother the chicks. I don’t know that creep feeders are necessary for me but they make things simpler for me. Something like that may be a tool you want to use, especially if your adults and chicks spend a lot of wintertime together in the coop.

    I just don’t see any real sense of urgency for you to make drastic changes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While they may be able to do without the supplemental heat, what’s the problem with making it available to them if they want to use it? Give them that option so you don’t have to worry about it. As long as you don’t force them to use the heat I don’t see any downside to having it available.

    As far as when you can make these changes, watch your chickens and let them tell you what to do. Their behaviors are a much better guide than any calendar. So again like Blooie, nothing definite requirements or telling you that you absolutely have to do certain things, but hopefully some things to think about.

    Good luck!
  8. azygous

    azygous True BYC Addict

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    If you were to sneak out to the coop tonight and take a peek at your chicks after dark, you'll learn a lot about where they are on the heat weaning and what their continuing heat needs might be.

    I get chicks in spring and it can be nearly as cold as it is right now. Even day old chicks can handle temps in the 30s as long as they have a good heat source and protection from cold drafts and dampness. My chicks usually begin weaning themselves off the heating pad around three weeks, and by five weeks, they are pretty much done with it. Once chicks feather out, temperatures mean little to them as long as they're protected from chilling drafts and they can find a place to snuggle together.

    So around five weeks, my chicks get moved into the coop with adults. I give them their MHP to ease the transition for the first few nights, but they use it less and less as they see the other chickens roosting and most want to sleep on the perch. I also had good luck using a fuzzy cat bed for my latest chicks to snuggle in together at night as they transitioned from their MHP to the coop.
  9. azygous

    azygous True BYC Addict

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies

    Here's a pic of the latest chicks snuggling in their "chick pod". They are just settling in for the night here.

    As for when the chicks will be done with the panic room, I leave mine operational until they outgrow it around three months. But if your chicks are coping with the adults well, you can probably take it down.

    I found putting an old card table in the run is as good as a panic room for larger chicks. I place their food on top and they eat on the table without being harassed by the adults. It's also a great place to nap and feel safe during the day.

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