Need winter advice from chicken pros

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Kids and Chicks, Dec 6, 2013.

  1. Kids and Chicks

    Kids and Chicks Out Of The Brooder

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    I'm in Colorado (near Denver) and we are in a very serious cold spell. This is our first year with chickens and I want to make sure I'm doing the right things for them. The last two mornings were -9 and -8 when I went out to let the chickens out. They both had a little frost on their backs!! There was also just a tiny bit of frost on the battery powered lights we have inside the coop this morning. I'm guessing our coop isn't ventilated well enough and I need to fix that.

    So I need some advice from others who have a lot more experience. I'm posting pictures and dimensions so everyone knows what I'm dealing with. We don't have electricity out there and the coop is so small I wouldn't want to put a heat lamp out there for fear of fire. I run fresh water out every couple of hours to them. They have a 6 by 6 run that is covered, and has clear shower curtains on the South and East sides to block the wind. The shed provides wind protection from the North. The West (window side) has a fence about 6 feet away that helps to cut down on the wind. I have about 6 inches of straw down in the run right now. They spent the morning today on their outside perch and scratching around in the straw. Our chickens only go in the coop at night. We leave the gate open to them so they can go in, they just don't normally unless they're laying an egg.

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    This is our coop. It's 27 1/2 " by 20" with two perches plus the nesting box on the end. The one perch is right in front of the window near the door so the birds are not using that one so far this winter. I think there's too much of a draft there. I have about 5 inches of straw lining the bottom of the coop. It's almost covering the perches. The window is 6 1/2 by 4. I thought the window might be making them too cold the other night, so I pinned a cloth in front of it like a curtain. After the first morning of frost on them, I took it down but leaned a large piece of wood on the coop to block the wind but still allow air flow. Had frost again after the changes. The ventilation triangle on top is about 2 by 6 1/2 at widest points.

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    This is the backside. No ventilation holes. There is about an 1/4 gap under the back eve which I am assuming is for ventilation
    The colored area is their door. I hung a slashed "curtain" in front of it when the weather got cold. Normally I leave the coop door open all night, but the last three nights have closed it. The curtain will come down when the weather warms back up.

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    I drilled five 1/2" holes in the top corner this afternoon hoping it would help a bit. I'm going to have my husband cut out a triangle where the holes are that matches the other side this weekend hopefully.

    I know they need plenty of ventilation but not drafts. My thought is to add the matching triangle ventilation on the other side of the coop where I drilled the holes and possibly cover the window with a loose piece of burlap that would allow air to move through but block some of the wind.

    Right now we only have two chickens but would like to add one or two more after this cold spell moves on. So would we need to add even more ventilation if we had more chickens or should I leave the coop door open since I have the curtain up to block the wind?

    I'm also trying to prevent frostbite on their combs and waddles. Yesterday I applied Vaseline in the morning and about an hour before they went into the coop. This morning they had little block spots on their waddles and combs. The black spots are throughout the waddles, not just on the edges. I applied more Vaseline this morning. I found some bag balm after lunch and went back out there to apply that. While rubbing it around, I noticed some of the black stuff rubbed off so I'm wondering if it's just dirt sticking to them since they're scratching around.

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    Here is a picture of the one after having bag balm applied.

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    Here is the other, also after having bag balm applied.

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    They look so funny after scratching around and having the straw stick to them!!

    Thanks for everyone's help and advice. I'm such a worry wart and want to make sure I'm taking good care of my chickens.
    .
     
  2. bigzio

    bigzio Overrun With Chickens

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    You are prolly doing the best you can with such tiny housing. I'm not a fan of the tiny coops. The square foot issue inside the housing is the real issue...in my opinion. They look cute, but you must agree, that they don't function very well. I'm not sure you can tweak it to perfection. They work ok for a broody though, in mild weather, in the shade.

    bigz
     
  3. pmcatnip

    pmcatnip Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Try putting closed containers of warm water in there. Gallon jugs, lidded buckets, that kind of thing. Something that won't knock over. It should also not release steam; you don't want to add moisture if you've got too much already! But water makes an amazing thermostat and even a couple of gallons will help take the worst edge off the cold.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2013
  4. Kids and Chicks

    Kids and Chicks Out Of The Brooder

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    Jun 11, 2013

    We thought a small house would be nice, they would keep each other warm. Now I'm thinking small space equals more humidity in this super cold weather. We may have to build something else...



    Hoping the girls make it through this ok. They hate me handling them to apply bag balm to their comes and waffles. They now run away when they see me coming. Normally they run towards me.

    Any idea on how often or when I should apply the bag balm to them. Been doing it first thing in morning and as close as to when they go in the coop as possible.
     
  5. 4 the Birds

    4 the Birds Chillin' With My Peeps

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    An extension cord out to your coop would make you like a whole lot easier and supply your birds with water 24/7 via a heated hanging water dispenser. You could hang it below the coop if the inside space is too tight. Hauling water to the coops every 2 hours would be brutal for me! Cover your window with clear plastic and the two upper triangles as you are planning for ventilation will be good for now.

    Hanging heated water dispenser in the coop.
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    Hope this helps!
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  6. Hokum Coco

    Hokum Coco Overrun With Chickens

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    In Canada I am subject to -40º cold snaps. I do NOT heat my coop. Murphy's law says my birds will find out what -40 is all about when my hydro goes out. Regardless what you decide feed extra Corn over the winter you will not be sorry.

    Or something like this may help also; You could even knit a hoodie for those extra cold days..

    [​IMG]



    Watering
    For along time I used heater tape around a bucket with chicken watering nipples. It worked excellent. However me being me I neglected to change the water as often as I should. This is what it looks like and it thermostatically controlled to come on at just above the freezing temperature. You would have to wrap it to suit your particular application if it is viable for your set up. It is available at Home Depot in Canada. Heater tape would work for keeping eggs thawed as well in winter conditions.

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    Last year I switched to white rubber contains the wife found somewhere. The freeze solid every night but the ice just pops out of them in the morning and I replenish them with fresh warm water. They have black ones at the feed store that are similar but large than mine.

    The chickens congregate around them like people having their morning coffee. The only draw back is my yard is pepper with small ice bergs the size of the buckets.

    April looks after that however..

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    Bedding
    I have used all types of litter for coops.

    I have not tried sand (sand gets good reviews on this site).

    Of all the things I tried to date wood pellets have been the best. (I tried wood pellets as a last resort when pine shavings were not available.) They are super absorbent and swell up and eventually turn to saw dust. The droppings just seem to vanish and turn to dust when it comes in contact with wood pellets .

    Replace my litter and clean my coop every October after I harvest my garden.

    I do add to pellets from time to time.

    I have anywhere from 10 to 15 birds housed in my 4x8 coop.

    Through the winter months the pellets froze harder than concrete with -40º temperatures. The poop froze before it could be absorbed by the pellets and there was like a crusty layer of poop in certain areas where they collectively took aim (no smell, messy feet or flies @ -40º). Come April things started to look after themselves.

    Nest boxes
    In my nest boxes I fold a feed bag to fit (nest boxes are 1 ft³). When a bag gets soiled; fold a new one; pop out the soiled; pop in the new.

    POOP BOARDS are the "BEST" addition yet. Handles well over ½ of the poop in my set up keeps ammonia smell in check 3½" below roost excellent for catching eggs laid through the night (roost are in cups for easier removal and cleaning). I recently friction fit a piece of vinyl flooring over my poop board.it makes clean up even easier; Pop out; Scrap; Hose; Pop in.

    Winter months even easier flex over compost bin DONE!

    Easy peasy!.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2013
  7. TwoCrows

    TwoCrows Show me the way old friend... Staff Member

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    My Coop
    I also started with a small coop and thought the same thing...the chickens will keep themselves warm. But I too had chickens with frost bite on their combs all winter long. A small space does not allow for good ventilation. All that heat from breathing and pooping has to go somewhere. And in a small coop, all it does is circulate around the birds making them wet. And you can imagine, being wet in the cold is miserable. We eventually built the chickens a new large coop with TONS of ventilation. All the eaves are open, covered with hardware cloth of course.

    I am just south of you in New Mexico. Freezing our butts off down here as well. Last night was extremely humid, what with snow and freezing rain and temps in the single digits. In years past, my birds would have big time frost bite. But last night, nice and dry. My coop is not insulated at all and the eaves are open all around. So the temp inside the coop is the same as it is outside. But they are dry because all the moisture goes up and out.

    So you do not want to add any more heat to your coop. Heat next to cold makes more moisture. You might want to try lining the inside of your coop with cardboard. Ceiling as well. I did that in my tiny coop and it did help to absorb the moisture. Lower the roost bar so that it is nearly on the floor so that the moisture floats up as high as it can. And cut LOTS of holes at the eaves. Don't worry about them being cold. Just start cutting holes. If the birds are not in the wind, not getting snowed on, then the ventilation will help your situation.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2013
  8. bigzio

    bigzio Overrun With Chickens

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    Ventilation is a very tricky thing here in the extreme cold. Open eaves here would not work at all. The draft would be horrible for the flock. It's always a work in progress depending on the weathers ups and downs. Keep it flexible so you can open and close the ventilation to deal with the weather outside.

    The bag balm once a day in the later afternoon should be fine. The handling of the chickens is a good thing, and they will become use to you even more.

    Good job with doing the best you can. More folks could use a lesson from you in hands on management.

    bigz
     
  9. Kids and Chicks

    Kids and Chicks Out Of The Brooder

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    Jun 11, 2013

    Thanks for the advice. I put some cardboard up this afternoon, hopefully I will see a difference tomorrow morning. Plus I finished cutting out the matching triangle vent on the opposite wall. Last night the temp fell to -2. I left the coop door open but the curtain down to block any possible drafts. One of the chicken had more frost on her back, but after cleaning the poop out this afternoon, I'm wondering if it was how they were sitting in there with the one facing the other. The other chicken had the same amount on her. Their combs and waddles didn't seem any worse today, applied more bag balm. I don't think we will add anymore chickens until we either get the ventilation fixed or get a bigger coop built.
     
  10. Kids and Chicks

    Kids and Chicks Out Of The Brooder

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    Jun 11, 2013

    Thank you. I'm trying so hard to make sure we take good care of them! Lot more work than what my husband told me it would be.
     

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