Questions about winter care

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Jeffross1968, Aug 14, 2011.

  1. Jeffross1968

    Jeffross1968 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 14, 2011
    Smoky Mountains
    I have a range of different breeds, some with big old combs. A couple have already gone through their first winter. Our coop has a window on each end, that we've propped open during summer, that we intend to start closing when temps drop into the 50's at night. Around 3 sides at the top is open venting (with wire to keep them safe of course). Across the front I'd say the ventilation space is around 6 or 8 inches high, and on the sides, it slopes down to nothing at the back. Plenty of ventilation for summer, but I'm concerned about winter.

    Their roosts are a good 2 feet off the floor, placing their heads at a point where they can extend their necks and actually look out the space. What I plan on doing during nights where there is going to be a cold wind, or when it's just going to get pretty cold, is to drape a tarp over the roof, sticking out enough to block the direct wind while still allowing for ventilation. But it does get cold around here from time to time at my elevation (Smoky Mountains). Extended periods of sub freezing weather isn't unheard of, but it's not the norm.

    I've read about dubbing to keep large single combs from getting frost bitten, but I'm soooo not going there. I've also heard that you can bag balm the combs at night to keep them from freezing. I'm also considering a low wattage heat lamp on a timer that would keep them a bit warmer during the coldest parts of the night. I've inspected a lot of "coops" in my area, and found that tons of them are just wide open to the elements year round. Maybe weather losses just become part of owning chickens to them? I don't know.

    I'd like to hear from people in a few different zones regarding how you deal with colder weather. If I go the heating lamp way, should it be a certain color...can they sleep correctly with a light on? Any advice is greatly appreciated, as I want to start planning. We've already put 90 degree weather behind us, and there are some nights coming up this week in the upper 50's. Means cooler weather is right around the corner! Thankfully!
  2. Beekissed

    Beekissed Flock Master

    I can't imagine you have any different winter temps than I do here in the eastern panhandle of gets cold and sometimes in single digits but never really below that. My old coop has cracks about 1/2 inch wide between the boards and the pop door stays open at all times. The first winter here my old roo had frosted tips though I covered the coop windows with plastic and the bigger cracks with cardboard.

    I found the secret to warm chickens by the second year in these weather conditions....deep litter. Nice, deep pine shavings and I even mix in shredded paper from the office. I don't clean out this litter but twice a year and the coop smells good, stays warm.

    I wouldn't heat your coop as birds moving from a heated area to a cold run and back again tend to have more health problems. They have warm feathers, but getting birds that do well in cold weather is a plus....some ornamentals just weren't meant to live in our cold, moist mountains.

    Good ventilation is key to keeping down humidity levels in your coop, so I wouldn't tarp your vents too sounds like you have the right idea, air flow but not direct wind.

    Since going with deep litter I haven't had any frosted combs and my roo and some of my hens have fantastic, large red problems! I don't know that I would ever heat a coop....most folks understand you don't heat your barn, stables or coops around here as our animals are expected to develop tolerance to cold conditions. That tolerance, and culling animals that do not develop it, is key to having hardy livestock that will survive your area.
  3. The Tinman

    The Tinman Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 10, 2010
    Fairfield County CT
    Just as long as you have good ventalation you are good. Just make sure they are not exposed to a direct draft. I use 2x4 for a roost so they can sit on thier feet to keep them warm. On my rooster I put vasaline on his comb. The girls tuck thier heads under thier wings but I still give them a light coat. They will acclimate to the cold so I don`t think you will need a heater. I always give mine a snack befor bed time in the winter. This will also help them keep warm.
  4. Judy

    Judy Chicken Obsessed Staff Member Premium Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    50 is nowhere near cold to a chicken. Frostbitten combs are actually mostly caused by humidity, not cold, at least not in your climate. Remember they grow their own down coat. All they need is a wide enough roost to cover their feet with their underside, and enough high-up ventilation to let the warm humid air out. Honestly, they don't need a heat lamp. Actually it can cause harm, if you lose power on a cold night, because then they are acclimated to a warm coop, and extreme changes in temp are what can be hard for them to cope with.

    We get nights down into the teens every winter; it gets cold enough here that exposed water pipes freeze. My coop is very open air, with half of one wall and 1/3 of the opposite one hardware cloth, plus 6" or more openings above the walls, all the way around. All I do is block the wind off the roost area in winter. I've never seen any frostbite.

    There are always lots of threads on here in winter about cold. You will read about people in Florida who use a heat lamp on grown chickens, but that doesn't mean it is needed, or even a good idea. Here's a good writeup by someone who lives in Canada:

    There's also a link on that page to a really good article about ventilation.
  5. Jeffross1968

    Jeffross1968 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 14, 2011
    Smoky Mountains
    Sounds like really good advice. When you talk of deep litter, how deep are you talking about? I already use pine shavings, but I'd say it's only about 3 or 4 inches deep. I take a little garden shovel and scoop out the big obvious poop, but don't plan on removing the litter more than once or twice a year, only adding to it from time to time. Each side opens for cleaning, so if you are talking about a foot or more, I'd have to rig something up to keep the litter from falling out.

    Do you use a light to extend day hours for laying in the winter? I've seen so much on both sides of the debate...not sure what to do...
  6. Jeffross1968

    Jeffross1968 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 14, 2011
    Smoky Mountains
    flockwatcher, that makes me feel a lot better. If your chickens can handle single digits with that much of the coop open to the weather, I shouldn't have any problems.
  7. Beekissed

    Beekissed Flock Master

    My deep litter never gets more than 8-10 in. deep and that is usually by the end of the winter season. I just start low in the fall and build up. Plenty of fluffing is required to keep it from forming a cap...I let the birds do this by tossing BOSS in the litter on the coldest days or when there is deep snow coverage. The birds tend to need that scratching and foraging more when they can't get it out on their range and are more apt to dive for the seeds on those days. This keeps my litter dry....I always feel of it to see if it feels dry also. When it starts to feel a little moist, I add another layer of shavings.

    As for lighting...that is individual preference and you will find it is a hot topic of debate. It is not a necessary addition to your coop and thousands of years of chicken keeping without the benefit of electricity will tell you this....but some folks want to push egg production.

    Remember that full darkness is essential to melatonin uptake in the body and this chemical in important for reproductive health. The lack of it leads to ovarian cancers, ovulation disorders, etc. Commercial laying operations keep the lights on as they dispose of their birds every two years anyway...unless you intend to do this also, you might want to look towards flock longevity and good health as your goal.

    I guess you can figure out what side of the debate my views fall upon..... [​IMG] [​IMG]
  8. Chickenaddict

    Chickenaddict Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 19, 2008
    East Bethel MN
    Our winters here are brutal. I also have birds of a delicate breed so I have to heat them, this year we are gonna try an oil filled heater instead of heat lamps, more control on the temps to keep them more consistant thru the arctic chill we get here. If we loose power U will find me out in the coop huddled around my birds with a big down coat on. My god if our temps stayed in the 50's or even 40's I'd save a fortune in electricity costs. Vasoline on the bigger combs can work to a certain extent but when it's -60 it does more harm than good.
  9. Nicole01

    Nicole01 Overrun With Chickens

    Mar 28, 2011
    This is our first flock and we decided we are going to heat our coop. Our coop has 12 square feet ventilation at the very top and it is 100% insulated. Our temps are as low as -20F. We are going to buy a 250 watt ceramic heat emitter. It's suppose to be safe and does not put out any light. We have a light installed the coop, which only is turned on when necessary. Our goal is to keep the waterer from freezing and our birds warm and happy. We are currently fixing up the run, so they will have access to the run all winter. We are shingling the entire run roof and boarding up at least 10 feet along the side. This also provides protection from the sun, rain, and wind.
  10. Jeffross1968

    Jeffross1968 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 14, 2011
    Smoky Mountains
    Nicole01, that brings up another question....will I need to invest in a heated waterer? I've certainly had water bottles in my car freeze it gets cold enough. Geez, I didn't think of that yet...

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