water heater for chicken tractor (and what does "draft free" mean?)

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by AaronK, Oct 7, 2009.

  1. AaronK

    AaronK Out Of The Brooder

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    I've combed through the archives and no one seems to really address this idea - sorry if someone has seen it before. anyway:

    what I want to know is - what's the best/cheapest way to heat the chickens' water come winter? and will this be draft free?

    My details:
    I live in northern WV. chickens are 2 red stars living in a Catawba-like tractor design with a 6x4' footprint. currently there is no top-level floor, but i can insert panels in to make it solid.

    My idea:
    was to use a heating cable to wrap around the mason-jar waterer to keep it from freezing. note, the waterer is suspended from the frame to allow easy movement of the tractor. I realized that heat cable can be had in long lengths, so I thought, hey why not snake it around the upper level of the tractor to keep it warm enough up there and maybe keep eggs from freezing?

    Is this worthwhile? should i just use a heat lamp pointed at the waterer or...?

    Also, i've read different reports on how draft free they need to be. will the paneled floor be necessary, or will it cause too high a build-up of moisture and ammonia? I *was* planning on lining the floor with a couple inches of straw...

    so many questions! i know its tough to predict, but maybe folks could weigh in with their thoughts.

    thanks!
     
  2. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Quote:Cheapest: don't. Just bring them fresh liquid water once or several times a day, whatever the weather requires. In WV you may be ok with just once a day most of the time, especially if you use a largeish and insulated container. (NOT a mason jar waterer!!)

    Cheapest electrical option: DIY cookie-tin or cinderblock type waterer base, use 'search' for threads that describe how to make them.

    Or you can buy a heated base or heated waterer, which may be warranted in cold climates but quite honestly in WV I do not see any particular reason to spend that money unless you really *want* to.

    PLEASE DO NOT try your idea of wrapping a heating cable around a mason jar. I can think of a variety of bad things likely to happen. In particular: PLEASE DO NOT use anything of a heating-cable sort (there are various kinds, I am not sure what type you mean) in a way it was not designed for. For instance, the ones meant to be wrapped around plumbing to keep it from freezing must not be applied with successive turns closer together than the mfr says, and must be on a water filled pipe, otherwise you can start a fire. Etcetera.

    and will this be draft free? I live in northern WV. chickens are 2 red stars living in a Catawba-like tractor design with a 6x4' footprint. currently there is no top-level floor, but i can insert panels in to make it solid.

    You will want to put in some plywood or heavy cardboard on the upstairs floor to make it solid, yes. Does the trapdoor/ramp close? If so, as long as it is in a very wind-protected location, you may get by ok (you have a great advantage in having only 2 chickens in there, that'll make it *much* easier to winter them healthfully and gracefully than if you had more). Your main problem is simply that because of the small upstairs area, pretty much ANY air coming in (ie. ventilation, which you *need*) will be aimed directly at the chickens, cuz there just isn't any other room. So the main thing would be to prevent air from blowing in on wind, as opposed to gently diffusing in and out.

    Again, I do not know exactly what kind of heating cable you're talking about, but PLEASE don't be tryin' to heat your coop that way. If you want some kind of heat, use a small lightbulb, it will be much much much cheaper as well as safer.

    You might check out my Cold Coop page (link in .sig below) for more on the subject of how cold chickens can put up with.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat​
     
  3. Sissy

    Sissy Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I have been using a heat lamp hanging over
    the water feeder and also wraped a tarp.over the coop
    end.
    depending how many chicks ,they do keep each other warm with their own body heat,
    I have an out door electrical cord leading from my porch to the lamp. I also have a long board on 2 wood horses with the pen on top with wood shavings. so its not setting
    in the heavy snow. I hope this helps.
     
  4. AaronK

    AaronK Out Of The Brooder

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    Sep 14, 2009
    thanks for the replies.

    some comments -

    Heat cable: was going to use the kind designed for reptile cages. I was guessing that this kind just hums along at a constant level and doesn't need to be in tight contact with a heat sink to prevent overheating. but is that incorrect?

    Drafts: the ramp does close, for this very reason. the structure is not *air tight* - there are a few gaps in the flooring, around the sides, and at the "gables". nothing big - nothing more than 1/4" and a couple inches long - stuff that could be sealed with caulking if need be. But then they do need ventilation... I just cant tell what the right balance is.

    unfortunately there isnt any particularly draft free location for them in the yard. But - there IS a shed which i was planning on dragging the tractor into during the worst blizzard nights. it's just sort of a nasty place that wouldnt do for more than a day or so.

    anyway, keep it coming!
     
  5. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Quote:Well, that doesn't sound *as* bad as some of the things that've been proposed on this forum in the past involving heating cables of various types, you'd be surprised [​IMG] -- but I still would not recommend it. I am still not real sanguine about its safety, and it just seems like way overcomplication and extra expense when you could do just FINE by either bringing fresh water every morning or making a cookie-tin or cinderblock type DIY heated base.

    Drafts: the ramp does close, for this very reason. the structure is not *air tight* - there are a few gaps in the flooring, around the sides, and at the "gables". nothing big - nothing more than 1/4" and a couple inches long - stuff that could be sealed with caulking if need be. But then they do need ventilation... I just cant tell what the right balance is.

    Air leaks are not really ventilation... and sometimes they can cause more problems than they 'solve'. What you want is some sort of actual, purpose-built *vent openings* that you can close down wholly or partly as the weather dictates. In an A frame type coop you are likely to be stuck putting them on the two triangular ends,but for 2 hens that may be ok. On particularly cold and/or windy days, you can leave only the downwind side open, and they can hang out at the opposite end of the tractor when they want to get away from breeze.

    It is by far better to make them bigger than you turn out to need, than to make them chintzy and small and then discover in a January blizzard that your chickens are having problems. If you arrange the flaps or whatever that cover the vents (use weatherstripping) so that they can be adjusted to different degrees of openness, not just open/shut, you will have a lot of flexibility to adapt to however you see conditions going.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat​
     
  6. AaronK

    AaronK Out Of The Brooder

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    Sep 14, 2009
    thanks pat - you've given me some things to think about. i'll have to figure out a clever way to retrofit some adjustable vents in the sides, and i'll seal up those cracks.
     

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