Monday, December 27, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

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by Joy Currie
I just came in from morning chores. It is that cold, dry kind of morning when the snow is squeaky under your boots, and the sky is a clear, cloudless blue. It's the kind of morning when the temperature gauge says 6. It's the kind of morning where the husband makes lots of excuses to stay under the warm blankets, the kids are sitting in front of the space heater eating cereal and the boar won't come out when I pour his feed in the trough. But my little flock, not minding the cold, was chooking around and peeking out the windows of the coop waiting for me.

I debated for several weeks on whether to heat our coop or not. I had had two egg-bound chickens because of the extremely cold temperatures, but according to several web sites and a couple of articles I had read in Mother Earth News, chickens can withstand very cold temps if given adequate shelter. I changed my mind after an unfortunate incident involving our rooster, Ronald.

We had had temps consistently in the low teens every night for a couple of weeks. The flock seemed to be happy, although afraid to step out in the snow. This is their first winter, and it was hysterical watching seven good sized Wyandottes huddle together on a six inch snow-free strip of grass on the west side of the coop. Yes, the cold weather did cause two of our hens to become egg bound, but a night in the kitchen on a low, moist heating pad helped each girl to pass her egg. Everyone seemed to be happy otherwise.

A couple of weeks into cold weather, and after fighting to keep their waterer unfrozen, I resorted to a large, open bowl of warm water twice a day. This seemed to work well until Ronald got his hiney in the water. Late one afternoon, I noticed Ron had a rather large chunk of ice and poo, roughly the size and shape of a baseball, stuck to his fluff.

My husband suggested a hair dryer, but I did not really want to tangle with a large, frightened roo in our little bathroom. I could just picture feathers flying, spurs wielded, wings flapping...so I came up with the brilliant plan to keep Ron in a large box in the kitchen overnight to thaw.

The stage was set. After the flock had gone to roost, I brought a sedate Ron into the dark kitchen and settled him into the box, covering him with a window screen weighted down by a #12 Griswold cast iron frying pan. I figured all would go smoothly as long as the kitchen remained dark. Everything did go smoothly until 4am when Ron decided to wake everyone with his spectacular crowing! And he continued to crow every 15 minutes until 6 am when it was light enough to get up and take him back out to the coop.

When I turned on the kitchen light, Ron was primed and ready. Off flew the frying pan and screen, out shot the rooster into the kitchen. Ron was crowning and flapping. I was screaming and grabbing at the blur of feathers. Chairs were tipped over. Dishes were knocked off the counter. The cat was completely traumatized, huddled and twitching in the bathroom. Husband came to the rescue, capturing the renegade rooster and transporting him back out to the coop, thawed and ready to reassert his kingly position over his harem. His little rooster hiney was quite red and possibly a little frost bitten, but his feathers fluffed back up and he seems none the worse for wear. My kitchen, on the other hand, was covered with pine shavings, broken plates and chicken poo. The cat refused to come out of the bathroom for two days!

So that morning, I sent Husband down to the farm supply store to buy a heat lamp and cord. It doesn't keep things warm in the coop, but it keeps the flock somewhat thawed out when they roost, and since we installed the heat lamp, we have also had no problems with cold hens who are egg bound. I'm glad to say we have had no more icy roosters either.

10 comments:

  1. Wow.
    Thanks for the information though. Good to know. :-)

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  2. Great story. I can just imagine Ronald flying around a kitchen.

    We put up a heat lamp too. Just didn't feel right leaving them out there in the frigid cold.

    Going to have to look up egg bound...hadn't heard that one before. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
    Pam

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  3. Having chooks is an adventure that is for sure. Life is never dull. I am glad the rooster made a good recovery. What an indignity!

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  4. Hey girl! That sounds like a typical kitchen to me!! :)

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  5. Very cute story, we learned alot from it!

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  6. Oh man chickens are so funny after you have time to think about what just happened!
    I have had trouble with their water freezing also! It was so cold here it froze throughout the day-finally bought a electric chicken waterer! I'm so happy and so are they!
    vickie

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  7. We had a sick roo kept in our master bath inside a cat carrier. First morning he crowed way too early so he was relocated down the hall where the crowing was not so nerve jangling.

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  8. I have chickens and pigeons and have found that keeping an electric heater, one of those 'radiant oil filled' types in each loft (that is also insulated) to keep temperatures above freezing (mid to low 30's) makes my life, and theirs, much easier. They get to have the normal darkness so their circadian cycles remain intact and the heat keeps the water from freezing, and them more comfortable. On extra cold days, I keep them locked inside to keep the heating bill down. I have it placed with a piece of wood tied on top so it remains clean from their droppings, and them from roosting directly on it, then it is placed under a perch or nesting boxes with only a 3-4 inch clearing. There are No exposed heating elements so risk of fire or injury are minimal. I have been doing this for 11 years and find my birds are healthier and happier and so am I.
    Kris J Salt Lake City. Ut

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  9. We have a heated base to sit the waterer on so it never freezes. We also have a heat lamp so the birds can get under it if they're cold. When it's below 20, they can get out of the coop into what we call the overhang, a place where the previous owners stored a pop-up camper that hubby screened in for the birds; he puts plastic over all of it but the door in the winter so they can get out of the coop but are still in a protected area. We've never had an eggbound bird but we do get the occasional frostbitten comb on the roos. The birds get a little rowdy after being kept inside for a few days when the snow won't melt enough for them to get out, but they have room to move and they're protected from the elements.

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  10. What a story, that sounds like something that could happen to me! I was chuckling as I read that you brought Ronald inside and just knew it was not going to end well. I live in Michigan and have never heated a coop, nor have I ever had an egg bound hen in the 40+ years I've had chickens in my adult life, so I'm knocking on wood. This morning it was 3F, but my flock seemed happy in their coop. I have 4 Brahmas, 2 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Golden Laced Wyandottes, an Aracauna, a Speckled Sussex and a Dominique. They all seem very cold tolerant. I keep their water thawed in an electric dog bowl, so far it's worked well, even when the temps get below zero.

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