Raising Chickens in very cold temperatures

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I live in the Fairbanks, AK area. I have a few questions regarding managing my chickens in the cold temperatures we have here. It can go down to -40F or even colder. We have a 4X8 insulated chicken coop with a insulated floor. We have 5 Buff Orpingtons (?sp). We are getting to below 0 at night and highs in the teens. What temperature is it safe for me to allow my chickens outside the coop? They are freely able to return to the coop. Should I feed them anything extra besides laying pellets? We have a regular light in the coop and they are still laying, at what temperature should we consider heating and with what source? I've heard that I could keep their water from freezing by watering in an old crock pot on low? Is this safe or recommended? Thank you.

-- Stephanie from interior AK (steffi1530@yahoo.com), October 26, 2001


I would keep them in , they cannot forage for food so why bother.Some also say when there feet hit snow they slow way down in egg production.

-- Patty {NY State} (fodfarms@slic.com), October 26, 2001.

I leave mine where they can go in & out at their leisure. I really don't know about the heating thing. I would think if your house is insulated, they should be ok. You could just hang a heat lamp for extra warmth if you wanted. Don't know about the crockpot either.

-- Wendy (weiskids@yahoo.com), October 26, 2001.

Our girls will NOT go out in the snow. Probably will be just a good to keep them in. Give them something to occupy their time with. Hay, milo stalks, etc. We cut milo and put three or four stalks in each day during the winter. We also put in a cup or so of cracked corn when it is cold. Our water font sits on a metal tray that has a warmer in it. Made for the job. Have never tried a crock pot. You must make sure there are no drafts. Chickens can stand cold weather, but if air is blowing under their feathers they will not make it. On the other hand, the pen must be ventilated to disburse amonia fumes from the manure. Good luck.

-- Rickstir (rpowell@email.ccis.edu), October 26, 2001.

My chickens are given the choice as to whether or not they want to go out...no matter what the temps or conditions are. I don't have electricity to my coop, but I offer them warm water twice a day during the winter. Extra corn definitely helps...I get the chicken "scratch feed" or the mixed wild bird seed as an occasional winter treat. I do have to shovel snow from their outside pen or they wont venture out! Then I put down some hay for them to scratch in out in the sunshine. My biggest problem has been frozen combs or wattles. But once they freeze and fall off...I have naturally "dubbed" chickens :-)!! By the way, I'm in Maine where the temps occasionally fall to -10 degrees.

-- Marcia (HrMr@webtv.net), October 26, 2001.

Since you have only a few hens, I would definately want some kind of heat because it is hard for just a few birds body heat to warm the henhouse.

-- (hooperterri@prodigy.net), October 26, 2001.

We raised and kept chicken very succesfully in the Mat-Su Valley near Wasilla (Stephanie will know where this is).

We kept red heat lamps available constntly during winter. The red light does not make them think it's daylight all the time. At night the "girls" would pile on top each other to get under the light.

The two largest problems were frozen drinking water and frozen eggs if you didn't get them gathered quick enough.

We watered teh chickens twice per day as we watered the rabbits.

Having lived in Fairbanks 5 years also, we found the weather in Wasilla actually harder to deal with as the Mat-Su gets a lot more wind even though the temps are a bit milder. (There was one winter in the early 80s in Fairbanks where the temp did not get ABOVE -40F for 35 days).

Best wishes with the girls.

- Greybear

-- Got Feed ?

-- Greybear (greybear@worldemail.com), October 26, 2001.

When we lived in central WI I used to do 2 things in the winter to keep my chickens warm and laying. 1. I would sprinkle dried hot peppers on top of their bedding and they would keep busy scratching for it. It kept their insides warm (so I have been told). 2. When it was really cold, I made them oatmeal. They had a little door so if they wanted they could go out. I closed it in brutal weather.

My hens (all heavies) laid well all winter.

-- Cordy (ckaylegian@aol.com), October 26, 2001.

We keep chickens here in the mountains of b.c. where it goes -40 or more fore several weeks each winter. Our coop (8x20 is only partially insulated. Ours won't go outside when snow is on the grou nd. I shut them in as soon as it snows till spring. I use a heatlamp over the water bucket to keep it from freezing and provide extra warmth. Lay mash is always available and I mix in a pint of crushed corn (a heating food) in the ration and throw some on the floor for them to scratch up. We bed with sawdust about a foot deep. Wife also cooks up veggie peelings with oatmeal and I give it to them each morning. Biggest problem is with the eggs. They lay all winter so we have to check for eggs several times a day when it gets really cold. Some times their combs freeze and eventually fall off but it doesn't seem to bother them. It's worked for us for 13 years now here. Good luck. Tomas in Canada

-- tomas (bakerzee@hotmail.com), October 26, 2001.

I'm two hours south of you in Delta. I don't know about your crockpot idea (water would probably be too hot for them to drink), but I've found a heated water dish on the net that works well. (I ordered it a plowhearth.com. You can probably find it at the feed store there in Firbanks?). Before I had it, I simply hauled warm water out to them daily and had no problems (I just got tired of hauling water).

As for me, I have a small barn with the henhouse attached; the heat of the animals plus enough supplemental heat to keep it above 0F seems to keep all my critters (rabbits, turkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens) happy. I have a couple incandescent bulbs on a timer and consistently have more eggs than I can use. I typically feed laying mash mostly plus scraps once in a while. Any high carbohydrate food scrap will help them generate heat; I don't think it would hurt them though it could slow egg-laying. (I've even heard about a guy taking old donuts, grinding them up, and feeding in the winter.) I generally don't let mine out often as I find that the birds don't do much in the snow but get cold anyway. If its a warm day (above 10) and there's no wind, I'll let them out for a short time while I clean the house. Keep in mind, however, that I have a large barn for them to run around in too.

On the other extreme -- A friend of mine in Tok keeps his hens housed in a very small, well-insulated house with no supplemental heat or lighting. Naturally, he doesn't get eggs in the winter, but the hens do fine. He allows them to wander outside and eat snow -- he provides NO supplemental water and warns against it. He says he hasn't lost a bird in 5 years (since he's been keeping them). I couldn't imagine his birds would have enough energy to lay eggs if he supplemented the light in the house and would suspect that doing so would really stress them.

Hope this helps.

-- Michael Nuckols (nuckolsm@wildak.net), October 27, 2001.

Hi Stephanie - Am writing from Paxson. You get it colder in Fbks; we get the cold sooner (-22, -26, and -29 on Nov 7-9). One concern I have is the very large size of your coop for just five hens. I have 38 in a very well-insulated coop that size. Go see my friend Kelly (next to the Blue Loon) to see what he does with his. Anyway, I let mine out when it's warmer than -10; some like to spend the day roosting outside; most eat snow; they're all in by dark, when I shut'em up. I put electricity in the coop, and have an elevated 55- gallon barrel with a resistance heater in it. A tube runs to a commercial drip-nipple arrangement (don't bother, they're extraordinarily expensive...mine was a gift), and all that tubing is heat-taped and insulated. By the way, I also took one of the 28-inch aluminum pans we put under our water tanks - its lip is about 2 - 2 1/2" high - and took an old barrel without a top, reamed out lots of holes along the bottom, and placed it atop the pan. I can fit 250 lbs of feed in it - makes for a fine long-term feeder. I found an old "flying saucer" snow toy to use as a lid. My only problem now is a couple of frozen eggs each day; all the rest are fine.

-- Audie (paxtours@alaska.net), November 15, 2001.

By the way, a friend in Nenana says his chooks stay outside until its 40 below. Once it starts getting cold, though (-50 to -70), they come into their under-house coop. He claims never a problem with his fowl at -40 outside.

-- Audie (paxtours@alaska.net), November 15, 2001.

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