Monday, January 5, 2009

urban chickens weather the cold, cold night

This weekend the overnight temperature dropped below freezing here in the Bay Area (I know, tough) and it got me thinking about those urban chickens in places where there's actually snow on the ground like Denver, Chicago and Seattle(!).

Just how cold-tolerant are your chickens? Turns out, most breeds are quite hardy in the cold. You can look up how hardy your breed is in this handy table. It looks like most laying breeds are pretty hardy... it's the showy ones that don't do so well in the cold or heat. Lucky for us, our Plymouth Rocks are very cold hardy, so they must think living in California is a dream (like their owners do).

Even if your chooks are hardy, there are at least a couple things you want to make sure of when the mercury dips low:
  • ensure ready access to fresh water: make sure your water source doesn't ice over. Easily remedied by purchasing a water heater for your coop. Or check out this video of using a 60W bulb to keep the water unfrozen.
  • protect the chooks from frost bite: yes, those red flappy things (the comb and wattles) can get frostbitten, so when you know it's going to be freezing out for an extended period of time, get some vaseline on the red bits to protect them. Here's a nice explanation as to how to protect the combs.
One thing that seems a bit contentious among urban chicken farmers is whether you should use an electric bulb in the coop to heat things up. Yes, the right wattage will keep things nice and toasty for the girls in the coop. But as some have pointed out, if the bulb should go out unexpectedly, your girls will not be acclimated to the cold air and might not survive the night. Take a look at this discussion about heating coops over on Backyard Chickens to get a peak at how both sides see it. It's interesting to note that stories show most feed store personnel look at urban chicken farmers oddly when asked about heating coops, as if to say "why the heck would you want to do that? They're just chickens!" They don't seem to realize that urban chickens are really pets (aren't they?) and therefore worth the extra fuss.

What are you doing to keep your urban chicken flock warm this winter?

1 comment:

Linda said...

My flock of 5 chickens all cram themselves into one Eglu at night. I have to admit that I encouraged this behavior. After I noticed all but one stubborn chicken were roosting together at night, I moved the hold-out and closed off the other Eglu coop. While it may sound really crowded, they seem quite comfy and snug in there when I open it up each night to check on them during the nightly "lock-down" process. I use a heated dog bowl to keep their water from freezing, but when it was really bitter last month (temps in the single digits) the water was still starting to ice over by the end of the day. This morning it was 12F when I went out to open the coop. Brrr!


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