My poor chickens are so cold!
January 3, 2014 8:20 PM   Subscribe

How can I provide heat to my chicken coop, without an electricity source?

Ok this one is really a long shot. My parents have chickens that live in a little chicken coop on our property. They're amazing and we love them! However, I'm really worried about them in this crazy cold spell that NY is having lately.I need to come up with some way to provide heat to the coop BUT I can't get a power cord out there. They're too far from the house AND they're on the other side of the driveway, so running an extension cord out there is not possible.

Is there like... a battery powered heat lamp that I could mount in the coop? Something that runs on rechargable batteries so we could charge them during the day and turn it on at night? I don't know.

Here's the catch. I am very, very unhandy when it comes to stuff like this, and my dad is currently out of commission recovering from a serious injury. So it's on me to figure this out. Help! My chickens are freezing!

If this is impossible, but you have suggestions as far as insulating the coop or other ideas, lets hear them!
posted by silverstatue to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's more important that it be well ventilated and not drafty than warm. How cold is it? Mine have been perfectly fine down to -10 and I read that they're fine in much lower temps. Usually on the chicken forums, when someone asks about this, they say that more chickens die from coop fires (due to ill-conceived heating setups) than from cold. The real danger is damp from their droppings. Keep it clean and ventilated and it should be fine.
posted by HotToddy at 8:27 PM on January 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

The quickest thing I can think of is buckets of hot to boiling water. Closed so they don't try to drink from them. Low tech, but should help.
posted by 101cats at 8:29 PM on January 3, 2014

Something like this microwavable pet bed + blankets over the top of the coop, to retain heat?

As a stopgap measure, I'd be tempted to try big rocks heated in an oven, wrapped in towels, plus the blankets over the coop.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:32 PM on January 3, 2014

We-ell, I haven't taken the temp inside the coop, but at the moment, is saying it's -5 outside. They've been fine the past two winters with just snuggling together, but this winter seems especially cold. The coop does have ventilation but it's not damp or drafty. We have straw and shavings on the floor and in the laying boxes.

101cats, I read on a forum about putting (sealed) buckets of warm water in there so I will probably try that.
posted by silverstatue at 8:33 PM on January 3, 2014

Do you have any type of bedding down in the coop? Wood chips, straw, etc? Don't clean it. Just pile new bedding on top. You are essentially heating the coop with compost. If you've ever turned a compost pile on a chilly day, you know that it is usually steamy hot in the middle. Same effect here.
posted by Ostara at 8:33 PM on January 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Do not use hot water. The steam or condensation will turn from warm water to a wet and cold feather coat. Your chickens will be fine.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:35 PM on January 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Found an article on heating with compost:
posted by Ostara at 8:35 PM on January 3, 2014

We're in the same boat here in Pennsylvania. We moved the chickens to the front porch and set up a smaller box with a roost in it that will be easier for them to heat with their bodies. The box is wrapped in towels for insulation, but has an opening for ventilation.

If you can't move them you can fill socks with rice and microwave them for a makeshift heating pad. Just make sure the weave on the socks is tight enough so that they can't eat the uncooked grains, or use two socks.
posted by Alison at 8:38 PM on January 3, 2014

posted by Snazzy67 at 8:39 PM on January 3, 2014

What you want is a gas canister heater like this one from Coleman. I have used one of these to heat my truck when sleeping in it on trips.
posted by jnnla at 8:43 PM on January 3, 2014

Hot water is fine, as long as you use buckets with lids. The standard Home Depot bucket is what we used. Id be careful with any sort of combustion heating, as chickens are sensitive to fumes.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 9:17 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing you want to be the most concerned with is that the birds stay dry. Chickens can handle a lot of cold if they don't get damp.
posted by azpenguin at 9:31 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can get heaters that attach to the standard BBQ propane tanks. There're also kerosene heaters.
posted by kmennie at 9:33 PM on January 3, 2014

Fill quart canning jars with boiling water. Put the lids on and tighten the bands. Wrap in towels and put them in the coop. Repeat as necessary.
posted by purenitrous at 9:34 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely not the cheapest option, but you could pretty easily cobble together a small solar panel, a battery and a heating pad for them...
posted by mrrisotto at 10:06 PM on January 3, 2014

Hot water bottles? (No leaks.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:05 PM on January 3, 2014

As a stopgap measure, I'd be tempted to try big rocks heated in an oven, wrapped in towels, plus the blankets over the coop.

Or bricks, which may be easier to source (in this weather) or work with.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:19 AM on January 4, 2014

Rocks, hot water and the like do not have enough inherent heat capacity to do much good, unless you want to walk them out there every 5 or 10 minutes, 24/7.

How many chickens? If it's 200, you can't bring them in, but if it's 5, perhaps there's a warm place inside? Easier to clean up a little chicken poop than a lot of dead chickens! ( I actually think they will be fine. They have down coats.)

My neighbors have a few (less than 10) that they have in a coop next to their house. I am in Vermont. It gets this cold every year. They have never lost a chicken to cold. Never reported chicken frostbite.

The best thing you can do since you are having a short term emergency, is to get some real data on the problem. Get some readings during the day on the temp outside and inside the coop to see how bad it gets. Next spring, add insulation to the coop, and/or power. Do the best you can in the short term. The time to "fix" this is not now. Now you must simply handle it as best you can. These chickens are doomed, anyway. New ones come in the mail.

If you aren't handy, you can do more damage than good. Work with your strengths, which include compassion, and start your study of the related issues.
posted by FauxScot at 4:02 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had chickens living on my semi-enclosed porch in upstate NY when it was -20 Fahrenheit. They survived fine.
posted by mareli at 7:39 AM on January 4, 2014

The only thing you really need to worry about is water - either refresh it often, or get a purpose made heated waterer or heater for a waterer. Plenty of bedding like wood shavings and a place out of the wind and they will be fine.

Propane type heaters come with a warning to not use them in enclosed spaces. For a reason.
posted by rudd135 at 7:42 AM on January 4, 2014

We have eleven (ten hens and a rooster). We definitely can't bring them in the house.

I hope I'm just being paranoid and they (as most people seem to think) will be perfectly fine. We have new straw and shavings which we're going to put down today. We're also refilling their water supply with hot water several times a day. The more I read about it, the more dangerous an actual heater sounds, so I won't try that.

Osteria, thanks for the link about using compost for warmth. I'm so jealous of those people's coop! I want a thousand chickens.
posted by silverstatue at 7:49 AM on January 4, 2014

We feed our chickens scratch grains during the fall/winter/spring (thrown out on the ground every morning when we let them out). It's a corn mixture I believe. As I understand it, the activity of scratching on the ground during the day helps them warm up and the content of the food keeps them warm at night. When it was unusually cold here last month, we'd also throw some out in the afternoon before they roosted.

Also, we employ the "don't clean the coop for a long time" passive heating system. It gets a little gnarly when it's time to clean it in the spring but it really does keep them warmer.

As long as they have abundant food and clean water, they'll be fine. Those little chickens are tougher than you think.
posted by Beti at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2014

You could get some foam insulation panels from the hardware store and nail them up on the insides (or the outsides, though it'd be ugly) of the coop. You could also partially block the ventilation so that body heat will build up better and there will be fewer drafts. However, depending on what breed of chicken you have you might not need to do anything. Many breeds are very cold-tolerant, much moreso than humans. Look up whatever breed(s) you have in your coop and see whether cold tolerance is something that they were bred for. Unless they're hot-weather birds (unlikely in NY) they'll probably be fine.
posted by Scientist at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2014

Get a couple water bottles and fleece throws at a thrift store. Very hot water bottles, wrapped in insulation, stay pretty toasty and release warmth slowly.
posted by theora55 at 12:47 PM on January 4, 2014

One other suggestion - I've been giving my birds suet blocks - they're sold for wild birds, in the winter. The suet is supposed to help the birds by giving them extra calories and fat. I got mine at the grocery store.
posted by rudd135 at 1:43 PM on January 4, 2014

They will be fine, body-wise. What you need to take care of are their feet and their combs. Put Vaseline or Bag Balm on their legs, feet, and combs to keep them from freezing. Those exposed areas that are not covered with feathers are what get cold.

Here's how:

Apply petroleum jelly liberally to the wattle and comb of the bird. Massage the jelly into all red skin showing on the poultry's head. Finish up by leaving a thick coat of jelly on the comb and wattle.
Observe the comb and wattle when applying the jelly. If any area on the wattle and comb are black, the bird may already have frostbite. Be very careful when applying petroleum jelly to this area and the skin surrounding it.
Reapply petroleum jelly as needed. Pick up a chicken and touch the comb. If the red skin feels dry, it is time to reapply. If the skin still feels slightly oily or greasy the previous application is still doing its job.
When applying the petroleum jelly, be careful not to get any jelly in the bird's eyes.

Most importantly, monitor your chicken's behavior. If they are moving about and acting normally, they are fine! They will naturally fluff out their feathers or stand on one foot to keep warm.

Make sure your coop isn't drafty or leaky. Keep them well fed with high protein feed and free choice cracked corn, make sure they get warm water to drink at least twice a day, and put plenty of wood chips and straw down on the floor and in their nest boxes. They will be FINE.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:38 PM on January 4, 2014

Ah yes, I almost forgot. Make sure you have plenty of gravel/grit available for them. Many people forget that the chooks can't get to the ground under the snow or peck it out of the frozen ground to replenish the grit in their craw. If they don't have grit, they can't digest that warming corn and feed.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:42 PM on January 4, 2014

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