Monday, March 16, 2009

Cold weather policy



Our cold weather policy varies depending on the time of the year. In early winter the weather always seems colder because none of us; chickens, goats as well as we humans, are use to the cooler temperatures. It is all relative. So we dress warmer and the goats shiver a bit until their winter coats grow in. Our bucks have a more insulated and smaller stall that holds the heat better, so generally they just get their heat lamp turned on when it gets colder than ten bellow zero. Right now it is on a timer to come on for an hour around midnight, just as a treat to get their area a little warmer for a comfy sleep. For most the winter I plug the girls' heat lamp in once the temperature gets below zero and unplug it when it warms up. Yesterday it was twenty below in the morning and ten below in the afternoon. It felt cold, but it was clear and sunny out which made it pretty nice out still. All the goats were out for most the day and I didn't see anyone acting cold. When it was ten below in December, everyone was much more reluctant to come outside. The goats have heated water tanks outside. We feed them grain and hay outside once or twice daily depending on the time of year. So no matter how cold it is, they have to get out and stretch their legs and get some fresh...cold air. If it is thirty below zero, or really windy or just snowing or raining hard, I will throw some hay into their stalls.Here is a picture of Xanadu on her way to get a drink. I shoveled a path to their water tank because the snow was so deep. I think snow in their feet seems to bother them more than the cold.

The chickens are pretty hardy. They have a heat lamp in their house that is on a timer and we adjust it depending on how cold it is. It is a red lamp so it can be on at night time and not disturb their sleep cycle. We also have a regular light that comes on for thirteen hours during the day. The heat lamp hangs above their water, and usually keeps it from freezing. We usually wait to open the chickens door to their outside pen until it is close to noon - so its warmer out by then. We close them in after the sun goes down. If the temperature is below zero we often leave them inside for the day. If the temperature has been twenty or thirty below zero for a while, I'll let them out as soon as it warms up significantly, maybe even five or ten below feels warm by then, and the birds are excited to get out for a little while anyway. So far this winter we've only had one of our Sexlink birds get frost bit on her comb. The bigger birds spend a lot more time outside when it is cold than the smaller birds. Well there are not many cold days left, and the sunny days make a big difference.

4 comments:

Miriam and Fawn said...

I also live in Fairbanks,Alaska and wonder how warm is your coop? We have 37 hens and 2 roosters and our egg production took a HUGE hit. This is our first year with chickens. (I know 37 might be a bit much for newbies) We have light for 14 hrs a day and it stays right above freezing the coop. Thinking they must like it warmer.. a friend told us they like it around 42. Have you noticed your chickens liked it warmer?

Emily said...

Miriam and or Fawn ? :) I'm sure that the chickens will prefer a warmer coop. Although the warmer the coop the less likely they are to go outside and I think that fresh air and going outside year round makes for healthy chickens as well. We open the small chicken door to our coop down to zero - kinda depending on weather patterns. Our outdoor pen is roofed and we put down bedding or sweep off snow when it blows in as the chickens don't like to walk int he snow. But usually this time of year the door is only open during the middle of the day for a few hours. We use light bulbs,and when the temperature gets below twenty below we put in the heat bulbs on timers. If we don't gather eggs daily they freeze, so I guess our temperature is below or around freezing. No matter the temperature this is the lowest egg production time of year. They start picking up in January. Usually our new birds are just starting but the older birds are in a lull. Is this your birds first year laying? If so, then they may be a bit stressed not only by temperatures but by being cooped up. Other signs of stess would be pecking on each other. Does the coop seem overly crowded or are their birds remaining on their perches and out of the way during the day? This is about the time of year I start doing extras for the chickens, sprouting wheat grass and cooking up pots of beans or peas. We have a crowded coop right now, we need to butcher a few extra roosters. Go ahead and experiment,try raising the wattage on your light bulb and see if they lay better. Let me know the results.

Miriam and Fawn said...

This is Fawn :) thanks so much for replying! My husband and I try to open the door and let them out but there are only a few that will go out. We have adjusted the ventilation as we were noticing a smell. That has helped and we added another layer of wood chips. They are laying but we are getting only on average (over 2 weeks averaged) 6 eggs a day. I know most (23 of the 37) are first year birds. The older ones are atleast 2 maybe 3 years old. I think it is just staying too cold. We have a thermometer and it ranges from -2 to 20 above in the coop with no heat. We started using a bulb with red on it to see if that would help. They are not pecking beyond what I think is normal. Our coop is about 10 x 20 so it is a large space. I have been sprouting, but haven't thought of the cooked peas/beans. I have alot of oats too so might try cooking some :) I am considering a flat panel heater to see if that will help, just scared of my electricity bill!! Have you used one? Thanks Again!
~Fawn

Emily said...

Fawn, I think you are right and maybe your coop is too cold. I have a dozen older birds who are only giving me a few eggs a day. Not all of my young birds are laying yet, I think about fifteen are laying and I'm getting about 8-10 eggs from them daily. Not great, but this is about the lowest time of year for us - maybe our coop is too cold as well. After your last comment I decided to put thermometers in the coops and compare the temperatures. Our lower coop is well insulated and has a dirt floor, it stays considerably warmer and the eggs only freeze if they accidentally get laid on the floor near the door which doesn't usually happen. Our top coop is well insulated and about 10x12, but it is bigger and has a couple windows that let too much cold in. WE have two light bulbs in that coop to keep it comfortable. If it does get too cold then I notice the birds perching near the lights, which they haven't done this year yet. I haven't used the heater that you referred to. Let me know what you discover.