CHICKENS IN WINTER – February 2018

By Diane Lockspeiser

I had always wondered what would happen if an egg froze, and with the super-frigid night that we had on January 6th, I found out. My chickens had been contained in their very roomy coop because of the weather. I usually leave the light on during the day when they are contained just to make it a little more pleasant for them, even though they do have a window for light as well. That day, I decided to leave the light off so that I wouldn’t need to bundle up in the evening to go shut it off.

It’s unusual for my girls to lay eggs later in the day, but evidently (and of course!) two of them did so that day. In the morning, among the normal eggs, I found two that had popped open. One was a bit of a mess because the chickens had pecked at it, so I tossed it into the compost bin. Both eggs were frozen inside but instead of a solid ice type of frozen, it was an interestingly firm-but-granular type of frozen. Kind of a raw egg slushy ball. When I peeled off the shell, my dog totally enjoyed playing around with one before eating it.

If the coop is relatively draft-free, it’s not necessary to heat it. The chickens will fluff themselves up to make use of their downy layer to stay warm. I have heard that sometimes they can get frostbite on the combs or feet, but I have yet to see any signs of that. I use a length of 2×4 lumber instead of a traditional roosting bar, the logic being that they can cover their feet entirely with their bodies when they roost on it. So far this has worked well, with no problems.

The big problem that I did have the first winter was keeping unfrozen water available for them, which is very important. After having to keep changing the water, sometimes several times a day, I invested in a heating pad that I found at Tractor Supply. It was a little pricey for my budget, but worth every penny. It keeps the water from freezing even on the coldest nights, yet never gets too warm. To keep the chickens from pecking at the cord, I ran it through old PVC pipes in the area that they can reach. I originally had a metal two-gallon poultry drinker to put the water in. When that rusted, I replaced it with a very large stainless steel dog dish. Since I don’t like to use plastic if it can be avoided, I don’t know if the heating pad will work well with the plastic drinker that many people use. The water in the dog dish does get dirty faster than in a poultry drinker, so I clean and refill it every day. So far, so good… except when I don’t check for eggs on a frigid night!~