Specific concerns related to keeping chickens through the winter

sejalNovember 15, 2010

Greetings! We just recently bought a house that came with chickens and a pretty good size chicken coop that has an indoor enclosure and outside pen attached. There is a small opening separating the two that can be manually closed if necessary. This will be our first winter with the chickens and we want to make sure we are doing whats right and comfortable for the chickens. I've read several websites and books, but they all have conflicting information. Please check out my following questions and answer what you feel comfortable with.

1. We have 3 birds that are extremely elderly (close to 10 years old) that are very tiny. They are mixed in with our RI Reds who are 20 weeks old and very healthy. Do I need to take any precautions when it comes to the old hens? We don't eat chickens so hesitant to get them slaughter, but don't want them to suffer during the extremely cold days when our RI Reds will be fine. Should I use a heat lamp for the old biddies?

2. In regards to winter drafts; Do we keep the door separating the two areas (inside & out) open or closed? If it is closed the chickens won't get a lot of ventilation, but might suffer from the drafts. We do have perches that rest above the doors so perhaps this is sufficient to protect from the drafts.

3. Heated base for waters; The literature that came with them is vague. Do they stay inside or outside the coop? We don't have a roof over the outside enclosure so it would be exposed to the snow/rain. If they can stay inside, won't the chickens get water everywhere and dampen things? We are considering just switching out the water in the am and not using them.

4. We generally use straw as bedding, but have a carpenter in the family that just gave us clean wood shavings (not pressure treated). The wood is a mix coming from different trees. We don't have any chicks so is it safe to use as a thick layer under the straw?

Thanks in advanced and sorry for the length of this post! I was confident in my decisions originally until I saw tons of conflicting information on various websites. Have a good one!

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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

When I had chickens, I closed them in tight at night to protect them from predators. Water was inside the coop, hung just high enough so the hens could not scratch a lot of dirt and litter into them.

Generally, the chickens got no supplemental heat. They fluff their feathers and stay warm. But on nights that it was going to be into single digits (F), I would burn a red 100 watt spotlight in a porcelain socket drop light.

Never use any light fixtures with plastic sockets in your barn and be certain that lights can not be knocked down and that they are far from anything flammable. Every year in my area, a couple of barns and dog houses get burned down by heat lamps in cold weather.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 3:03PM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

I don't know what they do in the rest of the country, but nest boxes in my cold area are pretty well enclosed. 3 sides, a top, and partially closed in front. Then dry straw in the bottom of the box.

That way the chicken's body heat only has to heat a small space.

In a hot climate, you'd probably use a more open nesting box.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 3:07PM
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10 year old hens? OMG, I would personally not keep them around. No way I will keep my chickens around that long. I know they can live longer than that, but here's a statistic:
"The percentage of hens over four years old that will develop ovarian cancer is 45%" I have personally pulled a huge tumor the size of a large grapefruit out of an old hen, and it wasn't even 10 years old. No way I'm gonna put my chickens through that. My chickens are not pets, they're livestock. They live a happy life part of the time in a aviary, and a few times a week they get to free range all over the backyard. They get fed plenty of healthy treats but after 3-4 years I'm replacing them with younger ones.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 1:06PM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

I can't see any reason to not keep 3 tiny little banties as pets. It's not like they take up a lot of room, or eat a lot.

It doesn't make any sense to keep laying hens after a certain age, although I have no idea what a vegetarian would do with their over-age chickens.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 2:51PM
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We have chickens survive VERY cold temps with a minimum of problems. We use a regular incandescent light bulb to heat our little insulated coop, and put a heat lamp in the ceramic ceiling socket when it gets below -20. Occasionally they will get a frozen comb, but no damage beyond that. We have never kept Banties, however.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2010 at 4:51PM
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Over the last two winters, my chickens refused to use their insulated and heated (heat lamp) coop at night without being forced to do it by me locking them in for the night. No matter how cold, they preferred to roost up in the rafters of their enclosure. I finally just gave up, since the whole thing is completely enclosed and hopefully "predator proof". As long as they are happy and healthy I guess it doesn't matter.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2010 at 6:41PM
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