Warm chickens without burning your coop down
It’s cold weather time, and that means a lot of chicken keepers are worried about keeping their birds from freezing on their roosts.
During this time of year, there’s always a few fires in chicken coops where well-meaning owners put space heaters or heat lamps to keep their animals toasty.
But, it doesn’t take a fire marshall to explain the issues with putting heating elements in a small space made of dry wood, lined with straw and filled with flapping, unpredictable animals.
There’s not a lot of officials safety information regarding chicken coops, but these common sense tips, along with barn fire safety tips from the USDA will go along way toward keeping your lovelies safe this winter.
No smoking in or around the coop
Sure it’s a no brainer, but it still needs to be said. If you’re smoking around a coop, an errant spark or hot ash can send all that dried straw and feathers up in a flash. An ember can smolder for hours too, so even if you’re careful and check around the coop often, that ember may sit for hours unnoticed, only to flare up in the middle of the night.
Inspect your electrical systems often
Lights and extension cords in a coop can lead to frayed wires and electrical sparks inside a coop, especiallay considering all the rough edges. Sparks lead to fires. So make sure any electrical wiring or outlets in and around your coop are well insulated and secure. A quick visual inspection can save a lot of time and heartache down the road.
Secure your heat sources
If you just have to use a heater in your coop — we suggest you don’t, see alternative heating methods below — then make sure it’s secure. Bolt it in place and make sure your animals can’t get to it. It’s a good idea to have a designated area for any heat source fenced off to keep your birds from flinging straw or wood shavings on the heating elements.
Alternative methods for keeping your birds warm
Perhaps the easiest way to prevent fires is to avoid electricity all together. No electric heat, no electric lights means no source of electrical sparks. But you may be worried that your feather babies won’t be able to survive a cold winter’s night.
But, chances are, your chickens will do better in the cold that you think. Most breeds can survive temps down to 0 degrees Farenheit (-17C). But, there are some parts of the world that get even colder.
How do you minimize electric heat in those situations?
Insulating your chicken coop when you build it is a great idea. Even after it’s done, however, you can still use foam panels, reflective foil barriers and straw or wood shavings on the floor. This lets the heat the birds produce via body heat stay inside the coop. Just make sure you don’t give up ventilation for insulation. It may seem like sealing a coop up is a good idea, but even in the winter, your birds need fresh air more than ever.
Deep litter heating
You can also use the deep litter method for heating a coop. The idea is simple: Put straw or wood chips down as normal, but instead of cleaning it out when it gets soiled, add more clean straw or wood chips over the top. This material composts in the floor of the coop and the heat produced during the composting process helps keeps the birds warm. Fair warning: When the Spring comes, you’re going to have a bad time cleaning that mess out.
You can also use compost piles to heat chicken coops. This method is almost identical to using the deep litter method, but it involves using a mobile coop placed over a compost pile to produce heat. This method has something over the deep litter method, since there’s no cleaning at the end. But, if you don’t have a mobile coop then this one is going to be hard to pull off.
Build a solar collector
A solar collector can be built cheaply and easily. Essentially, it uses the sun to heat air in a glass encased chute that rises into the coop. Coupled with good insulation and maybe a thermal mass (see below) that warm air will be enough to keep your birds from turning into chickensicles.
A thermal mass is a material used in construction to absorb heat during the day and radiate it at night. Usually made of brick, concrete or rock, these A thermal mass can be built into your chicken coop during construction, but if not, then there are other options. You can spray paint milk jugs black and fill them with water and put them in windows (or in front of your solar collector). At night they’ll radiate the stored heat into the coop, just like any thermal mass would. If your coop is small enough, this is an easy way to keep the temperature of your coop just high enough to prevent frostbite.
If you just take a little time, you’ll be able to baby your birds through the winter without incident. And there’s a bonus. Warm birds eat less. So if you do any one of these tricks, you’ll wind up with a cheaper feed bill at the end of the season.