With the snow, cold and short days, I’m surprised any of them are laying. The first sight of snow stopped all three chicks dead in their tracks as they emerged from their coop a few mornings ago. They’d apparently wiped all memories of last winter out of their minds; it’s probably a good thing. Last winter was harsh, a far cry from the mild winters we had been experiencing. The girls responded by refusing to place their dainty feet anywhere near the snow. I made straw paths for them to walk on, but they rarely left their coop or enclosed run.
This year their reaction to the first snowfall seemed to predict a second year of self-imposed huddling in the run. However, by the second day they became brave and actually frolicked in the snow. They ran in the snow, scratched in it and ate it—Lulu in particular. She’d look up with a mustache of snow on her beak like she was posing for the “Got Milk?” campaign.
Everyone is always interested in how I keep the chicks warm during the winter. Often they're surprised to discover the chicks live outside even during a Minnesota winter. Actually, a chicken can adjust to cold weather easier than it can to extreme heat. Chickens don’t have sweat glands so they have no way of cooling their body, especially because most of it is covered with feathers. If the temperature gets above 95°F. they begin to suffer and will pant like a dog.
Chickens rely on each other’s body heat to keep warm by huddling together. While the Beach Boys weren’t singing about chickens, the sentiment still applies “And the Northern girls…. keep their boyfriends warm at night.” My Northern chicks are each other’s best source of heat and keep each other warm at night.
To help them further cope with the cold I rely on technology. This year I purchased a new infrared heater for the coop from Sweeter Heater www.sweeterheater.com/bizweb.asp. Because my coop is small I got the smallest model, and placed it on the ceiling where it radiates heat onto the birds as they roost. The best part about the heater is it will not burn the birds if they accidentally touch it. Roxanne stretches her legs so she can get her head as close as possible to the heater.
The birds also have an Igloo-Style Heated Pad that’s designed for outdoor pets http://www.arcatapet.com/sresult.cfm. The heating pad can be easily cleaned and rises to the animal’s body temperature as they sit on it. Cleo loves this.
I also provide a ceramic heat lamp in a protected shade. It’s the same type of heater that’s used in reptile tanks. It has a rheostat to adjust the heat. The lamp is located over the nest and Lulu has chosen this as her favorite spot. All three heaters work together to keep the coop warm. How warm varies with the temperature and the wind. I also cover the outside of the Eglu coop with heavy wool blankets to provide extra insulation.
The chicks’ run is covered in heavy-duty clear plastic. This acts as a wind break but allows the sun to shine in creating a mini greenhouse effect. Even the water dispenser is protected with its own heater so the water won’t freeze.
I’m able to keep an eye on the entire set-up by monitoring the temperature inside the coop via a wireless thermometer located in my kitchen. I can pour a latte and whip up Roxanne’s precious egg while at the same time making sure the girls are cozy and warm.