My chickens don’t love the snow. They tolerate the cold rather well but the snow turns them off. They don’t like to walk in it at all. This was the first snow they ever saw and not one set foot in it. They stayed on the only grassy area that was left under the big pine tree.
I have had to learn as I went this first winter with chickens…hoping that I would just figure it out. I did some of the typical winter modifications to the coop and run — wrapped half of the run in plastic and added a bucket de-icer to their bucket waterer.
Some of the other modifications I made in the last few weeks since it became VERY cold and very snowy. A few weeks ago I noticed several of their combs becoming purple and I immediately felt a concern for frostbite. I read and read online and in chicken books about what to do. Many conflicting opinions and many extreme ideas. One book even said to surgically remove the damaged comb! That seemed insane to me so instead I began putting Aquafor on their combs and wattles every morning for protection from the wind. That seemed to help but for poor Anna the damage had been done. You can see the black tips of her comb here:
Their coop is insulated and relatively draft free around their roost. I even wrapped plastic around the barn door and the nesting boxes to prevent drafts. The eaves of both sides of the roof are open for ventilation. Which has avoided any moisture issues in my coop but also allows the heat to escape quite easily…. Thus, my dilemma.
To heat or not heat the coop?
I researched this and agonized over this decision. Old school chicken farmers will say absolutely never heat your coop. The chickens get too used to it and may suffer or die if the heat goes out unexpectedly. But my thought was — in the old farming days the chickens were housed inside a barn where there were cows, horses, and pigs that generated a lot of heat. Just because they are technically “livestock” doesn’t mean they should suffer frostbite. My chickens are very beautiful and I would be so sad if their combs fell off due to frostbite.
So I decided to give them some supplemental heat like they would have had from other animals in the old farm days. I purchased a 400 watt ceramic flat panel heater (Eco-heater) and installation was a breeze. I plan to plug it into a thermocube eventually but for now it has been easy enough to just switch it on or off when I go out to check on them.
When it’s running it stays about 10-15 degrees warmer in the coop than outside. Just enough to keep their coop more bearable and prevent frostbitten combs. I also added a remote thermometer so I can always see the temperature inside the coop. (remote thermometer on Amazon) When the temp gets above 35 degrees I turn the heater off. Chickens don’t need to be “warm” by our standards and their heartiness in the cold is important to maintain.