Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
On our off-grid homestead in the mountains of Idaho, we have been raising chickens for many years now. Being off-grid has afforded us a opportunity to be creative and adaptable with many of our daily matters, including how we keep our chickens warm and healthy during the winter.
Because we don’t have the benefit of limitless electricity, reaching for the conventional on-grid fixes, such as a heating lamp or a electric water dish heater, just isn't a option. Thus, we have adapted how we keep the flock warm and healthy by first looking at free resources already available around the homestead. We also love using things that are natural, organic and biodegradable!
After implementing and refining our off-grid tricks over many winters, we can't believe how easy and simple they are, so we had to share them with our readers. The awesome thing is these tips can be used for your flock right away. In addition, it will help create a greener homestead with a lower carbon footprint.
Woodstove Magic: Using Rocks
We have wood heat. The wood stove for us during the winter is going 24/7. This works out great for the chickens because we keep rocks on the wood stove. The rocks heat up, retain heat (thermal mass) and are used in a couple different applications.
First, we put the rocks in the water dish. This prevents the chicken’s water from freezing. No more buying the electric water dish heaters!
We also will take our heated flatter rocks and place them on the floor of the coop during the night. Throughout the night it radiates and gives them just a little extra warmth
I will also use the flatter heated rock during the morning when I feed the flock. I will actually put the warm oatmeal or potatoes I cook them and scoop it onto the rock. This way the food wont freeze which happens when you dump it on the frozen ground.
The Beauty of Straw
Straw is a great insulator. When the temps drop we do a couple things. We stack straw bales up against the bottom of the coop. The chickens then have a insulated spot away from the wind and cold.
We also will use straw in their coop. I layer it on the floor and build up their empty egg-laying boxes with it. The thick floor layer really does help with warming up their coop and even helps as a sound barrier for those early morning roosters who want to get you out of bed at 4am!
I also take the straw and use it outside where I feed them. I create a small area using a baby crib railing, which I cover with leaves. Underneath, I pile up the straw. When I feed the chickens, the food doesn’t freeze, plus they are protected.
When spring comes, all that beautiful straw then goes right into our compost pile for later use in the back-to-Eden garden
Insulate Your Coop
Yes, it pays to add insulation to your coop. With one roll of insulation, I was able to do the walls in my coop. Purchase faced insulation, as you do not want to expose your chickens to the fiberglass. If you use Styrofoam, realize the chickens will peck it to death! So, it must be covered so as not to tempt them.
Also, make sure there is still some ventilation in the coop. A sealed coop is a no-no. Don't forget the rug! We use old rugs — I have many old rugs which, during the cold snap, I nailed up on the sides of the coop. Every little bit helps, so don't throw those old ratty rugs away. Your animals will be thanking you.
Close the Door
Something so simple as keeping the coop door shut during the night will help immensely when temperatures dip at night. Imagine when your door opens to your house and everyone is screaming to CLOSE THE DOOR! Every night, we make the cold trudge to the coop to shut the door — simple, easy, and safe.
Are my hens spoiled? Maybe. But warm treats during the winter go a long way. I will make warm oatmeal, rice, potatoes, and even add some coconut oil to the mix. Why? When its cold, animals burn more calories. Every now and then, I will also add a little bit of Gatorade to their water.
Just remember, chickens are a hardy bunch. They are bred to tolerate winter conditions so don’t fret into thinking they will die when its below zero. They won't. But all of these handy tips will keep them much more healthy and, of course, cozy warm.
Starry Hilder and her husband, Mark, live off-grid on a 13-acre self-sustaining homestead in the stunning mountains of Northern Idaho. Unique in their approach to homesteading, they rely on working with nature and utilizing their skills and knowledge with a back-to-basic outlook. From hunting and fishing, to gardening, composting, canning, and trail running, paddling, and hiking, there is never a dull moment on their property. Starry enjoys sharing her journey and all their life skills on their YouTube channel. Read all of Starrys' MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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