We’re in the middle of our second ‘polar vortex’ of frigid temperatures and our chickens don’t seem too happy about it.
On most winter days the “ladies” come out of their coop and head for the area underneath it to scratch in the dirt. This was an unintended benefit of my exclusive (and cheap) double raised pallet coop design; the area under the coop is covered and so stays pretty much snow free which allows the ladies to scratch, peck and bathe in the dirt. These behaviours seem to be hard-wired into a chicken’s brain. Our chickens happily spend many hours a day engaged in this way. As I watch our chickens being allowed to follow their instincts in this way, I pity the billions of caged chickens on the planet who don’t get to do what comes so naturally to them.
During these frigidly cold winter days, the chickens have lost the desire to spend any time outside and have been staying hunkered down inside the coop. We’ve insulated the outside of the coop and we put square bales of hay or straw around the base to cut down on the wind blowing through the ‘play area’ underneath, but they don’t seem to want to leave when it’s 25°C below (-13°F). And I feel bad for them because their world becomes pretty small … and crowded, with a dozen of them inside.
We take warm water and treats out about once an hour, but nothing coaxes them out. To get to the chicken coop we go out the back door and walk through our back porch, which I enclosed with scrounged storm windows years ago. On a sunny January day, even when it’s -25°C, the porch gets surprisingly warm. One day it suddenly dawned on me that we could be making use of this solar gain in the chicken coop.
So I went to my scrap glass pile in the barn foundation and found a great old aluminum storm door. You might remember something similar from your childhood, with the curly grates across it and often a big initial on it. Ken and Alyce had been kind enough to contribute this one. Alyce has been on a bit of a scrap-metal-recycling-binge and one of these big old honkin’ aluminum boats of a door has a fair amount of weight to it.
So one morning, once the sun was high enough, I opened up the back door (facing south) that I use to clean out the coop, loaded up their feeder and placed the big glass door across it. The ladies are “head over heels” or ‘combs over dinosaur-like feet” about it! They love it! You can tell. Inside the coop is probably as warm as Daytona Beach and it’s nice and bright so they can see what they’re eating. Once we open up the flap behind the nesting box when they’re finished laying, it makes a jungle-gym-like climbing apparatus for the more adventuresome of them, again in full sun.
I don’t know whether this will increase how many eggs they lay, but who cares. It looks positively toasty in there and they can watch all the happenings outside without having to get cold feet.
It won’t be worth doing on cloudy days, and on warmer winter days the ladies generally come out and scratch around, so I think we’ll only have to do this on really cold, sunny days. We’ve had quite a few of these this winter.
Happy chickens warming themselves in the sun. It’s a pretty good life.
For more information about Cam Mather or his books please visit www.CamMather.com.