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Warming the Chickens – The Shoestring Herbalist

Warming The Chickens – The Shoestring Herbalist

The ladies hated December. They hated the snow. They hated the freezing wind. They hated the humidity that got under their feathers. When the temperature dropped below freezing, they boycotted the outside. They just sat in the coop together all fluffed up and sulking.

Normally, our winter snow doesn’t hit until January. When I heard the weather predictions for December, I was skeptical. I didn’t do my chicken coop winter proofing until the last minute.

Some backyard chicken ranchers spend a lot of time and energy to make their coops weather resistant. They buy heat lamps. They install insulation. I have even seen ads for chicken sweaters. Those are cool ideas but I am cheap and lazy. I have other plans.

I’m also a worry wart. I have heard of electrical fires from heat lamps. I have seen chickens pick chunks out of coop insulation. I am too uncoordinated to knit. Have you seen a stab wound from a knitting needle? It’s not pretty.

To keep my chickens warm, I employ a few simple techniques. I pile it high. I use seed trays. I up the feed and add molasses.

The coop does not get scooped in the bitter cold. I just add more shavings. Poop is warm. The thick shavings are good insulation.  Every day, I just throw on more layers.

Seed warming trays are cheap to purchase at garden shops in the height of summer. I put one in the coop near the nesting boxes. It doesn’t radiate the heat a heat lamp offers but it’s water and poop proof. It’s much safer and cheaper to operate, too.

My chickens are used to getting free range grazing. They don’t eat much grain. In the winter, I buy a seed block to keep in the coop overnight and fed them more pellets. They prefer green from the yard so once the snow melts, they ignore the feed and I can taper off with supplements.

My last trick only serves to keep their water from freezing. I put a spoonful of molasses into their drinking water to keep it from freezing. Stir the molasses to warm water before addiing it to the coop water container. This trick only works to about 20 degrees. I will brinng the water container over the seed tray warmer in the deep freezes to keep the water liqquid. Dehydration is a killer in the winter for birds of all kinds. A little molasses goes a long way. I know my chickens appreciate the extra effort…even if all they do is sulk.

Sue Sierralupe

Sue Sierralupé is a Certified Master Herbalist, Master Gardener and Sustainable Landscape Specialist. She is the clinic manager and lead herbalist at Occupy Medical clinic. Sue is author of The Pocket Herbal: Medicinal Plants that Changed the World and co-author of The Practical Herbalist Herbal Folios series. Follow her blog at Herbalism Manifesto for commentary on herbs, parenting, nutrition and a whole lot more.


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