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Why I Don't Heat My Coop

Benjamin BaerThere is a never-ending debate over whether you should provide heat for your chickens during the winter. You could probably read ten very legitimate sources, and five would say you should heat while five would say you shouldn’t. And that’s okay! I support everyone raising their chickens the way they see fit. Personally, I choose not to heat, and here’s why:

1. First and foremost, for me, it’s unnatural. My philosophy is to raise my chickens in the most natural way possible, free from any outside intervention. A lot of people might want to call me a hippie, and so be it — that’s my choice, and I try to abide by it. For this reason, I think it would be a little hypocritical if I put a giant heat lamp in their coop so that they'll lay eggs all winter. The way I see it, the ladies work hard all year each providing about an egg a day; they deserve a little time off in the winter.

2. Someone once told me that if you start heating them and then you stop for some reason — such as your power goes out — the girls will freeze to death. I don’t know if that’s totally true, and it probably doesn’t happen as quickly as that sounds, but it’s a risk I’d rather not run. It makes sense, though, because you’re teaching them to be dependent on the lamp for heat. So if that lamp suddenly goes out, and it’s a bitter cold night, they may not immediately know to start snuggling up together, which could definitely make them more likely to freeze. We live in an area that is susceptible to power outages ... and I’m not about to hook up the generator to the chicken coop.

3. It’s dangerous. A friend of mine provided a heat lamp in the coop for her seven birds. A few days ago, the heat lamp fell in the middle of the night, caught fire, and burnt the entire coop to the ground. She walked out the next morning to literally find everything was gone; there was a ten-foot circle of charred ground remaining. It was as if the coop and birds were never there. How crazy is that? I am already paranoid, worrying about bears and the wind blowing my structure over. I do not need another thing to worry about! If something like that happened in our coop then there’s a strong possibility it could start a forest fire, which would not only be devastating for myself, obviously, but a lot of other people.

4. They don’t need it. I don’t know if my girls think, “Oh man, winter is coming, going to be a lot of uncomfortable nights,” but I do know that their coop is structured for them to survive those nights without a supplemental heat source. I can’t guarantee perfect comfort, but I can guarantee they’ll survive. And that’s what’s most important.

I’m fortunate that I live in an area where it gets cold, but it’s pretty rare for us to see subzero temperatures or anything crazy. I depend on what I believe is a pretty well-built coop and the ladies knowing to huddle up on those cold nights to survive the winter. We’ve had a few nights below freezing so far, and each night when I’ve gone out to close up the coop the ladies are huddled together on their perch; it seems they know what to do. We shall see how it goes once winter officially gets here.

My biggest issue with the cold temperatures so far has been their water freezing up. I utilize the bottle system, which I love, but the little nozzles where the water comes out are the first things to freeze. Not sure what I’m going to do when the high for the day is 25 F and I have to go to work. Obviously I’ll put fresh water out in the morning, but that is going to freeze rather quickly in those temperatures ...

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The girls were enjoying some free-range time and wandered up onto the porch. Hope they were thinking of coming inside for some warmth ...