Heating the Chicken Coop

In case you were wondering why I changed my mind about heating the chicken coop (you weren’t), here’s a very brief two-part explanation, prefaced by the statement that sometimes, you go into an experience having done tons of research but when you’re actually in the experience, you realize in some important ways you’re unprepared:

1. I was unprepared for how cold it was going to be. From Tuesday evening until Saturday, when I went online and ordered a heater (this one, as always no affiliate link) and a thermostatically controlled outlet (this one, which will turn the heater on at 20 degrees and off at 30 degrees) and when, in the meantime, we installed the heat lamp we used in our brooder and turned it on, it never went above 11 degrees.

2. I was unprepared for the complete emotional wreck I would become when worrying about the chickens out there all that time in temperatures that never got above 11 degrees, especially that time I went to bed when it was -6 degrees with a windchill of -20. Do you suffer from anxiety? Here’s what it’s like. You’re going along doing whatever you do, perhaps driving to work or trying to go to sleep, thinking about whatever you’re thinking about. All of a sudden out of nowhere, some kind of horrible panic thought storms into your brain like an unwelcome drunk uncle at an otherwise festive holiday party, yelling and carrying on and shoving out everything you were thinking and making you freak out about something, maybe money or your health or the gangster you cut off in traffic or the guy who’s been casing houses in your neighborhood and breaking in when nobody is home in the middle of the afternoon for the past week but you’re no longer allowed to talk about it because one woman on Facebook said it was racist. That’s what happened to me with the chickens. I’d be cooking dinner and I’d grab my phone to check the temperature. Then I’d freak out, almost cry, and tell Ben how worried I was about the chickens. It was freaking cold, man, and it didn’t let up for days. I couldn’t handle it.

I feel like heating the chicken coop is kind of one of those things, where you’re either on one side or the other, like natural birth vs. medicated or vaccinating vs. not vaccinating and never the twain shall meet, but I changed my mind. I just couldn’t handle the angst involved in worrying about the chickens.

They (by “they” I mean pretty much everyone on the internet who has ever told you anything about taking care of chickens) say lots of things about not heating your chicken coop, but when it comes down to it, you have to figure out what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. I realized I wasn’t comfortable with an unheated coop when it was so cold for so long and I was watching the chickens’ combs turn purple and I knew we’d done absolutely everything we could short of heating the chicken coop — our coop is well ventilated but not at all drafty and it’s clean and we applied petroleum jelly as best we could to the chickens every night — and it still wasn’t enough for me to know that our chickens weren’t uncomfortable and weren’t going to get frostbite.

And here’s a thing nobody is going to tell you about petroleum jelly and chickens. It sucks ass. It’s super hard to get on them, and once you apply petroleum jelly to a chicken’s comb, all that happens is that chicken spends the next few days getting so dirty you can’t tell where the chicken is just dirty and where something is going on with her comb. And I can’t even say that I’m sure it works because we applied it and their combs still started turning purple.

And I know I have a problem with seeing the world through my eyes as opposed to the eyes of the person or animal I’m considering (read: birds =/= humans) but birds get cold and the birds who are always cited by non-heaters as evidence of the fact that birds don’t need heat, including but not limited to chickadees, don’t have combs that can get frostbite and fall off.

So we’re heating the chicken coop. Not to make it warm — just to make it warm enough so they don’t get frostbite. I mean geez, our chickens are super-awesome happy and amazing little animals who give us food. The least we can do is make sure they’re reasonably comfortable.

An important note about heating your chicken coop: To be extra safe, if you ever do install a heat source in your chicken coop, make sure it’s attached in at least two places to two locations on your coop, so if one connection fails the other will hold the heat source in place so that it doesn’t fall to the bedding and start a fire. You do not want a fire in your coop.