Archive for the ‘heat’ Category

Winter Is Coming

Friday, November 8th, 2013

(Broadcast 11/8/2013)

It seems to have gotten colder lately, and for some reason it’s getting dark really early. What’s up with that? Oh, right. It’s fall. Fall is great, but the big problem I have with it is that winter is always right behind it. I suppose winter is fine as long as I don’t have to go outside in the cold, but society seems opposed to letting me just hole up until spring. Of course, even if I could find a way to not have to go to work, the chickens are outside, so at the very least I’d have to go out there periodically to fulfill my chicken duties. And I suppose if I have to go outside at all, I might as well just keep doing what I’m doing. If you can tell me what that is, I’d be grateful.

If you need me, I'll be here all winter.

If you need me, I’ll be here all winter.

But what about the chickens? How do they feel about winter? Well, I haven’t cracked their code yet, so I don’t quite have a handle on their feelings. However, I know that lots of people seem concerned about what I do with them in the winter. Don’t they get cold? I like to point out that they’re wearing down jackets, but not everyone catches my drift. What I mean is that they are covered in feathers, which keep them warm. They can probably deal with the cold a lot better than I can. What about putting a heat lamp in the coop? Again, they’re wearing down coats! But there’s more to it than that. There’s no electricity in our coop, and to run an extension cord all the way out there seems pretty hazardous. Then there’s the possibility that I could burn the coop down with a heat lamp. I’ve also heard that if you do give them a heat lamp, they’ll get accustomed to it, and so if something should happen to the lamp, like a power outage, they won’t be used to the cold, and this could cause problems. I’m not sure if that line of thinking is sound, but since I have no electricity anyway, I don’t have to worry about it. Chickens have been dealing with the cold without heat lamps for a very long time. I think they know what they’re doing.

down jacket

Not this kind of down jacket.

Something I do get concerned about is making sure there are no drafts, but plenty of ventilation in the coop. This may seem like a conflict of interests, but it isn’t if you do it right. When I was building the coop, I came across a rule of thumb that said “think about how many vents you think you need. Now double that.” The concern with the coop is not so much the cold, but moisture. Chicken poop is very moist. If that moisture doesn’t have somewhere to go, it will get on the chickens and freeze, which is how you can come to get frostbite on combs and wattles. A big draft is going to cause problems because you don’t want a steady stream of cold air rushing through. But you also don’t want something air tight, or the moisture gets trapped. I see this come up in talks about insulating coops all the time. The insulation can also trap the moisture. Moisture is the villain, not the cold. So I made sure I put in vents up high that didn’t point right at the roost, and that’s about it.


Venty, not venti.

I did once attempt to put vaseline on the chickens’ combs when the temperature dipped into the single digits. This might have gone better if I had had an assistant, but I was there, alone in the dark, with a chicken in one hand and a fistful of vaseline in the other. Some of that vaseline did actually end up on the chickens’ combs. The rest of it ended up everywhere else. I plan on rethinking this technique.


I propose a new slogan.

I do have some problems with dealing with the water bowl in the winter. An easy thing is to do is bring it in at night. They’re sleeping, so they have no need for it. During the cold days, though, it’s a little trickier. Some people use electric heated dog bowls, but there’s that “no electricity” thing popping up again. I recently saw a suggestion of putting ping pong balls in a bowl of water, and the balls floating around keep the water from icing up. I think this really only works for temperatures close to freezing. After a certain point, the ping pong balls can only do so much. The solution I use now involves a microwaveable dog bed heater called a “SnuggleSafe.” It’s a round disk you nuke for a few minutes, and it stays warm for allegedly up to 8 hours. I put that under the water and hope for the best. I had been using those little glove warmer packets for a while, so this is a big improvement. I also put apple cider vinegar in the water, which lowers the freezing point a bit, but not enough that I don’t need something else. If it’s really cold out, the water will be frozen when I get home, but I’m gone more than 8 hours. Maybe the claims of 8 hours of warmth are true, but I can’t really tell. The chickens seem fine though, so I’ll take that to mean the system is working.

heat lines

Heat lines, not stink lines.

Staying warm takes energy, so I also make sure they’ve got plenty of food. But other than that, I made sure I got breeds that could deal with cold temperatures. They’re built for this stuff. And when I start to worry that maybe it is getting too cold for them out there, I remember how many people from Minnesota or Canada have piped up in online discussions about how cold it gets where they live, and their chickens do fine without any extra help. I sure don’t want to be out there with them, but they seem to like winter just fine. I think they might be kinda nuts.


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Bugs And Smells And Diatomaceous Earth

Friday, July 12th, 2013

(Broadcast 7/12/2013)

Sooner or later, you’re going to have bugs or smells or bugs and smells in your coop or run or coop and run. Bugs and smells are things that will find a way. If we could harness their power to appear, we could solve the energy crisis, but instead we continue to push things like fracking, when the money is in bugs and smells. Anyway, let’s focus on saving the coop or run or coop and run. I’ll deal with saving the world later.

bugs + smell = $

Remember this equation and you can’t go wrong.

I have been pretty fortunate to not have had much of a problem with bugs or smells, or maybe I have just have a high tolerance for them. Where we live has a lot of bugs. You’ve got your ants, your piercing/sucking mouthpart parasites, a.k.a. humungous mosquitoes, various flying stinging S.O.B.s, and then loads of dragonflies, which I actually totally enjoy having. The green ones seem to be especially friendly, and even let you pet them. On the flip side of that, we also have these weird woodland roaches that live in the leaf litter. If there’s one thing we have, it’s poison ivy. If there’s a second thing, it’s leaf litter, so we’ve got these roaches everywhere. They fly, too, just to be the total package. Luckily, if the roaches go near the coop or run, they’re going to get eaten. Circle of life. Most of the other bugs aren’t that interested in chickens. What you’re going to have a lot of is flies, because you’re also going to have a lot of poop. Flies are into that. So controlling the poop is a start. This helps with both the flies and the smell.

Poop Knob

This knob does not actually exist.

So how do you control the poop? Well, to start, keep the coop clean. If you’re not keeping the coop clean, you may have bigger problems than stink. What I do is put clean pine shavings down on top of any fresh coop poop in the morning, and then once a week I clean out the under-the-roost area. That’s where it’s all concentrated. For the rest of the coop, I do what’s called the “deep litter method,” which involves adding more shavings, and getting the chickens to mix any old poop around so it’s not near the surface. You do this by throwing treats in there, and they mix it all up by scratching around. There’s not that much poop actually mixed in there, at least in my coop, since they only really are in the coop to sleep or lay eggs. It doesn’t really smell like anything.

too many chips

Just don’t get carried away with the wood chips.

The run is where I’ve had problems with smells, but really only if it’s been wet or humid. These last few weeks have been kind of brutal in terms of humidity, and even then, I only notice a smell if I’m standing right next to the run. The times it has been bad, what I’ve ended up doing is dusting everything with diatomaceous earth. This is powder made from fossilized micro-organisms called diatoms. The cool kids call it D.E. I’m not sure why it works on smells, but I do a dusting, and everything smells fine until the next rainstorm. You can also try putting sand in the run, or even straw, but I’ve never had the smell get so bad that I felt the need to try that. Which is good, because straw can get icky if it rains, and there’s one more thing to have to clean out. The nice thing about D.E. in the run is that when the chickens take dust baths, they get coated in the D.E., which can help control mites.

the fonz says DE

When in Rome, do as The Fonz does.

Diatomaceous earth also works wonders for bugs in the coop. The diatoms are broken into tiny pieces, and these pieces will do a number on the exoskeletons of insects. I will periodically sprinkle some in the coop just as a preventative measure. It gets mixed around in the bedding as the birds walk on it, and so there’s no place to hide. The main thing to be concerned with is that you get food grade D.E. That’s o.k. for animals to come into contact with. Feed stores usually have it, since this is such a tried and true remedy for a lot of things. If you do any sort of search online for “bugs in the coop,” the first line of defense is always D.E. If things get bad enough, you may have to take everything out of the coop, bleach it (don’t bleach the chickens, though), and then put it all back when it dries, and keep the chickens out while it’s drying. This is a good thing to do once a year anyway, but the mood is much different if you’re doing it because you’ve got a critter invasion.

critter invasion

How all critter invasions start.

Speaking of critter invasions, diatomaceous earth is something that works wonders on bedbugs too. Put your mattress in a bag, dump some D.E. in there, seal it up, and after about a week, you should be good. You not only get to say the word “diatomaceous,” but you win out over bedbugs too. Of course, no one really wins when bedbugs are involved. Not even me. I get itchy just saying that word. I brought this on myself.


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Chickens And Heat

Friday, June 28th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/28/2013)

This week’s heat wave has passed, but it’s not even July yet. I’m sure there will be more heat to come, so I thought I’d share some ideas with you about how to keep your chickens cool in the summertime. Like many other living things, chickens don’t like extreme heat. What I have found comforting in my attempts to keep my chickens safe in both the cold and the heat is that lots of places have hotter summers and colder winters than where I live, and people manage to keep their chickens alive through it. That’s not an excuse to slack, but it does keep me from completely freaking out with worry. I need that from time to time.

chill pill

I was told to take one of these.

The big thing you obviously need to do is make sure the chickens have fresh water at all times during the heat. This is actually something you should be doing anyway, so it’s an easy step. I’m away at work all day, so I fill up the water first thing in the morning when I let them out. In the summer, I just fill up the water container with the hose, and then usually manage to spill it all over myself. Newly awake, I then try again, and usually do better on the second attempt. I also like to put some apple cider vinegar in the water. It’s good for the chickens, and it also helps to keep crud from growing inside there. When it gets warm, that’s a thing that likes to happen. You should still clean it out every once in a while, though. Vinegar is an amazing thing, but it can only do so much. Sorry vinegar, but it’s true.

sad vinegar

*sad trombone sound*

Frozen vegetables are another item people like to give their birds in the heat. I’ve read about people putting frozen broccoli in a suet feeder and letting them peck at it all day. That’s akin to another popular one, which is to freeze a cabbage and hang it where they can peck at it. I just toss the frozen stuff in the run, and let them go at it. I like to keep it casual. You don’t have to freeze the stuff, either. Even refrigerated watermelon will do the trick. Is there anyone who doesn’t like watermelon? I haven’t met them, and frankly, I don’t want to. This is one reason I like chickens. They’re on the watermelon tip.

chicken and watermelon

Chickens love “the green whale of summer.” (That’s a Pablo Neruda reference. Go look it up.)

Since I’m not around a lot of the day to keep presenting the chickens with various cooling off items, it’s important that they have a lot of shade. In my general luck with building the coop, I picked a good spot. They get nice morning sun, but by afternoon, they get shaded by some trees. They also have space under the coop where they can go if they need shade at any time. That seems to be their favorite spot. I often find them just sitting there in the dirt. This freaked me out at first, but now that I know they haven’t all lost the use of their legs, I’m o.k. with it. They hang out in the dirt and also take dust baths there. I had considered hosing down the run before I left for the day, but since they use dust baths to cool off, I didn’t want to take that away from them.

dust bathhouse closed

Where will they bathe?

Technology can also play a big role in the cooling of chickens. Some people just hook up box fans near their coops and let them rip. Ours is too far from electricity to pull this off. I’d have to run an extension cord, and that brings issues of its own, not the least of which is what to do if one of the thunderstorms that tends to accompany heat waves hits. Now I’ve got wet electricity all over the yard. If I had power out there, I’d give it a try, but for now, maybe not unless I’m home. Fans are totally the low end of the spectrum here too. I’ve read about people investing in “misters,” and they’re not talking about the little spritz bottles. They’re talking about devices like the ones supermarkets use to keep their produce damp. I guess it’s like running under the sprinkler for chickens. It’s neat, but expensive, and there’s a saying about wet hens that makes me think twice about this. When I see the cost involved, I only have to think once.


This image is not based in reality.

What always appeals to me about keeping chickens is the wide array of ingenuity that you see when you’re looking for a solution to a problem. Keeping chickens cool in the heat is no exception. You can keep it low tech like me, or go all out, if money is no object. My feelings usually veer towards thinking that the more complicated something is, the more headaches it can potentially cause. I will do my best to keep them safe and happy with the more rudimentary end of the heat busting spectrum. I guess you can call me a paleo-chicken guy. But don’t, or I’ll hit you over the head with my caveman club.


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