Tough Old Birds

Cue Destiny’s Child, ladies and gentlemen, because I’m a survivor.

While Adam was enjoying himself in Tennessee at a bachelor party, I survived the crazy blizzard and bitter cold… Alone. (PS- Trost? Be prepared for our children to hear about this… oh… just about every time it snows.)

And, not only did I survive, but so did our five little hens.

Although, I did have my doubts.

The coop as the snow fell on Sunday.

The coop as the snow fell on Sunday.

Thanks to the research we did about a year ago, I knew that chickens don’t mind the cold. In fact, they prefer it over the summer’s heat.

But, wind chill’s of fifty below? Actual temperatures in the negative teens?

I wasn’t so sure.

On Sunday night, before the Polar Vortex hit, I hopped on the internet. I was looking for the actual temperature that chickens could handle… and some peace of mind.

The first thing I learned was that people in this country don’t know what real cold is. A woman in North Carolina was concerned that the temperature was going to be “pretty cold!” and go below freezing.

That’s Indiana half the year. (… Or so it seems.)

I had visions of all the sad pictures of puppies in the snow saying “This is abuse” all over Facebook. I needed the actual temperature they could handle. I was not going to be responsible for chicken abuse.

Then on Mother Earth New’s website, I read that hens do not “really start suffering until the temperature inside their coops falls to minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit.”

Adam built a great coop for the hens. It protects them from the rain, wind and snow. But, still… minus twenty was too close for comfort.

After about an hour on the web, and nothing in black and white saying, “It will be fine;” I was officially stressed.

Then my mom called. I explained my current predicament and with a little laugh she said, “Oh, my. You are a Momma!”

… Great. So, apparently parenthood is going to be just one big, giant anxiety attack…?

I considered bringing the birds into the house but I had no way to contain them. We don’t have a dog so we don’t own any cages. And they would get into too much that could hurt them in the garage or unfinished basement.

So that was it. There wasn’t anything I could do. I felt helpless.

Adam called to say goodnight and I told him I tried to do everything I could, but I was prepared for them to not make it through the freezing, snowy, blustery night.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. The wind was loud and strong, just driving that wind-chill lower and lower. I kept looking out to the coop, imagining the birds turning into little chickcicles. I was so worried.

… Man, I really do have that mothering gene.

The next morning I sprung out of bed before I even knew what I was doing. I threw on a ton of Adam’s hunting gear and ran out to the coop, in the minus thirty-seven degree wind-chill, looking like a fat camo Eskimo.

I opened the door and there they were, roosting together with their feathers fluffed out… alive!

I could tell they didn’t really enjoy the weather, but I had four eggs in the hen boxes so I knew they weren’t suffering. I told them to hang in there and assured them it wouldn’t be much longer.

By Tuesday morning, they were moving around and each laying an egg. I was beyond relieved and texted Adam saying, “I think we are going to make it!”

Here are a few things I did to ensure they did:

Home is Where the Heat Is:

Shelter for the chickens anytime of year is important.

Adam built a fabulous home for our chickens. Before he did this, he really did his homework.

The coop in the summer... It's hard to even remember the yard looking so green!

The coop in the summer… It’s hard to even remember the yard looking so green!

He knew to make boxes for the hens to lay eggs in and a roost. The roost is similar to a little ladder and the chickens sleep on it at night. The roost is very important in cold weather because it keeps the hens off the ground and they are able to huddle together to keep each other warm. In really cold temps, hens will puff up their feathers on the roost to maintain their heat.

Puffed up and staying warm.

Puffed up and staying warm.

Adam also made sure the coop has good ventilation. He added windows, which are great to add extra air in the summer. But, he also made ventilation slots where the coop meets the roof.

Ventilation Slots.

Ventilation Slots.

Chickens excrete a lot of hot air through breathing and pooping. This can make their coop humid. If it gets cold and the coop does not have proper ventilation, that moist, humid air will freeze causing frostbite on the hen’s combs, waddles, or toes.

To add a little extra heat, knowing that the temperatures would be well below zero, I hung a heating lamp right above the roost so that it could warm the hens as they huddle together at night. Some people view heating lamps as a luxury in chicken coops, but in our case this week, I felt like it was a necessity. (I know chicken’s survived just fine well before electricity… but, cut me a little slack. I am a first-time hen mother.)

As I said "Goodnight" on Sunday night... fearing the worst for the morning!

As I said “Goodnight” on Sunday night… fearing the worst for the morning!

Stay Hydrated

Chickens need water and in freezing temperatures this can be a challenge because it doesn’t take too long before their waterer is a solid chunk of ice. During the day, I took water out to the coop every couple of hours.

I noticed that in my quick ten minute runs out to the coop I became very thirsty in the biting wind-chill. The chickens were no exception. They eagerly hopped off the roost and guzzled up the water every time I came in with a replacement.

Bottoms Up!

Bottoms Up!

Fight Cabin Fever

Our chickens are used to running around and exploring the yard. With fifteen inches of snow, this wasn’t possible. So, in addition to their normal feed, I brought some broccoli stalks into the coop for the hens to pick at. I read online to use a head of cabbage, but I was snowed in and broccoli was all I had.

I feel so much more confident about our chickies for the winters to come. Although, I am going to hope this Polar Vortex is a once in a lifetime kind of thing…

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