Cold Weather & Chickens

With our temps finally dipping into the minus temps, I thought I’d chat a bit about the cold weather here in southcentral Alaska. There has been much talk about when to heat coops, should I let my girls out, how much ventilation does my coop need, etc. The following are my thoughts, so please take them as such. It’s just how I do things, what works best for my situation. Other chicken keepers will have opinions about what works best for them. And, it’s all good info. Take what works for you.2butts

We don’t get it as cold as Fairbanks, but we usually get colder temps than on the Kenai peninsula or in southeast Alaska. Minus temps are not unusual. What has been unusual is that we didn’t get any minus temps in 2014. The times—they are a changin’.

In talking about chickens in cold weather, one thing many folks don’t realize is that most breeds of chickens are better suited for the cold than the heat. I had read somewhere that if a chicken’s internal body temperature reaches 114 she will simply drop dead. Cold, on the other hand, doesn’t affect them that way. Keep in mind, some breeds are better suited for the cold and some for the heat. I only have cold hardy breeds.

Before I talk about my situation, there are a few basics that need to be understood:

  • Frostbite is a result of cold + moisture. Think about standing in 20 degree weather when it’s dry. Now picture what it feels like wet. HUGE difference. The areas subject to frostbite are the comb, wattles, ear lobes, feet… basically, any exposed flesh. (Coops without ventilation will have moisture build up inside.)
  • Feathers are one of the natural defenses chickens have when it comes to the cold. Ever worn a down jacket? Chickens have beautiful down feathers which they use to fluff up and trap a layer of heated air right next to their skin. A draft will steal this layer of warmth, making draft free areas critical for their well being.
  • Hens usually sleep with their heads tucked under a wing, thereby keeping their comb, wattles and ears nice and toasty warm.
  • Chickens will roost together for warmth. Each chicken gives off approximately 40 BTUs of warmth (depending on her size).
  • Toes are protected when chickens roost on a relatively flat and wide perch, so their toes are covered by their breast feathers. A 2×4 (with the fat 4″ side up) works very well. If you have the 2″ side up, their toes can stick out below their feathers (and possibly get frostbite).

GeorgianaSnow_smAcclimate. Allow your chickens time to acclimate to the cold. If they are used to a warm coop when the outside temp. is much colder, they are more likely to come down with respiratory or other illnesses. Nature usually provides a nice adjustment period called autumn. Let your chickens feel the gradual drop in temp. I noticed a lot of downy feathers being grown during autumn.

To heat or not. I don’t heat my coop. That is, I installed a wall-mounted flat panel heater behind the roosts, but have not had to use it, yet. I wanted it in there for the 20 below temps, just in case. My coop is well insulated—walls, ceiling and floor are all insulated between the 2×4 construction with R-13 batting. I don’t use a heat lamp, too much of a fire hazard. I know of a number of coops that have burned down, with the chickens inside. Yeah—not going there. The wall-mounted unit I have is warm to the touch, not hot. Very little fire risk, and I would only use it temporarily, if at all.

Ventilation. This is a biggie! And sometimes a bit hard to understand, at first. Ventilation will help remove the moisture that builds up from chicken breath and their poop. The last thing you want is a coop that is so tightly insulated there is no ventilation. That is a sure recipe for frostbite (and possible respiratory infections). It seems counter-intuitive, but, you have to have open windows no matter how cold it is outside. How much? Enough so the moisture (and dust from feathers, litter, food, etc.) can be moved outside. Yes, you will lose some heat, that’s unavoidable. It’s best to have the open windows higher up, since heat rises. This helps keep your coop air cleaner in the winter, as well reduce frostbite risk. Remember, chickens have an extensive respiratory system and are subject to illness if breathing in dusty air.

Draft free areas. As discussed above, chickens in drafty (or breezy, windy) areas have a much more difficult time keeping themselves warm. It is critical that they have areas where they can get out of the wind. Draft free coops are very important. Having your vents or windows up high reduces the possibility of creating drafts in your coop. Be sure the roosting area, especially, is free of drafts.

howHotIsYourLitterDeep Litter Method. I choose to do the deep litter (composting) method in my coop. I have found it takes quite a bit of time and determination to get just the right balance, so you don’t have ammonia build up, yet actually have it produce heat. I won’t go into all the details here—just too much. Perhaps I’ll blog more about that later. Basically, if you are doing it right, you will actually be generating heat from your litter AND produce yummy compost for your garden. A win-win, if ever there was one! Currently, my coop is 15 degrees warmer inside, even in minus temps. I suspect (hope) that as it continues to cook (compost), it will warm up even more. I know a couple folks who have had incredible results, but it took time to figure out exactly what worked best for their individual situation.

Keeping waterers unfrozen. I built two “cookie tin” heaters for my waterers (see DIY Cookie Tin Waterer on how to make them). I have one larger waterer outside in the run, and a smaller (chick-sized) waterer inside the coop. The inside one is only turned on when necessary and sits by an open window, so as not to create too much extra moisture inside.

Coop size. Your coop size and the number of chickens you house will play a role in moisture build up and how warm it will get inside without heat. Generally, 4 sq. feet of floor space per bird seems to be enough room without worrying about pecking issues (assuming they have access to an outside run). I have that ratio and it works well for my situation. Imagine only having three birds inside an 8’x12′ coop vs. eight birds inside an 8’x4′ coop. Which is going to be warmer just from the heat the chickens give off?

CoraInSnow_smBreed choice. I prefer cold hardy breeds since I live in a cold climate. I know folks in Alaska who choose to have breeds which require a bit more care in the winter. To each their own. Since I am relatively new to chickens, it made sense to choose a breed which would do well in the cold. I have Plymouth Rocks and Wyandottes, both of which are cold hardy, and doing extremely well in our minus temps today. All of my girls venture out in the snow and ice. None stay in the coop. I’ve always opened the door for the day, giving them the choice to go out or not. They all move around chattering, scratching, pecking… loving life.

So, I know that was a bit of a ramble, but if you gleaned any info from it then I am just pleased as punch. As chicken keeping is an ever-changing journey of learning, this is also a great reference for me to come back to in years to come, and see if my thoughts are still the same.

Here’s to a beautiful winter, filled with happiness and lots of farm fresh eggs!

Cinnamon Swirl Bread Recipe

I’ve always wanted to try making a cinnamon bread, and here it is! I must say, it turned out rather well. It’s not too sweet and easy to make. You could easily use honey in place of the first sugar. And use whatever flour you’d like. I actually baked mine on a cookie sheet, but I would recommend putting it in a loaf pan so it doesn’t flatten out so much. I tend to “wing it” with recipes, but a number of folks wanted the recipe, so here it is:


Cinnamon Swirl Bread — Yields one loaf

2 c organic spelt flour
1/2-1 c organic unbleached white flour
1T yeast
1/2 c organic milk
1/3-1/2 c water
1/8 c brown sugar
2T organic butter (plus 1T)
1T salt

1 farm fresh egg, beaten
1T cinnamon
1/2 c brown sugar

Stir together 1 cup of spelt flour and yeast.

Heat milk, water, and 1/8 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons butter and salt (though I forgot the salt and it didn’t seem to matter) over low heat until butter is melted.

Slowly add heated mixture to flour yeast mixture and mix well. Blend in the egg. Add the white flour (though you really can add whatever flour you’d like), a little at a time, until the dough chases the spoon around the bowl. Then, turn out dough on lightly floured surface and knead for at least five minutes, adding flour as needed. Form dough into ball and place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or tea towel, and let sit in a warm place for about 45 min to rise.

In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup brown sugar and cinnamon. Melt 1 tablespoon butter. Grease loaf pan well.

After dough rises, knead dough and roll out to about 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Brush with melted butter, then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture on top. Beginning at the short end, roll the dough up very tightly to form a roll. Flatten ends a bit and roll them under the bottom. Place roll in greased loaf pan. (Try not to have too much cinnamon mixture exposed or it can ooze out the bottom while baking.)

Allow bread to rise for about 10-15 min. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 35 min. Remove from pan and allow to cool on wire rack. Enjoy!

Herbal Roots

Herbs, herbs, glorious herbs!

image of oregano cutting in water

Oregano cutting with new roots

From luscious lavender to invigorating rosemary, herbs have been around since the beginning of time. Their uses are many, and can be preventative or restorative. I certainly have my favorites, like rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley, sage… the list goes on. I cook and bake with them, and use them quite a bit with the chickens: in their coop, run, nesting boxes, and as part of their treats.

One of my ongoing projects is expanding my herb garden. One way I do this is to take cuttings from favorite herbs, stick them in water, and watch new roots grow. It’s that easy! I’ve had great success with rosemary and oregano, and plan to try it with a few other herbs.

The oregano you see in the photo was actually trampled by the chickens getting into the herb garden when I wasn’t looking (turn your back for a second… geesh!) So, I brought the larger pieces inside and put them in water. The smaller pieces went in the coop and nesting boxes. The main plant is still alive, so I guess it’s a win-win. 

Come spring, the new oregano will find a permanent home back in the herb garden—oregano overwinters well in this area. The rosemary will mostly be confined to pots, so I can take it inside for the winter.

Having herbs on my kitchen windowsill brings me extra joy in the dead of winter. Some of my indoor rosemary plants have bloomed in winter, even while still in the water! Ah, herbs, you bring me such happiness!

Homemade Flock Block

Even though my girls get to free range daily, they seem to sometimes get bored. That is, every time I approach them they rush towards me as if to say, “Oh my gosh, we have missed you sooo much—please entertain us!” Or, maybe they’re just saying, “Where ARE our treats, lady?!” Either way, I decided to try my hand at making my own Flock Block. I read a few recipes, but none really fit what I was looking for. So, I created my own, and it came out rather well.


I did initially make a hole in the block, thinking I would hang it, but I was afraid it would break. So, instead I hung the block in netting. And, I think the netting will help make it last longer.

I used ingredients I had readily available, so of course I added many herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, as well as rose petals and dried rose hips.


Homemade Flock Block Recipe:
(I use organic, non-GMO ingredients)

1 c Scratch
1/2 c Layer feed
1 c Black oil sunflower seeds
1 c Oats
1 t Cinnamon
1/2 t Cayenne pepper
1/2 t Garlic powder
3 T Flax seed
3 Small diced apples (no seeds)
Herbs, Rose petals & Rose hips

3 Eggs & crushed shells
1/2 c Molasses
4 T cocnut oil (warmed)
1/3 c Water (as needed)

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients together. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and mix well. You may need to get your hands messy to mix it well. It should somewhat stick together, but not be dripping wet. Add more water or dry ingredients to get right consistency. Spread in greased pan (I used a bread loaf pan) and pack it down.  Bake at 325˚F for 2 to 2.5 hours. Let it cool in the oven (for a few hours, or better yet, overnight).


I decided to put my flock block in netting and hang it. It works very well, and I think it helps make it last longer. Other ingredients I might try using next time include applesauce, sprouts, different herbs or flowers, and whatever I have on hand. So, give it a try. Use what you have, and give your girls some fun feeding time. Mine seem to really like it!


DIY Heated Chicken Waterer

With temps dipping below freezing, I’ve had a couple mornings with frozen waterers. That meant the procrastination of deciding what kind of waterer heater to get was at an end. It was time to decide how to prevent the waterers from freezing. Do I buy a ready made heated waterer? Do I use a heated dog bowl? Or do I try my hand at the homemade variety?

After a trip to a couple of stores to see what was available locally, I decided to go the homemade route. Since I have a number of tins which could work, why not?


I bought a Candelabra Base Switch Cord for around $4. SInce I have a few candelabra lights in the house, I already had the bulbs. I had one tin which was about the same diameter as my waterer. It wasn’t very tall, but perfect for using a candelabra light inside. I placed the tin under the waterer and it fit perfectly.

So, I gathered a few supplies (see photo) and started by drilling a 1″ hole in the side of the tin, which was easier than I thought it would be. I then pushed the candelabra base through the hole. It has a metal clip which snaps in the hole to help keep the bulb base in place. I added a thin piece of metal under the base of the light as an additional support, just to make sure the light would sit between the base and lid (and not touch either). True to Alaska fashion, I used duct tape on the outside of the hole to keep cold air and water out. I placed it under my waterer and plugged it in. Viola!

Since making this heater and installing it, the temps have stayed above freezing. (Figures, eh?) But the tin is warm when turned on, and I think it will work nicely. It was easy (and inexpensive) to make. The girls don’t seem to be pecking the cord (I have the waterer close to a 4×4 post, to which the cord is attached). The cord comes with a nice on/off switch, though I am planning on plugging it into a thermocube, which will turn it on and off depending upon the temps.

So, we’re ready for the freezing temps now. Happy day!

Sprouting Goodness

I never gave sprouts much thought before I got chickens. I liked sprouts. I would eat them. But, I had no idea how nutritious they were, or how one goes about making sprouts. Sprouts are one of the superfoods. They contain up to 30 times more nutrients than organic raw vegetables. The protein, fiber and mineral content increases significantly during the sprouting process. There is claim to reducing cancer and losing weight just by eating sprouts. There seems to be no downside to growing and eating your own sprouts. You’ve heard of wheatgrass and all it’s health benefits, right? Well, why not grow your own? It’s easy, it’s fun, and it doesn’t get much fresher than being grown right in your own kitchen.


You can sprout grains, seeds, beans and pretty much anything that grows. I’ve experimented with various grains, and just recently started sprouting sunflower seeds. They take a bit longer than wheat or barley, but the chickens love them! I sprout various types of wheat–I like them all, and the gals do, too. I like the idea of being able to give my chickens fresh sprouts year-round. The quality of eggs they give me is a direct result of what I feed them (along with how I treat them, of course).

To sprout your own seeds, beans, or whole grains be sure to get the kind that have not been sprayed with chemicals, which may inhibit growth. You can get them in supermarkets, natural food stores, etc. I use black oil sunflower seeds that are sold as bird seed.

Here’s how I go about making sprouts: I place about a handful of seed or grain in a canning jar, fill it with cool water, and let it sit overnight. I place a piece of cheesecloth over the top and secure it with a rubberband or two. (I’ve found rubberbands work better than using the canning ring, though those will work in a pinch.) After about eight hours I drain the water out, rinse it a few times, and let it sit in a dimly lit corner of my kitchen counter. I rinse them 2-3 times a day. In about a day you can see the grain start to sprout–it will grow a little tail. In about three days, the sprouts are ready for eating or feeding to the chickens. Some will take longer. At any given time, I usually have 3-5 jars sitting on the counter, all in various stages of sprouting.

It’s amazing how much I have learned about various foods since I started keeping chickens. I am more connected to my food sources than I have ever been. The girls are good for me in more ways than one! Time to go give the girls their daily sprouts–I can hear them calling me…

Have a super sprout-filled day!


Warm Rose Hip Mint Tea

Warm Rose Hip Mint Tea

There’s nothing like freshly made hot tea to take the chill out of the air, especially when it’s made with fresh mint and rose hips from the garden. It makes a great breakfast companion to my farm fresh eggs and homemade bread. Ah yes, the simple things in life are what put the biggest smile on my face.


With rose hip mint tea in hand, I head out in to the cold, frosty morning to let the girls free range for a bit in the sunshine. As I open the run door, they rush the entrance, tripping over one another. Slow down, girls! There’s plenty of outdoors for everybody! They are characters. Once they hit the grass heads bow and the nibbling begins–frantic at first, but they soon settle.

I love being a part of their world and listening to all the sounds they make. They chatter while they nibble. Sometimes it’s very clear what one is saying. I feel as though I’m learning to speak (or at least understand) chicken. My favorite sounds are when they are content, and they hum a soft, peaceful tune.


With temps in the 30s, my rose hip mint tea is cooling rather fast. The girls have grown some nice downy feathers and are obviously better suited for this cool weather than I am. I take a few photos and meander back into the warmth of my home. I love my slow-paced mornings filled with purpose. Life is good.

Chores Before Snow

As today’s forecast threatens snow, I’m thrown into a near panic thinking about all the little coop and yard chores I have yet to finish. I must be a bad chicken mommy for not having attended to these chores already. But, life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.

I’ve been planning what to do with the wonderful crop of rose hips I just harvested. And what to do with the enormous amount of mint I have collected? Most likely the mint, and perhaps the rose hips, will be dried and put up for winter to be used in teas on cold winter mornings. The dried mint will come in handy in the coop bedding throughout the winter. As long as winters are up here, it’s a good thing I have so much.


I’m determined to make something yummy with with at least some of the rose hips. Eating them raw I’ve discovered they are very sweet and tasty–larger and sweeter than the wild ones I sample while hiking local trails.

But the processing of these bountiful goodies will have to be put off for today. The threat of snow has launched me into the “get ‘er done” mode. My coop could actually survive winter just fine in its current state. However, there are a few niceties that I’d like to do to help make winter more enjoyable for the girls and for me!

So, enough with the small talk. I’m off to suit up and head out into the brisk morning air and accomplish all sorts of wonderful chores. Have a great day!