Winter has firmly arrived in New Hampshire. The other morning as the kids got ready for the school bus the temperature registered 2 degrees. And that’s a dead, still cold – not the result of any wind. It’s the kind of cold where if you forget your gloves your fingers hurt as they begin to thaw out once you get back inside.
It’s the kind of cold that makes you want to hunker down.
Which is exactly what our chickens are doing. I look out to the hen coop from our house and I see them huddled together outdoors on the roosts benefiting from each others’ body warmth. A roosting bird tucks herself over her feet and then fluffs her feathers up into a large puff ball sometimes looking twice their normal size. I imagine this must be an effective way of trapping warm air near their bodies.
One time I actually put my hand between two roosting birds and was surprised at the heat that had been generated between them. With their natural down coats, they can, if they are clever, get very toasty. This is of course, one of the reasons why these birds are so hardy, as long as they are in a flock and have another to cuddle up with, they’ll be fine during the cold winter nights.
Their drinking water, however, will not stay warm in this weather and readily turns to ice. We have two options for making sure the birds have enough water, we can switch out the water containers several times during the day (trust me – this gets old fast) or we can use a heater that keeps the water from freezing.
Guess what we went with?
The heater is a round industrial hot plate – much like the ones we took to college before the invention of microwaves. Purchased from our local Tractor Supply Store, it is intended to stay outside and take a bit of abuse. We hook it up to an outside extension cord and have it on a timer so that it heats only during the daylight hours. Chickens roost at night and don’t drink or eat again until the sun comes up.
The water never really gets warm, the temperature just stays enough above freezing so that no ice forms. The birds drink, they don’t complain. It’s no picnic but then again the cold, dark winters of New England hardly ever are.