A fine line exists between caring, responsible chicken owners and owners who coddle their hens to the point where the birds are denied the unique strengths that make them the tough creatures they are! I truly believe chickens are incredibly rugged, capable birds and when we humans step back a bit, these underrated birds can reveal to us so many strengths.. . like the fact that they don’t need winter heat lamps!
I dislike heat lamps for several reasons. When put into the coops of adult chickens, they strip the birds of their natural ability to stay warm. Most breeds of chickens are equipped with the genetics to adapt to cold weather, (some as low as -20F). When heat lamps are brought into the coop, the flock becomes reliant on the warmth and loses the need to steadily adapt to the decreasing temperature outside. If the bulb happens to burn out (as bulbs do) on a cold winter day or the power goes out, (as it often does during ice storms), the chickens will perish and you’ll open the coop and be face-to-face with a flock of chicken popsicles! Lastly, heat lamps not only pose a fire hazard, but they use on average about six times more energy than a standard household bulb: an electric bill that adds up quick.
The wonderful things about chickens is that they have their own internal heating system. Once they hop onto their wooden perch, fluff up their feathers, and cover their little chicken toes with their down, a warm, insulated layer of air is created between their feathers and skin, keeping a hen (or a rooster) nice and toasty. . .(I added rooster because I don’t want to be labeled a chicken sexist.)
If you REALLY want to help your hens, here are a few ways to keep them warm:
Cover Any Drafts: A cold breeze flowing through the coop can ruffle the feathers and release the warm air beneath, rendering the bird unable to stay warm. (I personally have to caulk all the cracks in my chicken coop to prevent this.)
Wooden Perches not Metal: Never use metal! Wooden perches insulate better and keep chicken toes from freezing.
The Deep Litter Method: Don’t clean out your coop! By allowing the manure to build up, it will compost and actually release heat beneath the chicken’s feet. Throw some grain down on the floor and let the chickens help the composting process by having them scratch it and lift it a bit. Also, it’s always a good idea to add some fresh shavings on top.
Happy Chickening Everybody!