Bonafide Farm

The polar vortex and managing the chickens in extreme cold

January 6th, 2014 § 1

What a wonderfully evocative/apocalyptic name for this weather phenomenon affecting much of the U.S.! Central Virginia is being swirled into its embrace as I write. The temperature dropped 16 degrees in the last three hours, and the thermometer outside my kitchen window now reads 10 degrees at only 9:00 p.m.

This evening I turned on a red heat bulb in the chicken coop. As long as they have access to unfrozen water and plenty of food, chickens are just fine in low temperatures without supplemental heat—they snuggle close together on the roost and they are, after all, walking around wrapped in feather duvets. But with projected temperatures near zero with a wind chill warning, tonight I figured I would help them out a little bit by closing up their windows and heating their coop. It’s very rare that I use heat in the coop—in my climate it’s really not necessary.


If you’re considering heating a chicken coop with a light bulb, make sure the fixture is securely installed and not just precariously hanging. The risk of fire is too high otherwise. One of my friends burned down his garage when a light fixture he’d suspended over a broody box of chicks fell into their bedding. Imagine just how fast a wooden coop filled with pine shavings would go up in smoke should a lit heat bulb fall into the bedding. That would be one hell of a rotisserie!


I nailed my light fixture to a rafter and used cable clips to secure the extension cord that powers it to the walls, safe from being pulled down by either people and chickens. The set-up has worked great thus far, and even though I rarely use light or heat in the coop, it’s wonderful to have it there for these polar vortex situations! Which, by the way, and despite the howling winds, I am loving (from the warm coziness of my woodstove-heated snug little home). I have high hopes that all the ticks, squash bugs, harlequin bugs, bean beetles, etc. that plague my person, pets and garden will be totally obliterated in the next two days. A girl can dream!

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