Twas the night before Christmas, and Abby was eagerly watching her stocking…What were Jason and I doing? Trying to figure out whether or not the girls needed a heat lamp in their dwelling, and by the girls — I mean the roosters. Last week, while I was picking up the last of the holiday supplies, I also tucked an infrared heat lamp bulb into my cart at Tractor Supply, thinking that maybe the local weatherman’s predictions of cold temperatures coming might necessitate a few hours of warmth in the middle of a very cold night. Then I stopped watching the news for three or four days in the rush of the holidays.
Christmas Eve: We’d just finished the gift exchange at Jason’s grandmother’s when he went to load a few things into our car, and I felt the shock of cold air through the door. I knew the temperature was going to drop, but even I was surprised when I read the possibility of -17 online as soon as we got home. He went upstairs to work on his latest project, a cigar box guitar, while I started doing some serious cold weather research. I wasn’t sure what temperature necessitated heat, but I was fairly certain that -17 without factoring the windchill might be that temperature.
After looking at Backyard Chickens and searching through a few of my favorite home reference texts, we decided to plug in. Many chicken keepers in the north choose to and not to heat their coops for a variety of ethical reasons, and we’re certainly not going to install any kind of permanent heat in our coop (beyond the water font warmer), but with temperatures that low and a breed of chickens that have protruding combs on the roosters (who won’t tuck their heads under their wings at night), heating for the six coldest hours of Christmas Eve night seemed the way to go. I decided on six hours of heat through the coldest part of the night, with an early shut off time to ensure that the birds wouldn’t become acclimated and then freeze if (or possibly when) our power goes off for a few hours this winter.
We hung our lamp from an eye hook and metal chain about five feet above the perch (and three feet from the insulated ceiling) — enough to keep wattles and combs warm without significantly increasing the heat of the space and shocking the birds. My only regret is that we waited until it was -4 to do the installation (many cold fingers), so it’s all solid but a little aesthetically sloppy.
I was happy to find everyone cozy and warm Christmas morning and can report that 3/4 of the flock laid eggs, despite the chilly temperatures.