Breath of Fresh Air

Airing the hen house on a warm January morning, Fairbanks

Airing the hen house on a warm January morning, Fairbanks

Thanks to the Lower 48 taking on our Polar Vortex- winter here in Fairbanks has been perfect: mostly warm, with plenty of snow for skiing and other winter recreating.  It’s been good for chickens too.  Maybe not for outside frolicking as mine don’t really care for the snow, and they haven’t reached that level of coop-fever that drives them out into the snowy yard.  That will happen in early March, but it has more to do with sun angle and warmth than with them being thoroughly fed up with being inside.

But even if your chickens won’t venture outside right now, mild temperatures are great for regular henhouse airings.    If yours is anything like mine, by January there is a definite funk built up inside as a result of a number of birds living, eating and yes, doing what chickens do, pooping in a small space.  When it’s 30 below, that funk  sort of crystallizes into  an inert, non-smelly frost in the far corners and near the floor of the henhouse.  But with temperatures regularly above zero, and in many cases flirting with the high 20s and 30s…I have  moisture running down the walls, and my deep litter method has to be changed a lot more frequently as the straw and manure mixture starts cooking.

While warm winter weather can produce these not-so-good interior conditions, even with a vent (I will sometimes spend a little electricity when I don’t need to and turn on the heat lamp for a few hours to help dry out the henhouse), it also allows you to air out your henhouse and give your chickens some welcome fresh air.

If you are conscientious about keeping your small coop door free of litter and ice (I am not) you may be able to regularly open the hen door for additional air circulation.  I used to do this, but quickly tired of the regular chore of chipping and banging the door open.  A fellow flock owner, who is much more experienced in keeping all sorts of poultry (chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys) here in Fairbanks than I am  passed on to me her tip: she opens her main door and hangs an old quilt over the door on warm days.  Of course, “warm” is a personal definition for both flock owner and the involved poultry, but generally, if it is 20 degrees or warmer, this would be a good thing to do for your coop and its inhabitants.

Another option, the lazy-person’s (which is the one I use), is simply to partially open the door for a couple of hours. While opening the small coop door does give additional fresh air, it doesn’t allow for as much air circulation and much-needed air exchange as having the larger door open for a period of time.

If you are a first-time flock owner in a northern climate, do begin opening your little coop door on warm sunny winter days in late winter – at some point your chickens will decide the sun is at the right angle and they will begin spending some portion of their days outside.  Be sure to sweep/shovel an area clear of snow as they are not too keen on being in it.

About Mara Bacsujlaky

As a 4-H agent with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, I offer workshops and information about raising and keeping small backyard flocks in Alaska. These services are designed for the hobbyist that keeps primarily laying chickens for home use of eggs and, secondarily, meat.
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3 Responses to Breath of Fresh Air

  1. Rene' Henricks says:

    Hi Mara,
    Just wanted to say I am enjoying your blog, I was born and raised in Fbks, and currently live in upstate NY where I am raising Chickens and Guinea Hens. Nostalgia be damned, but I quite like the idea of getting my info from a source that is more “down to earth” than the back yard chicken blogs I have been finding online, I do not however miss those winters. Anyway, keep on keeping on and thank you.
    One question, what has your experience been with predators? I have set traps for weasels, still nothing. They are a tricky lot, I lost some of my favorite girls last winter. Any advice?

    • Thanks for the kudos. I think you are having worst winter weather this year than we are. I have been really lucky concerning predators; my coop/henhouse are not particularly secure, and certainly a weasel and/or fox could easily dig in and get my chickens. It might be just that I live in a predator-poor area. I think your question I would have to open up to the greater audience on this blog: anyone have success with controlling weasels? and if so, how?

      I am hoping to start a wiki soon, so people can converse directly. Cheers

  2. Kate Wattum says:

    A few years ago I insulated and converted my children’s unused two story playhouse into a layer hen area above and a meat bird area below. The layers started appearing last week to check out the yard area because of the warmer temperatures. Last Wed-Mon we had 48 – 50 degrees up on Moose Mountain – and what a slushy mess it has been. We just finished shoveling out the fenced chicken yard area to allow our pregnant ewes a dry and protected area while waiting for their delivery dates. With all the activity the chickens have appeared in the yard.

    It is my experience chickens hate touching snow. Now that the yard is covered in straw for the ewes, the layers are enjoying the warmer temperatures too!

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