Arctic chicken

Arctic chicken

The low temperature in our chicken coop so far this winter is 7 degrees (that’s –14C) and the current temp is 25. The birds don’t seem to mind, though, which is exactly what our (Alaskan) chicken farming friends told us as we started this get-to-know-your-food adventure.

Stephanie and I picked up our four chickens in July, the height of the Alaskan summer, and as the days grew shorter – and colder – we became increasingly worried about our layers (the rooster? Not so much. His purpose in life seems to be eating and hassling the ladies). Not because they appeared to be in distress but because we felt like they should be in distress.

We heard horror stories about frozen off chicken feet (apparently the bird survived just fine without them) and suffocation due to the build up of ammonia fumes (if the coop doesn’t have enough ventilation) but for the most part our friends told us not to worry.

Of course a bit of planning didn’t hurt either:

  • We used a 2×4, instead of a rod, for a perch which allows the birds to keep their feet flat and tucked under their feathers.
  • Our coop is fairly well insulated. With the heat lamp off the coop stays about 10 degrees warmer than the outside ambient temperature.
  • We use a heat lamp for warmth and to stimulate egg production. In order to keep the hens producing eggs they need to have at least 16 hours of light bright enough to read a newspaper by (according to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension).

Someone cleans the coop about once a week (full disclosure: it’s usually Stephanie). While not exactly a fun chore, the nuggets are frozen and the process of throwing the dirty bedding into the compost pile and putting out new straw takes less than 10 minutes.

If egg production is any indication, our little flock is pretty happy. So far this December our three hens have laid 22 eggs.

We imagine grumbling if they could talk, but they huddle together on their roost pretty well, and perhaps, like us, they get used to the cold weather. I know after a few days of minus 10, zero degrees feels positively balmy.