How the Hen House Turns: Warming the Hen House

How the Hen House Turns: Warming the Hen House
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

As the calendar creeps toward January, it’s time to worry about cold weather for the Hen House gang. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it’s very scary when ducks shiver. It happens at 14 degrees F. You know it’s very cold, probably too cold for the hens’ combs to survive unfrozen. The birds need a warm refuge, especially at night.

Husband Don found a great solution, a safe thin oil heater, small enough to fit behind chicken wire and sit on a box away from the straw. It’s able to hold a low temp. I keep it at 40 degrees F, and when all the birds sleep together in the Hen House, the ambient temperature soars to 45 degrees.

That’s cozy enough for the chicken and turkey, whose feathers are not water-proof and not set atop piles of thick down, like the ducks and geese.

Disaster nearly struck the first time I tried insisting that all the birds sleep together. It was predicted to drop down to 10 degrees F. that night. I had a terrible time getting all the birds into the heated Hen House. They had grown used to their own assorted nest boxes, and the smaller ducks did not want to get anywhere near with the territorial geese.

They shouldn’t have worried. Lucy goose had raised ducks and hung out with turkey– pining away, while turkey raised some chicken chicks. I urged them all in and quickly shut the Hen House door, then waited for any noises of trouble or distress.

Silence. They quieted down immediately when I closed the door. It was warm and dark in there. The straw was piled thick and soft. No one had any reason to complain.

Nice surprise! The next morning I hurried down to the Hen House, hoping to find everyone still in one piece. When I opened the door to check on them, I found the first two goose eggs of spring. The next morning I found two duck eggs, amidst the crowd. Baby Puddles was now laying in synchrony with her mother Khaki. The miracle of spring had sprung, ignoring the temperature.