Winter in Texas
November 14, 2019
Here in south Texas winter seems to have snuck in before we had any fall. I usually look forward to this time of year as working with the chickens and building pens is much more comfortable when the temps get 60-70 degrees. In the last few weeks we went from days in the upper 90's to daytime highs in the 30-40's. So we have had to hustle to get the coops and birds winterized.
The minute they predict colder temps down here people start talking heat lamps. Time and again people post about putting up the lamps to keep their birds warm. What people here in Texas fail to realize is people in Maine and Minnesota keep chickens and keep them without heat just fine. Though we may think we are freezing to death when the temps hit 38 degrees, the chickens are pretty thankful they are not panting all day anymore. Heat lamps pose a serious risk of fire no matter how carefully they are set up and positioned. Every winter we hear story after story of people that thought it would never happen to them. So no matter what the weatherman says the lows are going to be.. do not use a heat lamp.
What most people down here fail to realize are chickens are covered in down. When the temperatures drop they will fluff up their feathers to keep warm. At night, when it is the coldest, the birds snuggle close to each other for added warmth. Rarely does it get cold enough down here to require any additional heat. Birds just need a dry place out of the wind to stay comfortable.
Since our coops are pretty much open air because Texas heat is our biggest issue, we prepare for the cold by putting up wind blocks. Some of our coops and runs have tarps on their sides. I can raise and lower the sides depending on the weather. For the most part, because of our heat the sides are pulled up. When we get a good rain I lower the sides a bit during the summer. With colder weather the sides go down and stay down. For some of my other pens we use heavy plastic and old feed bags to cover the open sides and doors. We are not trying to completely enclose the birds, but instead, block the wind that may come through. The birds will huddle together at night and will stay quite warm.
We use a water reservoir and nipples to water all our birds. Temps can get quite cool and the water system will work fine. When it looks like the temperatures will drop below freezing and stay there a bit, we will drain the water out of the system and water using buckets in the pens. It is usually only for a few days, so this is a workable situation for us. We tried using some of the foam pipe insulation around the PVC, but found the chickens like to eat it.. so we do not use it.
As a general rule, I do not like to feed corn. But when it gets colder I feed a mix of cracked corn and black oil sunflower seeds as treats. Since I get home after dark, they get this after being fed their morning mash so they start off with a good breakfast before their treats. The corn gives the birds some additional carbs to keep them warm in the colder temps. I now most feed scratch at the end of the day before the birds to do roost.. but I cannot. So they are getting some additional calories during the day so they have them to keep warm at night.
With a place out of the wind and good feed our southern chickens can handle winter no mater how cold our temps drop too. There is never a good reason down here to risk using a heat lamp. While I am sure that those living up north do a little more to winterize their birds for a much colder winter, down here in the south a little common sense and no heat lamps will get the birds through our winters in good shape.