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PHOTO: Ana Hotaling
My husband Jae recently shared some sad news with me. A couple of his colleagues had lost their entire chicken coop over the weekend to a fire. All but one of their hens had perished; the lone survivor had to be euthanized, her injuries too extensive to treat. Scorch marks on the outer bricks of their residence showed how tragic this incident could have been.
I looked at Jae and said two words: heat lamp. And of course, it had been.
Search the internet and you are bound to find dozens of examples of coop fires caused by heat lamps. As with this local blaze, the poultry owners tend to be unaware of the inherent risks that come with using a searing-hot bulb over such combustible materials as straw and pine shavings. In regions of the United States where the temperatures drop dramatically from October to April, however, chicken owners desperately seek sources of heat to keep their birds from freezing. Keep your flock safely warm throughout the winter by providing heat via one of these three secure options:
1. Heating Panels
Infrared heating panels are popular in home improvement because they can transfer heat quietly, without the use of fossil fuels and with no bulbs or filters to maintain. Most commonly found in bathrooms and yoga studios, these panels are easy to use: Mount them on a wall or ceiling, plug them in and wipe them down every so often. These traits make them ideal to use in a chicken coop. Simply position them beside or above your perch, and your birds will keep warm all winter.
Added bonus: The dust in your coop won’t get kicked up because these panels do not blow air in order to heat.
Drawback: The initial layout can be costly. Infrared heating panels can cost from about $100 to more than $300, which can be a little pricey for the debutante flock owner.
2. Deep Litter
A tried-and-true method, deep litter relies on in-situ decomposition to heat the henhouse. As the pine shavings become soiled with droppings, fresh litter is added on top. As more fresh litter is added, the soiled litter is compressed and begins to decompose in place. The decomposition process releases natural heat, which warms the coop and its inhabitants.
Added bonus: When it’s time to clean out the coop come spring, you’ll have plenty of fresh compost as a byproduct.
Drawback: Your coop must have proper ventilation to prevent an accumulation of gases that could be harmful—or fatal—to your flock.
3. Caged Heat Lamps
When used properly, a heat lamp provides an effective source of heat for your chickens. If you use a heat lamp, do some research rather than plunking the first one you see into your shopping cart.
- Make sure the bulbs are infrared heat-lamp bulbs that are shatter resistant.
- Check the wattage: If you buy a 250-watt bulb, for example, you must use a 250-watt lamp.
- Never exceed your lamp’s allotted wattage, which easily and unknowingly can be done by adding a timer.
- Suspend your heat lamp from a permanent fixture such as a rafter or stud.
- Use appropriate hardware to securely install your light.
- Reinforce the chains with hardware wire so that they do not unlink.
- Hang your heat lamp a minimum of 18 inches above head level to allow your chickens room to safely jump
- Do not position your heat lamp above the perch, which will raise the birds to a level too close to the heat source to be safe.
- Most importantly, use a cage over the face of the heat lamp. This way, should your heat lamp fall, the hot bulb will not contact anything incendiary.
Added bonus: Heat lamps, for the most part, are inexpensive.
Drawback: Heat lamps are also laughably easy to install incorrectly—which is a risk to your flock.
Jae shared our condolences with his colleagues and gently reminded them that I am just a phone call or text message away when they’re ready to outfit their new coop. I only wish they’d called me back in October, when they first hung their uncaged lamp from a cast-iron planter hook. They thought they would provide heat for their hens. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize how much.