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Tillys Nest

Winter with Chickens: To Heat or Not Heat the Coop

Photo by Pixabay/gwscott

Chicken owners that live in cold climates often have to make some decisions when it comes to colder fall and winter weather.  One such dilemma is whether or not to heat your coop.  We live on Cape Cod, where we have windy winters and temperatures that occasionally dip below zero. The Cape is a man-made island surrounded entirely by the ocean. The ocean greatly affects our weather and causes us to experience small temperature fluctuations between day and night.  Snow fall varies from year to year.  Some years we have very light snowfall and others deliver a wallop of 2 feet or more.

One decision that people need to make just as important as personalities and egg color is weather hardiness.  I will never forget hearing that Martha Stewart one year wanted to add "exotic" chickens to her Connecticut flock.  She soon realized that they were not cold hardy.  They perished early their first winter.  All of our eight chickens are cold hardy, including the Silkies.  Choosing the right type of chicken for your environment is a very important factor not to be overlooked.

Chickens are birds and not mammals.  Their bodies, circulatory system, respiratory system, reproductive systems are different.  Therefore, we cannot assume that they interpret, adapt or react the same way as our mammal bodies do in the cold.

We do not heat our chicken coop.  Knowing that we do experience occasional power outages, we did not want our flock to become accustomed to an artificially warmed coop.  Tales of flocks perishing from lack of a heated coop after an extended power outage was just something that we did not want to encounter.

Happy chickens in the snow
Photo by Melissa Caughey

Here are some tips for you to consider to help keep your coop warm without an additional heat source:

  • Consider the size of your coop.  Smaller coops heat up more quickly from the heat produced by the chickens than larger ones.  Coop size and flock size should match.
  • Insulate around your coop with bales of straw.
  • Keep your flock away from drafts, yet allow for adequate ventilation.
  • Provide a thicker layer of pine shavings in colder weather than you do in the summer.  Introducing, straw on the floor of the coop can also be a welcomed addition.
  • Provide your flock with warm treats and warm water throughout the day.
  • Feed your flock scratch 1 hour before they retire for the night.  Chickens' metabolism is higher in the winter as they burn more fuel keeping warm.  A full tummy of scratch helps them to generate heat and an egg if they desire.
  • Ensure that your chickens' roosts are wide enough and their feet are completely covered by their bodies when perched.
  • Allow for winter's sunshine to warm the coop by clearing away unnecessary trees and shrubbery.
  • Repair areas of the coop that are vulnerable to water leaks.
  • During the coldest evenings, apply Vaseline to the flock's combs and wattles to prevent frostbite.

The Northeast can experience huge storms called Nor'easters, with strong winds and lots of snow.  Storms like this can cause extended power outages for long periods of time.  In the winter of 2010, such a storm blew across Cape Cod. Not only were many affected by the loss of power, but many folks lost their entire flocks from their inability to acclimate to cold.  They were accustomed to a warm, cozy, heated coop.

Winter Storm Preparations for Backyard Chicken Keepers

Tillys NestLiving in the northeast, we have just become accustomed to snow and sometimes lots of it during winter. It is always important for us to keep an eye on the weather, as we can quickly go from a morning filled with abundant sunshine into an afternoon with complete white out conditions. One of the most important things that we do when we know a storm is coming is to prepare the chickens and their housing to make weathering the storm easier. Here are some tips as to what we do as we prepare for snow.

First, we are sure to clean the chicken coop.

  • We clean out the coop and nesting boxes and replace everything with a thicker fresh layer of bedding.

Photo by Pixabay/Melanimarfeld

Reinforce any predator proofing and locks.

Consider locking the flock inside the coop during the worst of the storm, especially over night for safety.

We don't heat the coop.

  • If you heat your coop, you will need to come up with a back-up plan for heating your coop if the power is to fail for an extended period of time. Sudden changes in temperatures will stress and can kill your flock. If you have already started heating your coop this year, you cannot stop this year, but you can rethink heating the coop for next winter.

Consider adding a layer of plastic sheeting around the chicken run.

  • This cuts down on drafts.
  • Keeps the snow out of the run.
  • Keeps you from having to shovel out the run.
  • It allows the chickens more space for roaming even though a storm is happening outside.
  • It helps to prevent boredom, if they are locked in the coop otherwise.
  • It helps to keep your flock dry.
  • It helps to prevent the run from getting soaked, which can lead to illness such as coccidiosis.
  • It also keeps the flock's favorite dust bathing spots dry too.

Snowy chicken coop
Photo by Melissa Caughey

Add a supply of fresh water and food inside the coop.

  • You can never tell if the chickens will need to stay inside the coop longer than usual due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • This keeps the food from getting wet and spoiling. It also helps to slow down the freezing process of the waterers.

Keep extra emergency water on hand for your flock.

  • Estimate how much water your flock consumes in one week.
  • Store that amount of water inside so that it doesn't freeze.
  • You may need to rely on this in case your water service is interrupted.

Visit the feed store.

  • Stock up on enough extra feed, grit, oyster shells to last at least a week. Also, stock up on extra pine shavings to add to the muddy run and refresh the coop as needed.

Take inventory of your chicken first-aid kit and restock as necessary.

Chickens are snow blind.

  • Chickens will not venture out onto an unshoveled snowy area.
  • To coax them out, shovel off some walking space and toss on some scratch or treats.

Keep a shovel near your door along with some snow boots and mittens.

  • Think about the best way to access your chickens after the storm is through.

6 Chicken Boredom Busters

Tillys NestI know my flock is craving warmer weather, longer sunny days, and fresh green grass. I am too. During the winter, I try to keep them busy, happy and preoccupied. They can easily get bored. Here are some ideas that I have done over the years to keep them entertained and prevent them from developing behaviors out of boredom such as egg eating and feather picking.


Make a Pinata

cabbage pinata

Hang a head of cabbage, cauliflower, or broccoli in the run and keep your chickens dodging and pecking at the hanging, spinning, ball. Click here for the instructions.

Bales of Hay or Straw

Hay Bales are great fun

Place some bales of hay or straw in the coop or run. The chickens will spend hours searching for bugs, goodies, seeds, tearing them apart. Added benefits include insulation and helping to control wet areas in the run. (Photo Credit)

Try A Treat Ball

treat ball

Fill a treat ball or hanging suet feeder and fill it with fresh goodies for the flock.

Add a Flock Block

Flock Blocks are a great way to redirect the chicken's instinct to peck. Bored chickens can peck at their eggs and one another's feathers. I like to place mine on a cookie sheet in the run. I keep it in the run only a few hours per day. This way, it is something that the chickens look forward to instead of something that is there all the time.

Add a Chicken Swing

Chickens love to swing. You can purchase chicken swings or make your own. To make your own, cut a log to approximately 18 inches long. Drill a hole through the top to the bottom of the log on each side. Thread some thick rope or chain through the holes and tie it from the rafters.

Add a Mirror

Chicken fun with a mirror.

Chickens do the silliest things when you add a mirror to the coop. It keeps them busy for hours, plus they meet someone "new" each day. Learn how to make your flock their own shatter-proof mirror.

An Egg Without A Shell

Tillys NestOur flock is now almost four years old. This is the first year when their egg laying has completely ceased during their annual fall molt. Telling you that we miss their eggs is a huge understatement! We are down to our last dozen. However, a few days ago, as I lifted the nesting box lid, I discovered Feathers as she gracefully got up from the nesting box. As I peered down into the box, I discovered an egg. I was ecstatic. The eggs had returned.

Yet, this one was different. I scooped it up. It was warm but instead of feeling a shell, it felt rubbery. It was squishy. I could see the yolk inside this silly normal sized egg. We had fun with her egg, as it sat above the kitchen window for the last few days. It was a show and tell, a real "wow" kind of story that the kids were thrilled to share with their friends. 

An Egg Without A Shell

As each day passed, the egg lost a little of its oomph, until yesterday when it looked like a pathetic deflated balloon. The rubbery coating on the outside had turned into more of a solid. It felt and looked like stale angel food cake, so into the garbage it went. Since that egg was laid over three days ago, no other eggs have been gifted to our family from the flock. It's amazing how we cherished Feather's pathetic odd egg. I think in some weird way, it gave us a bit of hope, that soon enough the eggs will return.

Come visit me over on my blog, Tilly's Nest!

6 Ways Everyone Can Help the Bees

Honeybees returning to the hive

Even if you don't keep bees you can certainly help them in and around your yard. There are little steps that make a huge difference in these tiny workers' lives. In fact, it can even help your gardens and yard to grow and thrive by allowing not only the bees but other beneficial bugs, butterflies and other pollinators to safely live in their environments.


By removing natural fields and weeds and replacing them with lush, green, weed -free lawns, we have removed vast amounts of land where honeybees thrived. If possible, allow the meadows to return. Clover is one of the honeybee's favorite flowers and it readily grows in the healthiest of lawns. Why not consider letting your lawn grow patches of clover and let it bloom?  Dandelions are also a spring time favorite of theirs too. Dandelions tell them that warmer weather is arriving. Often the dandelions are the first blooms upon which they feed after a long winter contained in their hives.


Whether it is herbicides or pesticides you should start reading the labels. Specifically seek out information whether or not the chemicals you are using are harmful to bees. This information is often hidden in the fine print but is required to be there by law.  Research alternative methods to battle bugs and weeds. These include white vinegar, cayenne pepper and insecticidal soaps.  Also, just because a product is organic it does not mean that it cannot harm honeybees and other pollinators.

Hours and Timing of Application

Apply products to plants when they are not blooming if possible.  Honeybees would not spend time on a plant without blooms. Apply the products during the very early morning hours or at dusk. During these times honeybees are more likely to be in their hives verses outside in the garden.

Purple Power

Honeybees are most attracted to purple blooms.  They love Russian Sage, Lavender, purple Butterfly bushes, Coneflowers (Echinacea), and Liatris to name a few.

Keep Bees

Last year, the US lost approximately 40% of their hives during the winter.  This set a new devastating record.  The honey bees are in trouble. Explore becoming a beekeeper or allowing a beekeeper to place a hive or two on your property.

Be Politically Active

Follow the current bills at the local, state and federal levels that are helping to research colony collapse disease, restrict and ban chemicals that are proving fatal the bees, and help to stabilize their populations.  The bees can't speak for themselves but you certainly can!

For more information on beekeeping, backyard chickens, gardening, recipes and crafting, please come visit me on

Egg Eating in Backyard Chickens

An eaten egg discovered in the nesting box  

Egg Eating, a form of cannibalism, is a terrible habit that some chicken develop over time.  It can start for numerous reasons including nutritional deficiencies, curiosity and boredom.  Chickens are very smart and it does not take long for them to realize that not only do eggs taste good but they are a great source of protein. It is important when keeping a backyard flock that you are aware of this potential problem and take steps in your flock's living area and life to help prevent this problem from ever beginning.

Here are some helpful tips to help prevent your flock from starting this behavior:

1.  Feed your flock a layer feed containing at least 16% protein
2.  Limit the treats and kitchen scraps that you feed your flock.
3.  Share high protein treats with your flock including dried meal worms, sunflower seeds and plain yogurt (no artificial ingredients or sweeteners)
4.  Keep nesting boxes up off the ground.  This helps keep the eggs out of sight and out of mind.
5.  Harvest your eggs at least 2-3 times per day.
6.  Provide your flock with free access to oyster shells or recycled eggshells to help form thicker eggshells.
7.  Be sure the eggs have a soft place to land in the nesting box.
8.  Be sure to provide plenty of fresh water, some chicken start eating eggs when water is scarce.
9.  Be sure the chickens have plenty of space and if you are able to safely, allow free-ranging.
10.  Never feed your chickens eggs that still look like eggs or shells.  Do not be tempted to toss a cracked eggs into the run for the chickens to devour.  You can feed your chickens scrambled eggs or crush the eggshells into small unrecognizable pieces.
11.  Keep nesting boxes dark.
12.  Be sure you have at least one nesting box per 4 laying hens.

If the egg eating behavior has already begun, it is important that most of the above suggestions have been implemented.  In addition, you can try these added measures to try and treat the problem:

1.  If you know which chicken is guilty, then remove them from the flock immediately.  Others will learn the behavior from them.  If they continue to eat eggs, try rehoming them, sometimes a change of scenery can stop a bad habit.
2.  According to the University of Florida, filling a dish with milk and allowing chickens to drink it decreased the egg eating behavior.
3.  The University of Florida also suggests beating an egg into a creamy consistency, stir in 2 teaspoons of black pepper and pour it on the coop floor.  The taste will stop hens from eating their eggs.
4.  Create slanted nesting boxes that allow freshly laid eggs to roll down into a secret collection area that the chickens cannot access.
5.  Try adding golf balls to the nesting boxes.
6.  Clean up every bit of the broken egg.  Leave no traces behind.  Change out any bedding that has egg on it.
7.  Try filling an empty egg shell with mustard.  The chickens will not enjoy the taste.  Interestingly, hot sauce does not work on birds, they can't taste it.
8.  Try pinless peepers.
9.  Try adding distractions, such as a hanging ball of cabbage.
10.  Be sure you actually have a hen eating your eggs, it is not uncommon in certain areas for snakes to enter chicken coops and swallow whole eggs.

I think there comes a time in most flocks, for whatever reason, an egg cracks and a curious chicken decides to indulge.  This happened once to our flock when we were on vacation.  My guess, is that the eggs were not being harvested enough during the day.  Upon our return during the following few days, we went out checking for eggs religiously every few hours.  Luckily, this single measure alone stopped their behavior.  Since then, no one has eaten any eggs, well that is, except for us.


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9 Tips After the First Year of Keeping Bees

 Installing the nucs 

It has been almost 1 year since I started out on beekeeping.  I hardly know everything, but the learning curve has been steep and I can say with confidence that I am a beekeeper.  I read all that I could get my hands on.  I took a local beekeeping class and joined the local beekeeper's association.  I networked with those around me.  My bees survived their first year and so did I.  Today, I thought that I would share with you some very important tips that I have picked up along this past year's journey. I cannot guarantee that these will work for you, but I can certainly share what has worked for me.

Feed your bees.  From most preliminary data gathered this year, it seems that most of my fellow beekeeper's hives perished this winter from starvation.  Bees need to eat and sometimes, we are located in places and climates less than optimal for them. All too often, Mother Nature does not provide as much as we would like.  Be sure to check the feeders once per week.  Try to keep them refilled on a regular consistent basis.

Become a believer in Honey B Healthy.  This stuff works.  It smells great and I believe really helped my hives to get off to a great start.  It is also wonderful to mist on your bees instead of the smoker.

Keep more than one hive.  Two hive are truly better than one.  Keeping two hives allows you to make comparisons between the two and become aware of issues earlier, discover what is "normal" vs. "abnormal", allows you to combine hives if one is not thriving come the colder seasons and also helps you to re-queen a hive absent of a queen and any brood.

Find a Mentor.  If are lucky enough to find a mentor who has at least kept bees successfully for 3 years than consider yourself to have one of the greatest assets in the hobby.  Treat them to lunch or dinner now and then and the relationship will grow and thrive.  It is a nice way to return the favor of their time and expertise.

Never underestimate the supply of bobby pins at the local drug store come spring.  Every spring around here there is a huge shortage because folks are building their frames and support the foundation with bobby pins.  Watch all year round for sales and pick them up during alternative times.  They will sell out.

Watch Sugar Prices.  Hungry bees can gobble up to 5 pounds or more of sugar in a week.  Look for sales and watch the club stores.  Always keep an extra 10 pound bag on hand for those unexpected situations.

Check on your bees.  Open your hives on sunny warm days when the bees are flying and the breeze is minimal.  Take a quick assessment and be sure there are signs of the queen. It is not always necessary to find the queen.  Just be sure she is there, laying a healthy pattern of brood.  Be sure to assess for any pests, parasites or signs of disease.

Watch your bees.  Get in the habit of watching your bees from outside the hive.  See if they are returning to the hive loaded down with pollen.  Monitor for robber bees.  Watch for any signs of impostors entering the hives and be on alert for bee predators such as skunks.

Follow beekeeping practices as others do in your area of the country.  Be sure that you are adapting practices of keeping bees that are appropriate for your gardening zone and climate.  Some folks never deal with freezing weather.  Some people harvest honey year round.   Some beehives spend all winter covered in snow.

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