Adding Vinegar to the Chicken Water

It’s winter in Wisconsin and the chicken coop isn’t heated. In fact, the chicken coop lacks an electrical connection as well, so except for taking pots of heated water in on the coldest days, trying to heat the coop must come from other sources. The slant of the roof and placement of the window ensure that the coop receives maximum winter heat. The tree that normally shields the coop from the sun during the summer months is bare, letting the sun come through. Even with all these measures, the coop is cold enough to let the chicken’s water freeze.

My goals for various activities on my small farm include doing things in a manner that makes my carbon footprint small and keeps costs low. Consequently, I always look for solutions that don’t involve much in the way of high technology, such as obtaining heated chicken waterers. I did seriously look at a solar powered unit for a while, but decided that the chickens would probably destroy it in short order. The better solution turned out to be adding vinegar to the chicken water.

It turns out that vinegar has both a lower freezing temperature and higher boiling point than water. The freezing temperature of vinegar is 28 degrees, but that level increases when you add more water. I tried various levels of vinegar in the chicken water and found that ½ cup per gallon seems to keep the water from freezing for about an hour longer when the outside temperature is in the 15 to 30 degree range. Above 30 degrees, it kept the water from freezing at all.

Adding vinegar to the water also keeps anything from growing inside the waterer, which means that the water is better for the chickens longer. This feature of adding vinegar is especially important during the summer, when all kinds of green gunk grows inside the waterer and is quite hard to keep out.

If you look on other websites, you find that other people attribute all sorts of other benefits to using vinegar. Other websites warn against using vinegar. I haven’t personally tested any of these claims, so I’m not here to tell you that the chickens derive any benefit whatsoever from the vinegar in the water. However, I did try a simple experiment this past summer and found that given two buckets, precisely the same size, color, and make, one with vinegar and one without, the chickens always drank the vinegar water first. My feeling is that they seem to like it. So even if the chickens don’t gain any solid benefits from the vinegar, you can view it as a treat that helps keep the water from freezing longer and keeps their waterer cleaner. Let me know your thoughts on adding vinegar to the chicken water at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Keeping Your Animals Healthy in Hot Weather

It’s incredibly important to keep your animals cool in hot weather. Just as you need to keep your cool, animals need to keep cool too. The same sorts of heat-related problems that affect you, affect your animals. However, there is one important difference. Unlike you, your animals have no way to communicate that they’re hot. Sometimes people misread the signs until the animal dies, which is incredibly sad.

You might think that air conditioning would solve all of your problems. However, I’ve noted that some animals, like some people, don’t do all that well in air conditioning. So, besides being incredibly expensive, you could end up doing your animals more harm than good. There are better options for keeping your animals cool.

Water, lots of it, is an essential element in keeping your animals cool. The water should be kept fresh at all times, which means changing the water three or four times a day for most animals. It helps to put the water in some sort of bucket, instead of a water bottle. Yes, the bottle does keep the water cleaner, but the animal can’t access the water when you put it in a bottle. Think about your methods of keeping cool. When you want to stay cool, just drinking water doesn’t do enough most of the time, you want to put a little on your body too. Animals like to have water for more than just their drinking needs too.

Cats seem to be the least affected by heat in our experience. You need to allow them a cool place and lots of water. Don’t be surprised if you find the cat lying in the bathtub, on the shower floor, on your tiles, or anywhere else there is a smooth cool surface. Placing the water near this surface means the cat expends less energy finding something to drink. Cats will overheat rather than splash water on themselves. Sometimes you need to give them a helping hand (hoping that they don’t scratch too much in the return). Cats prefer cool, not cold, water. Running water (as in one of those bubbler bowls) is better than stagnant water.

Dogs seem to like a bit of a breeze and copious quantities of water. Sometimes our dogs will lie right in front of a fan in order to grab some breeze. Many dogs also love ice. We’ll put ice in their water bowls to get the water ice cold. Our border collie is especially adept at grabbing ice cubes and grinding them up. A big issue is keeping your dogs quiet in hot weather. A dog will hurt itself, rather than disappoint master. Master needs to understand that and keep the dog as quiet as possible. Misting your dog does seem to help. In fact, I don’t know of many dogs who don’t enjoy getting completely wet during hot weather (try one of the many dog pools available on the market). Some dogs don’t do well in air condition. I know that our beagle gets a sinus condition from the air conditioner.

Rabbits do well in air conditioning for the most part and we’ll bring our most vulnerable rabbits inside during especially hot weather. Bucks need the cooling more than the does do (a buck can become sterile if he gets too hot). Younger rabbits need cooling more than older rabbits. It’s essential that you not keep rabbits together during extreme heat. For some odd reason, they’ll pile on top of each other—hastening the inevitable. We’ve tried freezing drink bottles (mostly full of water with a little air gap at the top) and placing them in the cages. It works quite well. The rabbits will lie next to the bottles and use them for cooling. Expect to go through a number of these bottles. The rabbits also seem to delight in chewing holes in the bottles.

Chickens apparently don’t sweat. They actually fan out the feathers to allow for cooling and will pant much like a dog does. We’ve tried misting the chickens with mixed results. However, we have discovered that chickens will cool themselves by wading in cold water, leading me to believe that chickens cool themselves through their feet. Spraying the feet also seems to have a good effect. Once I discovered that chickens hate to get their feathers wet, but delight in cool feet, I was able to redirect the spray from a hose to more effectively cool them. We have also employed fans to help the chickens cool themselves. They’ll sit in front of the fan, feathers fluffed, gathering as much of the breeze as possible. Chickens don’t seem to do well in air conditioning. Chickens do need more fresh, cool, water than most animals do and expect that water to get quite dirty between refills.

The one constant that we’re finding is that eating generates heat. We’re finding that withholding food until the evening hours seems to help every animal we work with to stay cooler. In fact, chickens will often die immediately after a meal when the weather is too hot from a heart attack (a condition known as flip). Wait until evening, when it’s cooler, to feed your animals during the summer and you’ll keep them a lot cooler during the day. As an alternative, try feeding your animal in the extreme morning hours (before the sun rises, if possible). Don’t feed your animal during the hottest hours of the day.

The point is that you must discover how your animals get cool. Each animal will also have personal preferences. Observe your animals closely to ensure it stays cool in a way that works with its body type. Some animals like misting, others don’t. Some can tolerate air conditioning, others can’t. Water is always a primary ingredient to keeping your animals cool and making that water accessible is incredibly important. The number one thing we’ve found out though is that animals will also try to tell you in a non-vocal manner when it doesn’t like the manner of cooling you’ve chosen. Find something that works. Let me know about your experiences with animal cooling at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Covering and Completing the Chicken Coop

In the previous post, Bending Corrugated Roofing, you saw how to bend the corrugated roofing material. We’re actually using this material to cover every part of the chicken coop because its strong and, in this case, free. The material will eventually require painting, but for the moment, it provides a durable covering that should withstand just about anything. The covering process begins with the roof as shown here.

ChickenCoop0801

The roof sections overlap by one ridge and valley pair to provide continuous protection. You use special corrugated roofing screws to secure the corrugated roofing in place. Each screw is self-tapping. In addition, there is a rubber washer to seal the hole made by the screw. It’s important to put the screws into the ridges, not the valleys, of the corrugated roofing to allow unimpeded water flow. Notice that the roof part overhangs. This addition provides some protection for the window, just in case it’s left open during a storm.

The back section pieces are all bent to provide coverage for the fascia. They provide a slight overhang as well because they need to cover the soffit pieces that are installed later. Here’s how the back looks. Notice the window that I mentioned earlier. It’s near the top of the coop to provide good ventilation during the summer months. The window seals tightly to keep the heat in during the winter months.

ChickenCoop0802

We worked on the sides next. When it came time to complete a corner, we made the piece a bit long and bent it around the corner. That way, the two pieces of corrugated roofing overlap and provide good protection as shown here.

ChickenCoop0803

We worked around the building, overlapping the roofing material one the sides. The bottom pieces came first, and then those above, so that water flowing down the sides won’t get under the roofing. The soffit pieces came last. Working around the windows was time consuming, but we eventually got the task done.

ChickenCoop0804

The next step was to install the nest box assembly. It’s the same nest box assembly used in the original coop. There are 15 nest boxes. Outside each nest box is a roost for the chickens to get in and out of the nest box easily.

ChickenCoop0805

On the other side of the coop are places to put the feeder, waterer, and oyster shell feeder, along with a small roost. Your chickens will need the oyster shells or some other source of calcium carbonate, especially if you plan to let them forage outside, as we will. Chickens don’t naturally eat layer mash; they naturally eat bugs, grass, and other odd assorted natural items that don’t contain the calcium carbonate they need. Because we want to let the chickens eat as many natural items as they’d like, we provided space for both layer mash and calcium carbonate, which gives the chickens choice of what they want to eat. The result should be better quality eggs (with dark orange yolks) with strong shells.

ChickenCoop0806

Notice the door at the side of the coop. This door leads to the chicken run outside. The last part of the building process is to fence in the chicken run. The chicken run has a ramp to make it easy for the chickens to get out of and into the coop as needed. There is also a large roost outside so that the chickens can rest off of the ground and still enjoy the sunshine. The ramp has little bars on it to provide a foothold for the chickens.

ChickenCoop0807

In order to make the chickens comfortable and ensure they have plenty of interesting things to eat, we allocated 20 square feet per chicken in the run. That may not prove large enough. I’ll track how the ground cover does after a month or two and may increase that to 30 square feet per chicken. The point is that the chickens will have plenty of space in which to run around. We’ll keep the run shoveled in the winter so that the chickens can come out unless the weather truly is horrible.

The coop is finally finished and ready for occupancy. We were originally going to raise all of our layers from chicks. However, I decided to surprise my wife with a couple of hens so we can start enjoying the fruits of our labors now. Next week we’ll talk about the inhabitants and the chicks that will arrive on June 25th to complete our coop. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.