There is a lot of controversy over heating your chicken coop in the winter. Old timers and larger farms will tell you absolutely do not heat the coop. The problem I have with this... is the larger your operation means you probably have more chickens, which will help keep each other warm. If you are a backyard chicken keeper, than depending on your city regulations, you most likely have fewer than 20 chickens not thousands or more. And because you have less, you love them more. Am I right?
So what do we do?! Well, I have tried a few things. Since we live in the middle of the country it can get pretty cold for an extended amount of time during the winter months. If you have ever seen a chicken with frost bite on it's comb, you will want to heat your coop. It is devastating and bloody. Sure, you can treat frost bite with medical sprays or oil rubs. But, I prefer prevention methods... Thank you very much.
My first flock was almost five years ago and we only had about six chickens. I did my research and was terrified that if I used a heat lamp I would end up torching my girls. The coop we had was pretty small (see above) and I settled on installing a radiant heat panel on the wall behind their roosts. The device I purchased was not that expensive and actually made to go under your desk to keep your legs and feet warm at work. The only pet related products I found were reptile related and smaller. Ok! So, I got my panel and installed it. The coop was at the back of the yard and there was no electricity nearby. So... this meant running an extension cord from our house across the yard to the coop. Not exactly convenient. We purchased a thermacube - this handy device turns an outlet into a temp control unit, amazing tool that we still use to this day. The thermacube only allows the electricity to flow once the temperature hits freezing.
You guys! I was so proud of myself for coming up with this innovative and safe way to keep my chickens warm. Well... no one froze to death that winter but we did battle some frost bitten combs and I wasn't completely happy by the end of the season. We moved that spring and I turned an old screened in pavilion (that already had electricity in it) into my new coop. This thing is massive compared to my dinky old coop. But guess what, more space means more chickens! YAS! Now we have 20... or so... who's counting? Don't judge me!
I've been using heat lamps for a couple years, I don't love them because even the red ones illuminate light and I like my girls to get their beauty sleep. They don't seem to mind though and enjoy snuggling under it at all hours to keep warm. The most important thing to know about using heat lamps - SECURE it to something. They come as a clamp on light but the clamps never seem trustworthy to me and I'm a paranoid person that has spent night staring out the window at the stupid red light coming out from under the coop door thinking my girls were on FIRE. Save yourself sleepless nights and a million trips to the coop by securing your lamp or hanging it safely and not using the clamp part.
We still dealt with some frost bite and earlier this winter we lost my darling little silkie, Fred (check out how cute she was above). Disclosure purposes... she was from my original flock, meaning for a chicken pretty old, so it could have been from a number of things. I'm not taking any chances and added my little portable heater in the coop the next day. It has an auto shut off if it falls on its side and you can set it at a certain temperature. We still use the lamp also for those that want more warmth.So far we haven't seen any frost bite or hens picking on each other, the only hit will be to our electric bill... Totally worth it!
There isn't really a wrong way, as long as you are keeping a close eye on your chickens and monitoring their water. Water is essential and helps them regulate their body temperature. If you are checking them a couple times a day, honestly you need to do this if you don't want your eggs to freeze, and making sure they have safe access to food and water - then you are doing a good job. Do whatever puts your mind at ease. For me, it's a portable small heater.