Eggs will freeze within 36 minutes in below freezing weather. Those eggs will expand and crack as they freeze. When egg shells crack, bacteria enters the interior of that egg. Those eggs are no longer suitable for human consumption. You can however cook them and give them to your chickens as a source of protein, so they do not have to be totally wasted or they should be discarded. We have seen some bloggers say that if the membrane is not broken that those eggs are still safe to use for human consumption; we highly disagree with that notion. Bacteria easily enters through the crack in an egg shell and penetrates the membrane, there is no way to prevent it once that shell is cracked and exposed, whether it's the membrane or fully exposed into the interior of that egg.
The alternative to collecting frozen eggs is to collect them every half hour to 45 minutes, before they do crack, then place in the refrigerator to slowly thaw. If the shell has not broken, those eggs are suitable for eating within a few days of collecting.
Additional preventatives, if you are not able to collect the eggs several times per day in the colder months, is to cover the floor of the coop with a thick layer of straw or shavings. Straw is the better option, since it is a natural insulator and retains warmth.
A deep litter under the perches is another way to keep the coop at or above freezing. The deep litter, naturally composts which generates heat in the coop. The deep litter should be periodically turned to allow the natural bacterial process of composting. Think of deep litter method in the same way you prepare a compost pile. Aeration allows the bacteria to continue to work. By layering fir or pine limbs under the straw it allows for air circulation and prevents a build up of ammonia, and will naturally compost more quickly. As the litter breaks down, adding a fresh layer of straw will help continue that process, as you are feeding the bacteria to continue composting and generating heat.
Nest boxes should be checked often to make sure there is a good thick layer of nesting material, so the eggs are not sitting on the bottom of a bare nest where they will freeze more quickly. Again straw will help insulate the nest, making it more comfortable for the hens and helping to prevent eggs from freezing.
Filling plastic water bottles or milk jugs with hot water and placed inside the coop will help heat the coop until it freezes. The containers can also be placed in deep nesting boxes and covered with straw to help keep the nest box warm for the comfort of the hens and to prevent frozen eggs.
Survival blankets are inexpensive and offer warmth as they generate heat. One survival blanket cut to fit the nesting boxes will help keeps those nesting boxes warm to prevent the eggs from freezing. Gel hand warmers can be purchased in bulk and placed in the nesting boxes and will offer up to 8 hours of warmth. Place one or two in each nest box, under the nesting material to keep the nest box warm until you are able to collect the eggs. Both the survival blankets and hand warmers are available at sporting good stores and online through Amazon. To prevent the chickens from pecking at the hand warmers, place them in a small box before placing under the bedding, this will help prevent the seals from being broken.
Nest box curtains can be added to keep the worst of the chill from entering the nesting boxes. Heavy denim, or Duck Fabric or even the Survival blankets can be fashioned into nest box curtains to maintain warmth. This does not have to be fancy and can be done without sewing skills. Heavy twine stretched between nest boxes with the fabric folded over and stapled will work fine.
Making sure that all gaps in the coop walls are sealed and covering windows with heavy plastic sheeting will help to keep the coop warm and draft free, which except in the coldest below zero temperatures, will help prevent frozen eggs and prevent frost bite on combs and feet as the birds are roosting.
In winter the chickens will scoot close together and fluff up their feathers to share their warmth, so insulating a coop is not necessary for most full size chickens and especially for the heavier breeds of chickens such as Brahma, Breda Fowl and Orpingtons. Insulation can collect moisture and harbor parasites and rodents, that are looking for warmth and a place to hold up for winter. This can lead to serious infestation when weather warms up in Spring, so we do not recommend insulating for very legitimate reasons.
Placing wind barriers along the run fencing in the direction of the prevailing winter winds will help keep the coop warmer and the chickens more comfortable during the coldest days. Those wind barriers can be simple bamboo or plastic blinds, tarps or heavy plastic sheeting that is secured to prevent flapping or from tearing loose.
Straw bales stacked around the outside perimeter of the coop and run will help insulate and prevent drafts from entering under the floor of the coop and provide a wind barrier. Remember come spring to remove those bales so they do not become convenient nesting areas for rodents.
On the coldest days, allow the chickens to remain in the coop longer in the mornings, which will help encourage them to lay their eggs so they can be collected early. Though not all chickens will lay in the morning, those that do, will make it easier for you to collect before the eggs can freeze.
Heating and lighting in the coops is discouraged for some very obvious reasons. All electrical units can be fire hazards when placed anywhere near flammable materials. Everything in a chicken coop is flammable. Wires can become frayed without notice. Mice are notorious for chewing through wires which will expose those wires and become serious fire hazards. We know this from personal experience that mice and other rodents will chew through even heavy industrial extension cords, so we definitely discourage the use of electrical heating, lighting and extension cords anywhere around the chicken coops. If you must use lights, use the battery operated or solar lights to prevent a fire hazard. Be aware though, that even battery operated lights can become hot, so do not place them anywhere near any flammable materials.
We've seen bloggers recommend using a broody hen to keep eggs from freezing, which isn't realistic. A broody hen takes her job very seriously, and if she is setting on eggs, she will not be happy if you are disturbing her throughout the day. Even the sweetest hen becomes a fierce defender of her eggs when she is broody. The more you disturb her the more unnecessary stress you cause her, which we completely discourage doing. If she is already setting on fertile eggs, you will have to mark any eggs that you slip under her, so you know which ones are fresh and which are eggs you're hoping she will hatch. Frankly I have to question the reasoning behind this kind of advice. If you are there to place the eggs under a broody to keep them from freezing, then you are there to collect those eggs in the first place. The entire notion is simply not feasible for the purpose of preventing frozen eggs, and shows that those bloggers are not experienced, much less experts, nor giving thought to the impact on that broody hen. Sadly that kind of false information can cause serious problems for you and your flock.
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