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Does it Make Sense to Raise Chickens in MN Winter?

Minnesota winters can be frigid. (Speaking from a southern CA perspective, our VISTA member Bridget would have a bit more to say about its pending arrival than that!) Below-zero temperatures, north winds and snow can drive the hardiest of us indoors. It hardly seems the most opportune time to introduce little chicks to life.

Bob Kell explains technical details of a new coop to visitors.

Bob Kell explains technical details of a new coop to visitors.

The year-round coops that Main Street Project has constructed as training and business incubator sites were built with MN winter in mind. The walls of the night shelter are framed with 2x6s and insulated, walls and roof, and a door on the NW corner were eliminated from earlier designs to reduce infiltration of cold air. The outer solarium was built with full exposure to the southern sun with calculations for solar angle and a Plexiglas sheathed center wall that allows for solar heating of the night shelter. The plastic sheeting that covers the solarium keeps out the wind and actually warms the solarium to the 30s and 40s even on the coldest days. Birds can actually do fairly well in the coop with minimal heating. The lamps are needed during the first weeks of life until the birds are feathered out, and to a limited extent afterwards to alleviate some of the coldest days, but production can be done.

That said, there are other obstacles that do lead to some re-consideration of the timing of flocks. Waterlines are vulnerable to freezing, so demand extra care in procedures or heat tape to keep the water flowing. Snow plowing can be necessary to keep passage open to the coop for the unloading of feed or access for the farmer. The heat lamps are not gentle on the electric bill. But what we found this year is that finding access to processing during those months can be another issue.

Most area processors are closed from December to April due to limited demand for processing. Those that are open are typically more expensive, in one case, charging $1.60 more per bird. Add snow plow and electric costs to that and the outcomes are easily in the red. With the harsher work conditions, it seems better to wait for now.

We do intend to start up the first coop in mid February, as the processor will be open again by the time the birds are ready for harvest. The coldest weather will not last too long and the birds will even be out and finding the early green before things end. We may even get past the spring thaw and the mud issues by then. But so is the life of the farmer and the seasons. We do live in Minnesota after all. Surprisingly, our producers, all Latino to this point, have complained little about the cold. It is the struggle to figure out how to financially keep their new ventures afloat that causes the most concern. They learn to become wise managers in the process.

Learn more about our ‘Agripreneur Training Program’ and find out how you can help for the coming season by visiting http://www.mainstreetproject.org/?page_id=13.