Pollen – Urban Farming and Beekeeping

How to keep your chicken waterers thawed

Posted in Chickens by Pollen - Urban Farming and Beekeeping on February 6, 2011

Keeping water available to your chickens (and other outdoor animals), even in sub-freezing temperatures, is clearly a must. My strategy is low tech and low cost: take the waterer in at night and put fresh water out in the coop in the morning. If it is particularly cold, I will take the waterer in and thaw it out under the tap again in the afternoon so they have water before they roost for the night.

For those who don’t want to have to lug a waterer back and forth to the coop, there are a couple of different options: heated waterers or heated waterer stands. Obviously this means, at the very least, that you have an electrical outlet nearby. Of course, if you don’t also have a frost-free hydrant nearby, you need to occasionally bring the waterer in to fill it anyway. If electricity isn’t a problem, then keeping the water thawed with a heater isn’t a bad idea, since the chickens will always have access to water no matter what.

My problem with these products is that they are poorly designed and/or excessively expensive. The only heated waterer I’ve found fills from the bottom and is made from plastic. From the demonstration, it looks like you will spill plenty of water everywhere, creating a  buildup of ice in the coop, around your spigot, or both. I also have doubts about how long an “all-season” waterer made out of plastic will last.

The other heater made for hanging galvanized waterers is designed to instead have the waterer sit on top of it. This both defeats the purpose of having a hanging waterer (keeping the birds from tipping it over and keeping manure from getting into the water) and interferes with how the water flows into the trough. The stand heater also tends to be expensive. Agway was selling them for $65.

I thought there must be some kind of heating band that could be strapped around the waterer to keep it thawed, similar to what brewers use to keep their carboys at the proper temperature for fermenting. After reading some suggestions from other farmers, I found the next best thing. I got an 100 Watt silicone automotive heating pad, usually used for keeping a car battery or oil pan warm so that a vehicle can be started more easily in cold temperatures. The pad I found on amazon.com also had a self adhesive backing that made it easy to attach to the bottom of the galvanized waterer. I simply cleaned the bottom with hot water and dried thoroughly. The warm metal helped the pad adhere more easily. I ran the cord up over the hook that suspends the water and out through the vent in the coop to a nearby outlet. I was also able to get a thermostatic plug from amazon.com that automatically comes on at 35 F and shuts off at 45 F. The whole setup cost about $30.


Winter Warmer Chili Meal

Posted in Recipes by Pollen - Urban Farming and Beekeeping on January 26, 2011

It’s been so cold and miserable this winter, the only way I’ve kept from being beaten down by it is to enjoy a nice, hot, hearty meal (and enjoying plenty of homebrewed beer). You can use self-preserved ingredients where available, or prepare when the vegetables are in season and store in the chest freezer until winter sets in. This chili was quick and easy to throw together, and the flavors were satisfyingly well-balanced. Perfect for dinner, or lunch, after trudging around on a long, cold, wet day.

1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (include the seeds for a spicier chili)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon whole cumin seed, chopped then crushed with a mortar and pestle (I think crushing the seed gives a better, more subtle and even flavor. You can also just used ground cumin to taste)
1 3/4 pounds canned diced tomatoes (with the canning liquid)
1 pound canned black beans, rinsed
1 pound canned kidney beans, rinsed
1/2 pound frozen corn, thawed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
crushed red pepper (I use dried Salemme pepper, of which you don’t need much – perhaps a pinch. Otherwise, to taste)
olive oil
mild cheese, grated

Throw some olive oil in a 4 quart sauce pan (just enough that the oil thinly coats the bottom once the pan is heated) on medium high heat. Toss in the onion, pepper, jalapeño, garlic and cumin, sautéing until the onions soften and start to become translucent. Add the tomatoes, along with their canning liquid, and bring to a simmer. Add the black beans, kidney beans, corn, oregano, crushed red pepper and salt to taste. Simmer until the beans and peppers are well softened (about 15 minutes). Serve hot in a bowl with grated Monterrey or Colby cheese on top.

Best accompanied by some dark bread (maybe pumpernickel), warmed and topped with butter and garlic. Wash it down with a nice glass of water or with a dark beer, such as a Russian Imperial Stout. I will also eat this chili out of the fridge like salsa with tortilla chips and it is delicious. Easily serves 4 hungry people.