Chicken owners in Darien take several measures each winter to ensure their feathery outdoor pets stay warm and safe.

Darien resident Sarah Madson uses a run, which is a short house where her chickens are locked in but are still outdoors.  

“The run is attached to the coop and allows them to get outside without foraging in the yard or garden,” Madson said. “They can run around and eat.”

To further help her chickens stay warm, Madson puts three-millimeter plastic over the top of the run. It's open on both sides and a little bit at the top to keep most of the snow out, but allows air to travel through it.

She purchases the plastic in rolls at Home Depot.

“I staple it down so when we get large snowstorms, it doesn’t fill up with snow,” she said. “It creates a greenhouse effect and allows them get to their water and food.”

Madson also uses a water heater to keep her chickens’ water from freezing.

“Chickens need fresh water every day,” Madson said. “As soon as the water heater senses that it's below freezing, it kicks on and it warms the water so it doesn’t freeze.”

Darien resident Susan Daly uses a reptile heater for her chickens. This is a weather-resistant heating pad with internal thermostats that are pre-set to warm to a pet's normal body temperature when it lies on the pad.

Daly’s reptile heater is nine inches by 12 inches and is made from plastic.

“Someone had recommended it a few years ago when we had a really bad freeze. It keeps the coop at a constant temperature,” Daly said. “It’s like having radiant source. I put it against the wall of the coop.”

To keep cold air from getting into the coop, she also made curtains for the opening. The curtains are made from a thick fabric.

Body heat

Chickens help themselves stay warm by huddling together in their coop at night.

“With the chickens all cuddled together, they keep themselves warm with their body heat,” Madson said. “It's a natural instinct.”

Predators

Daly said while predators are a year-round concern for chicken owners, this is even more so in the winter.

“Winter is worse because there is not as much to eat and all the predators are hunting,” Daly said.

Predators of chickens include hawks, foxes, eagles, coyotes and wolves.

However, Daly said that chickens are very intelligent. “They are smarter than we are,” Daly said. “They all know to take cover when the predators come.”

As an added precaution, she said she leaves her chickens outside only when she’s home.

“When I'm not home, they stay in the run,” Daly said.

Daly has lost three chickens, one to a hawk and two to foxes.

One time, she rescued one of her chickens from a fox. “I had to put first aid on the chicken,” Daly said. “The fox had him in his mouth.”

Guidelines

David Keating, Darien’s zoning enforcement officer, said farm animals are allowed on residential properties in town if owners follow certain specifications.

“Buildings in which the farm animals are kept need to comply with all the zoning setback requirements and [residents] need to get regular zoning and building permits,” Keating said.

He added that farm animals are not allowed in a condominium, apartment complex, or multi-family complex.

“Farm animals are only allowed as an accessory use to a single family home,” he said.

Keating added that it’s not typical, however, for people to own farm animals in Darien.

Fewer than half a dozen people come to the zoning office inquiring about farm animals a year, according to Keating.

Owning farm animals “is more work than a lot of people realize,” he said. It involves “keeping the animals warm, fed, and watered and cleaning up after them.”

He added, “You need a constant source of water for chickens. Warm water needs to be piped out to the chicken coop from the house.”

While Keating said that the majority of farm animals that people do own are chickens or horses, within the past year, however, someone inquired about keeping an alpaca.

For the alpaca to have accessibility to hay and grain, the resident built a small barn on it on his property, according to Keating.

“He didn’t want the alpaca very visible to the neighbors,” Keating said.

Those who would like to keep any kind of farm animal on their property need to make an appointment with the zoning office, which is in town hall.

“Bring in a map of the property and show what you are planning to do,” Keating said.

Sharing knowledge

Last year, Daly started a Facebook support group called Darien Chick Talk.  

All chicken owners in town are welcome to join and share photos, advice, experiences, and friendship. There are now more than 50 people in the group.

“I had a few friends I was talking to and decided it would be good to share knowledge,” Daly said. “I give them [an online] tour and a lay of the land.”

sfox@darientimes.com