Talking about chicken water heaters, chick brooders outside, and lights for extending egg laying are all fine and good if you can get electricity to the chicken area. Possibly you can do this with extension cords from the house or shop, but you will probably run into difficulty. With long term exposure of extension cords there is frequently trouble with everything from tripping on the electrical cords to breakers tripping due to moisture at connections.
Living on an acre, we have tried a variety of ways to route and extend electrical power to desired areas as needed.
- We had a separate supply wire pulled from the main wires overhead (across the backyard) in order to install an electrical panel unique to the shop/barn. This was much less expensive than trying to run underground wires from the house to the building. The new panel is billed separately and costs about $5/month just to be there, but it will take many, many years to make up the difference in cost if we had done underground from the house.
- We have run long, sturdy electrical cords around for less permanent needs, like a small cement mixer or tile saw. Both of these machines are too messy to want to operate them in the shop. The boat and lawn mower would be very hard to get close to the house, due to our driveway set up.
- We have re-routed the whole electrical supply to the house, having it come come down the pole, then several feet underground and up under the back patio. This freed up air space for the swimming pool to live without the danger of overhead electrical wires.
- We have had the front lawn trenched, then completed the pathway for the wiring above ground and attached to a fence with special grade PVC pipe that is sunlight resistant.
It was this last, and most recent, project that will make my winter care of the chickens much easier. We didn’t come up with the design ourselves. I presented the electrically-energized-chicken-coop-dream to our electrician, Adam Staigle, owner of Service Electric. (He can be reached at 208-921-3993 or firstname.lastname@example.org) He knows our electrical situation very well and was able to come up with the multi-faceted solution.
The first step was to find the best place for these wires to exit the house. Much of the front of our house is surrounded by cement and the chicken coop in question is in the front yard. Fortunately, he was able to tap into the grid near the portion of our house that does not have a basement. He did have to drill through the brick siding, but that was uneventful. The exit hole was chosen so that he would be able to dig in a straight line to the fence.
Next, a trench was dug neatly across the front lawn, avoiding our gas lines, septic tank, and sprinkler pipes. (recall our main electrical is in the back yard) He also steered clear of tree roots. The wires were inserted into the schedule 80 PVC pipe, which is supposed to hold up better when exposed to sunlight. It is also rated to hold up to moisture.
Once at the fence, the pipe was routed up a fence post until the main above ground, horizontal section (a nearly 40 foot span) could be positioned on the north side of the fence. This would make it less subject to direct sunlight. Apparently, the main problem with sunlight is that is causes a molecular change in the very outer layer of the PVC pipe which makes it more likely to shatter upon any impact. Since schedule 80 PVC (usually gray) is thicker than the more ubiquitous schedule 40 PVC (usually white), it is stronger since the sunlight doesn’t affect deeper layers of molecules.
The electrical pathway did have to cross the main gate to the chicken yard. For this, Adam dug another trench. Later, my husband used some left over cement to make a small cement patch over that. Chickens are fond of scratching where there has been fresh digging and they can dig some pretty impressive holes. This would not only keep the pipe underground, but would be another step toward keeping them from digging accidental escape routes.
Then, the wires were finally at the coop area. Adam put in 2 outlets for me on 2 of the support posts of the small hay barn that is above the temporary chicken coop. It should all be fairly simple to work with when we do get around to building a more permanent coop there. The other outlet along the way on the fence will make Christmas lights more fun.
The backyard chicken pen had been another problem. Even though it is up against the outside of the shop/barn, there was no direct way to get power to it. All winter long, the water heater was tripping the breaker due to moisture in the connections. Adam was able to install an outside outlet right next to the coop. We will make some sort of access into the side of the coop, that will not allow predators to enter and connect it to the outlet in a way that will keep connections dry.
All of this will make it possible to keep water in the coop, and easier to keep heated, and have some light, too. My husband has suggested that the chickens are spoiled, with all these modern conveniences. I say it is me that is spoiled, or at least highly appreciative! Winter time chicken care should be quite a bit less complicated from now on. 🙂