Just One Chicken? How To Help With Solitary Survival

It's never ideal to keep just one chicken, but when this chicken-keeper found her beloved rooster flying solo, she followed these steps to ensure winter survival.

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: Ana Hotaling

There comes a time for some flock keepers when we find ourselves with just one sole chicken. This can be purely unexpected—a predator attack or sudden extreme weather—or due to natural attrition. Whatever the cause may be, the result is a solitary individual in a species well known for its intricate social structure. Keeping your hen or rooster content, secure and comfortable when they’re all alone can be challenging … even more so during the winter months, which bring challenges of their own.  

Our Blue Orpington rooster, Tiny, had started his life facing seemingly insurmountable odds. Because of his dwarf physique, Tiny had a coop of his own, which he shared with his mother, Butters Orpington, and his hatching mother, Natalya Silkie. The trio lived together for three years, until Butters passed from old age last summer.

Then, in December, I headed out at dusk to lock the coops up for the night and spotted a dark blob in Tiny’s run. My eyesight being awful, I thought the blob was Tiny and Natalya huddling together in the snow. I called out to them that it was time to get inside and, startled by the noise, the Cooper’s hawk took off, leaving a mortally injured Natalya in a heap. She died in my arms.  

Tiny was totally traumatized by the attack. It took a couple of hours to coax him out from where he’d hidden, and it took a couple of weeks before he’d willingly leave the coop.

I was very worried about the poor little rooster’s emotional state, but I was even more concerned with his survival. We had just entered Michigan winter, and Tiny now had no one with whom to share body heat at night. Putting him into one of the other coops would be his death sentence. Any new hen brought in to keep him company would need to be quarantined before she could join him.

December is not baby-chick season and, even if it were, it would be months before a baby would be mature enough to join adult Tiny. No, Tiny would have to make it through winter on his own. 

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Fortunately, he has us to help him get through this very difficult time. While we plan to search for a companion hen for him this spring, these are the steps we are taking to ensure the solitary survival of just one chicken this winter.  


It’s not uncommon to see temperatures in the -10 to -20-degree F range here during the winter, and that doesn’t include the wind chill factor. With no other birds in his coop to generate body heat, Tiny was at risk of both freezing and frostbite.

To aid in frostbite prevention, I regularly apply Vick’s Vaporub to his wattles, earlobes and comb. Its mentholated properties stimulate blood circulation in these at-risk areas.

I also add a coating of Vaseline to help protect the points of Tiny’s comb from chapping. As for the coop itself, my husband Jae ran a sturdy outdoor-grade extension cable from one of our outdoor outlets to Tiny’s coop. With electricity available now, I set up a ceramic-panel heater by Tiny’s favorite resting spot as well as a base heater for his waterer.  


Since Tiny does not perch (a habit he picked up from Natalya Silkie), I have made sure to provide plenty—at least 3 inches—of fresh bedding for him every two weeks. The bedding helps retain his body heat, plus it lets him snuggle down and get cozy come nighttime.  


Every day since Natalya’s death, I—and occasionally my sons—make it a point to spend time with Tiny. At first it was simple stroking of his feathers and calm reassurance that he was okay and that he was loved. When he finally ventured out of the coop again, I would pick him up, carry him around as I did my morning farm chores, and keep up a continual banter with him to keep him comfortable.

When Tiny finally ventured away from the coop and out into his run, the TLC changed to companionable chatter as I filled feeders and waterers, checked his electric, added fresh litter, and performed other tasks. I truly feel our constant daily presence has helped Tiny settle down and start getting past his trauma.  

Of course, there’s always a hitch. Ours came in late February, when the countrywide snowstorm knocked out our entire area’s power. While my husband worried about keeping the house at at least 50 degrees F and refilled our stockpile of stored water jugs at his parents (out of power meant no water, since we have a well), I focused on our flocks.

Our Orpingtons and Ameraucanas were fine inside their insulated coop with plenty of sunshine streaming through the windows. Our ducks are snowaholics (weirdos!) and were perfectly content to take snow baths, as long as I filled their drinking bowl each day. But Tiny? His waterer kept freezing and his heat panel went off. I found myself spending a great deal of time holding him close to share my body heat while I thawed out his waterer each day.  

 The power outage lasted seven days, testing both my family’s resilience and Tiny’s cold hardiness. I wouldn’t say we came through with flying colors. In all honestly, I think Tiny fared far better than we did! He showed us that Michigan winters wouldn’t challenge him as a solo bird.

We still plan on extended interaction with him on a daily basis until such a time as we procure a companion hen for him. Until then, Tiny himself has become a counselor of sorts for our Butter Duck, who suffered his own trauma in the duck house and is now Tiny’s coop mate until he recovers.

Or perhaps the two will continue as our odd couple. The two were nestled together by the heating panel yesterday, so we’ll see how this pairing turns out! 

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