The Chickens in the Winter

Now that the cold weather is here I have made a few changes in how I care for the chickens. Overall they do not suffer in this cold weather, and every book I read has a line or two in it about how chickens suffer more in hot weather than in cold weather. Still, it is COLD here and I can’t imagine how they do it – living outside all day, standing in the snow with their bare feet. I want to knit them some leg warmers or something. Last night it got down to -10 or so and now at noon it is up to 5 degrees. Cold.

The most important thing the chickens need every single day is water. Without access to water in the morning, their egg production goes down and who knows what else happens inside their little bodies. There have been a scant handful of occasions here at the Village Homestead where the chickens have not had water to drink in the morning and their egg production went down by almost half in the two days following. One of those days happened recently, when we left for an overnight trip and one of the hens (probably Ticker, who likes to stand in the water bowl) knocked the bowl over, spilling the water into the ground and leaving none until we arrived home and discovered the accident. Egg production went down after that. Another time was this fall before we got the heater for the water bowl and the water froze.

I might thread a bungee cord through the cinder blocks and attach it to either side of the bowl to keep it from being knocked over again.

To keep the water thawed out, I have a stainless steel feed bowl for the water and under it I put a bird bath heater on two cement blocks. The heater is a flat disk shape and it sits under the steel bowl. It’s like a warming burner on the stove, except it’s out in the chicken coop. It keeps the water thawed out, not warm, and works well for the most part. Scroll down for a photo of what the water looks like on sub-zero mornings.

Below is what the water looks like when it’s super cold all night. Ice forms on the top, but the bottom does not freeze. If the ice isn’t very thick the chickens can peck through it to access the water. Jeff poked this hole when he let them out this morning. I added warm water from the house and the ice melted pretty quickly.

The other thing the chickens need is a draft-free place to sleep with wooden roosts to keep their feet warm. I added more pine shavings to the hen house floor this week and made sure the areas under the roosts were covered with a few inches of shavings. It’s a little bit of extra insulation.

In the winter we keep the big “person” door to the hen house closed to keep the heat in. There is a smaller door that is just the right size for the chickens, and that stays open during the day. We were leaving it open at night too (and closing up the door to their run to keep them safe) so they could come and go first thing in the morning, but with this cold weather we are now closing it to keep the hen house as warm as possible. To keep some of the heat in when that door is open, I put up heavy plastic strips that the chickens can walk through. They were not pleased when I first put them up but they have gotten used to them.

Now that the hen house is buttoned up a bit more than before, it’s more important than ever that I keep the moisture out of it to minimize the risk of sickness. I clean out the manure every morning and add it to our compost pile (chickens poop all night and it’s easy to clean up the piles under the roosts – throw on rubber gloves, scoop it in a bucket, and throw it in the compost). Some chicken owners choose to keep the manure in there as a heat source, because as it breaks down it warms the coop. It’s a personal preference I guess. I remove it so that the moisture that gathers in the hen house is minimized. And so is the smell!

So far we have not had any issues with frostbite, but I will be keeping an eye out for it now that the cold is here. The chickens keep warm by eating and drinking and standing in the sun. They stand on one leg then the other when they get really cold. Their toes are pink and I can’t help but feel bad for them. But supposedly they will do OK in this weather.

Here’s a goodie for you – birds of a different sort in our yard: Common Redpolls. I shot this video of them at the feeder this morning.

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