Whether you’re new to chicken raising or an old hand, just knowing that winter is near can be a bit intimidating . . . unless you live in Florida where that’s the only temperate time of year. If that’s the case then you can probably tune out most of the following. Many farmers fear the cold more than the heat, when it really should be the other way around since most chickens are more susceptible to dying in extreme heat versus extreme cold.
That said, it doesn’t mean that fall and winter can’t be difficult times for your flock. Domesticated fowl started off thousands of years ago in Europe and Asia as birds who lived in the forests and fields, flying only to low hanging branches. Eventually someone got the bright idea to start keeping these wild critters since they tasted so darn good and lay eggs almost every day! But we have to remember that it wasn’t too long ago that these birds were fully able to look after themselves. So I say unless you live in Siberia somewhere (and perhaps even then) your flock should be able to keep themselves warm enough provided they have friends to cuddle with (one reason I feel it is very cruel to only keep 1-2 hens at a time) and a place that is reasonably free of drafts.
Surviving is one thing, but thriving is another and the goal of most farmers I know is for their flocks to thrive in the winter and hopefully even make some eggs. It’s my belief that nature intended the colder months to be a time for all egg-laying birds to rest and recover from the constant cycle of egg production. Also helps prevent prolapse caused by too frequent laying. For truly healthy birds, I always suggest letting them keep to their own natural cycle. You’ll have better birds and better eggs at the end. I know that many still use lights to force hens to lay and that is a choice you’ll have to make on your own after research. At the White homestead, we don’t do this and have followed a more seasonal eating pattern barring the holidays where my wife usually saves up the fall eggs so she has enough for Thanksgiving and Christmas baking.
So how do you ensure that your hens are healthy all winter long as well as comfortable?
- Much like when you get ready for spring, cleaning out the chicken coop is a must. Shovelling out any pine shavings or raking the sand bed – whatever your litter control method is – it’s very important that this is tended to and set up for the next few months. Do this as late as possible in the season and as soon as you have a warm break in the weather ensure that freshening up the coop is one of the first things on your list. One reason this is important is because your hens will ‘flock’ together and if you have a draft free environment then they are going to be susceptible to moisture-based illnesses, especially if you consider that the bedding will break down and create more moisture and heat. The heat will help the flock, but the moisture won’t. Depending on where you live a fan might help with this, just like it does during spring and summer. But if you live in extreme northern climes then a fan may not be prudent.
- Create an environment free of drafts that is well insulated. Patch any cracks or holes in the chicken coop. Break down any parts of the coop that could blow off in extreme winds or collapse with too much snowfall. While you’re at it, go ahead and knock on the flooring, walls, roof, etc. to make sure everything is secure. Poke at the siding and roof shingles so you know everything is good to go for a harsh winter without a leaky roof or walls. Look at any wiring you have set up to make sure your girls haven’t pecked through or scratched it since a frayed wire is an awful way to make fried chicken.
- If you have your coop wired up, then it’s likely you live in a place where you have at least one or two zero degree days per year if not more. When you live somewhere where the temps dip to zero then you need a heater in your coop, even if it’s just a small heat bulb. Do some asking around to see what farmers or chicken keepers in your area do in order to keep the flocks warm in winter. You may even have to have a water warmer for part of the year so your girls have fresh water instead of icicles.
- My wife likes to spoil our hens like they were extra kids or something, so our flock often enjoys warm oat groat mash and a lot of green vegetable scrapings as well as all the seeds we’ve saved from the lambsquarters to fatten them up. Fat hens are warm and generally healthier hens which equals less intervention from us and possibly a few more eggs over the darkest months. Extra corn if you feed your flock corn (we usually give extra peas and lentils since we don’t give our hens corn) is always a good idea during the darkest part of the year.
Go and visit your hens when the weather permits over the winter and fall months. It’s a good morale booster for you and the chickens.
Do you have your own fall/winter checklist or recommendations? Please share in the comments field below 🙂