Keep Your Chickens Warm in Winter

snowchickens

Just to let you know, I feel a little silly writing this because yesterday even though it’s the middle of January, it was 60-70 degrees! BUT a cold front is moving in in a few hours and it’s supposed to go from 55 to 30 and there is a chance of “Ice-mageddon” (That’s what Jeremy keeps calling it) tonight since rain is coming. Depending on the temperature going under 32, it could be good or bad. I guess I shouldn’t feel too silly though because I follow Fresh Eggs Daily on my instagram account and Lisa’s been posting pictures of snow like crazy but she lives in Maine.

So, other than the crazy weather fluctuations of Missouri we should still cover how to care for your chickens during the cold times. First, I’m happy to report, my girls have been laying most of the winter but after doing a little research for Which Chicken Breed Do You Need? article, I learned that Barred Rocks are pretty great little winter birds. Which is AWESOME! I must be doing something right because my mother in law (AKA Superwoman) who has eggs constantly even when it’s cold asked me for 5 dozen eggs to sell and the next day my friend Cindy asked for 5 dozen as well!! I feel pretty good about my little Barred Rocks… THEY ROCK! (Pun intended) Which means I’m supplying my regular customers and Cindy’s. Yay!

Moving on… I’m just going to cover a few basics and hopefully it’s helpful!

Let’s begin with I don’t think you should heat your coop. There is just too much of a chance of a fire and your birds suffering and dying. I’d rather them be a little cold and survive than the other choice. No matter how careful you are, whose to say they won’t knock something over or something like that. I mean, it seems like nature does pretty good for itself. What about the cardinals and other birds flying around. They seem fine in the cold, don’t you think? They don’t have space heaters in their nests? So PLEASE don’t heat your coop.

Deep Litter Method or NOT?

Many people dote on this method. If you’re not aware, basically the floor of your chicken coop becomes a compost pile. As you probably know, compost breaks down organic matter (poop) and brings in bugs to do so, and so forth; it puts out heat. From what I’ve read, people only clean out their coops once a year and apply layers and different things and the chickens scratch around to stir things up and eat bugs in the process. It seems pretty good to me. If you do it right you shouldn’t have the ammonia smell but after reading THIS article…(This website is amazing for chicken info; explore it! Very handy!)

Here’s a snippet, ” The deep litter system might work for you. If you have the proper housing. If you are experienced enough to recognize when it is right and when it isn’t. If you have active, young chickens to do the work. If you know enough to regulate moisture and can judge when to top off the bedding. Don’t jump onto the deep litter bandwagon because it is the trendy thing to do, or because you’ve been told that it’s the best way to be sustainable/organic. It’s one option. It can provide an enriched environment for your hens. But it can also go very, very wrong. As with all animal keeping, pay attention to the individuals under your care. Think critically about the facilities you have. Constantly monitor your flock’s health and behavior. There’s a lot of advice out there and right now, it might seem as if everyone is telling you to switch to deep litter. Heck, I give a lot of advice here on this blog – of course I hope that you’ll agree with me. But, what I’d really like you to do is not to blindly follow what I say, but to listen to your animals. Spend time in the barn with them. Breathe their air. Watch their behavior. Then you’ll make the right decisions for them and yourself.” [1]

What I’ve Been Doing: First off, during the rest of the year when it isn’t cold, I go to our local sawmill and fill empty feed bags full of saw dust and that’s what I use for the coop. During the winter though, I get a square bale of hay or just hay from the pole barn and I put it on the floor in the coop, at least 6 inches worth to cover whole floor. At this point, I also add more hay to my nests as well. Any holes or drafty areas, I add more hay to block it out. At night, I block the little chicken door we cut for them so animals don’t come in and massacre them since in the winter it seems like they are in full force. You might have to clean it out a couple times depending on how much time your chickens spend in there.

The ironic part of your time spent fixing up your coop for make it warm… I did all of the work of trying to make them happy and yet, every night I’d go out there and they’d choose to roost in the trees rather than stay in the coop. I ended up trimming the limbs off my smaller trees because they wouldn’t use the coop! No matter how cold it is, my chickens prefer to be outside. It’s just in their nature. After the removal of limbs they seemed to finally accept roosting in the coop thank goodness!

I’m probably going to stick with what I’ve been doing. Seems kind of chancy to me and since what I do seems to work, why change it? Plus, saw dust is free. I don’t have to buy special bedding it’s all kind of a sustainable kind of process. Hay is free as well since we cut our own hay.

Feed

There seems to be a bit of controversy with what I’m going to suggest next BUT you can go to this forum I found on it and pick your own side! Sounds fair to me. Here is what I do and my chickens seem happy and it’s also what I did last year and all seemed well. During the normal year, I just buy regular old chicken pellet layer feed but when it starts to get cold I get Gamebird Feed and mix it with cracked corn. Gamebird feed has extra protein compared to the regular layer pellets and cracked corn doesn’t have heat value per say but it does help keep the birds warm by the digestion process. The body has to work harder to digest cracked corn vs regular feed which causes the body to put out more heat. That seems to be what my lady at my local MFA says too but you can go read about it in that previously mentioned forum. (Do keep in mind though that they don’t need that much cracked corn, I put their feed out and mix in a little corn. On colder days I’ll scoop out some corn and scatter across the ground for extra. The best way I’ve heard it explained is that candy is to a child like cracked corn is to a chick… They like their crack…hehe)

You can also be feeding your birds extra stuff because their diet changes pretty drastically compared to summer time when they are eating tons of bugs and grass. In winter, most of you grass is dried up and bugs are nonexistent (which was their protein). So you can feed them kitchen scraps and maybe a head of lettuce of something. If I cut up a pineapple i’ll give them the outer shell of it or have left overs from fruit or vegetables I give it to them. You could also buy stuff like meal worms but I don’t. It might seem weird but I also give them raw cow milk occasionally for calcium and fat(I’ve heard pasteurized store bought milk isn’t that great for them though). If I make cheese, I’ll give them the whey for protein, they seem to really love it.

Water (MOST IMPORTANT)

Obviously, everything needs water to survive. I go out several times and break ice for them to drink when it’s freezing temperatures. You could do the heated water thing but I don’t. I don’t have electric anywhere near my coop and I’m okay with breaking the ice.

End Result:

In the end, you need a good shelter that gets them out of the wind. Stop drafts from coming in. You need more than one bird because when they roost they huddle together for warmth. You need good ventilation in your coop for good air quality. Watch out for dampness because that could cause a respiratory infection. Decide on what litter your going to use whether deep litter method or not. Try to feed them greens and decide if you want to add in cracked corn to their diet. They need water. This is what I do, if you don’t choose to that’s fine by me but I still hope maybe you learned something or found parts of this helpful.

(Backstory of the coop: Guess I should also say that my chicken coop is a 8×10 shed that we bought for $100. We occasionally would look around craigslist to see if anything popped up for a coop since what we had was too small for the flock we currently had. That amount of money for a shed was a great buy. We had to drive a bit but we have a flat bed trailer so why not?? It took most of the day but we brought a wench. Halfway up the ramps, we broke said wench… What now, right? I looked around and saw a guy’s house that looked the Tinkering Type and we walked over and asked if he had a wench and he did so he let us borrow it. Partway through the wenching process, he came over to investigate and help. He brought a chain wench that he used to use with his father to pull motors and that helped EVEN MORE. We eventually got it and offered the old man some cash and he refused. Really nice guy, I wish we had butter at the time I would have given him some but we were far from home. Gas mileage wasn’t the greatest but hey, it was cheaper than buying a new shed and the guy had replaced the insides and had the doors rebuilt. When we got home we used the tractor to get it off the trailer into the chicken pin. So worth it!)


Cited Sources

[1] https://hencam.com/henblog/2013/12/why-i-dont-use-deep-litter/

 

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