Friday, February 18, 2011

Winter With Chickens...

Winter is always a challenge when you have outside animals.  It is mid February and there is still snow on the groound even though it was 63 degrees today (not for IS February) 


A lot of broken branches and bent shrubs.  And I wonder if I will ever see my snow drops.  They are buried under 3' of snow.

These are small branches of evergreens in the front.  In the back (I don't have a picture yet) is a pine tree that has been decimated.  But I DO Love the snow..that's why I am still here....
Many people with chickens worry about them in the winter because they are small animals and seem vulnerable to cold.  Did you ever see a wild bird..even much smaller...want for anything?   Doesn't the Bible tell us that the wild birds are taken care of, even as the "Lilies of the Field" are...?  (actually it tells us to have faith that we will be cared for, as the birds and the lilies of the fields are.)

But that doesn't mean we don't have to take care of them.  They are not free to roam, and look for their own food.  They are our responsibility once we become "care takers".   And as most animals that we humans take into our care, they are generally out of their original environment, and that in itself makes them vulnerable.  In most cases anyway..chickens were originally forest pheasants.  In fact, if a male pheasant can not find a female pheasant, he will check out the local chickens to steal a hen or two if need be, to start a flock.  (He'll fight your rooster for them too)

The biggest problem for chickens, once they are protected from predators, is very extreme or cold, can be a problem. 

Our chickens are in a secure place.  If I am home late at night, or "forget" to close them (because I think I already did), their chicken house is enclosed with a ample run and it is cover with wire even over the top.  Too many years experience with raccoons and opossums...(and loose dogs).  That's 22 years of chicken experience...a lot of losses...a lot of learning what to do before something happens.   I don't do that very often, to be on the safe side, but I know they are basically enclosed, even though it makes me nervous when I realize in the morning that they were open all night....  Interestingly, unless it is a very warm spring or summer morning, they don't come out in the morning until they hear me, even if I did forget to close them.  I am not sure if that is natural, but this rooster is very protective..

One solution is to make a chicken house that is "open air"..  Keeping them warm in the winter is not the problem...They need air circulation.  Closing them up tight is the problem.  We have an open window at the back of the chicken house that is never closed.  It covers the whole wall, and has heavy duty wire on it.  They are amazingly healthy.  We have never had the loss of a chicken due to matter how cold it gets.  Air circulation is the key. 

Germs breed in closed moist conditions.  There are many days in the winter I leave them completely closed for days.. (generally after a fresh snow fall, because even if you open the chicken door they won't go out) except to give them food and fresh water.  But we have that always open window.  We have had few frozen combs over the years, I choose not to buy the breeds that have a large comb which can be a problem in the winter.   Choosing chickens is much like choosing the correct seed or plants for your area.  And some breeds tolerate cold better then others.  

Choose a wall that is not on the same wall as the roost, or the nest boxes, and not on the wall of the prevailing wind in your area.  For us, in the winter, most winter storms come from the west or north.  But the west side of our chicken house is under a stand of pine trees, so that is a protected side, and it is the side our open window is on.  Nothing gets in (but an occasional "tree rat"..aka gray squirrels). 

Inside I keep fresh hay, and water, and feed, and I never "clean" the chicken house out in the winter.  When you clean it in the winter, you take away the warmth of the broken down under layers of hay.  I always add hay, through the winter, so they always have a fresh upper layer of hay to sit in, scratch in, nest in, and an open roost.

Once the weather is settled, and our paths are dug, I put hay, or leaves I saved from the fall (Just for this purpose) down outside the chicken door to the run so they have more of a an area to walk on.

Another thing I do to keep them healthy is, I use homeopathic remedies for them. Visit your local health food store.  The one that sells homeopathic remedies, and buy some bacterial and viral homeopathic drops.  If I even suspect one chicken isn't "right" I scour the web (and whatever books I have) for chicken illnesses and see what symptoms match.  Then I put a few drops of either virus or bacteria remedy, in their water.  It works with Bach Flower Remedies too.  After I started using the remedies I have never had a problem with a flock getting sick.. sometimes it is possible the first chicken that showed illness may die after a month or two (as opposed to a day or 2) or not at all, but the rest of the flock generally remains safe...even though chicken diseases are so contagious they can kill off a whole flock.

These are the chickens I have left from a flock we bought about 7 years ago (it is really longer then I usually wait to add some fresh chickens).  This past winter and fall we lost 3.  Two by predators (they were Bantam Aracauna mixes and part wild, so they never wanted to stay inside! That was a problem), one may have been egg bound over night, when she started to want to lay this winter, and I found her in a corner in the morning.....very sad...first egg is the hardest...never a pleasant thing..she was a good girl too... This is the first time in over 6 years we lost any chickens, not due to natural causes (old age?)

Here are some of my girls and my Buddy..our Aracuana rooster, still looking for some ground to peck through.  His feathers are starting to grown back from his late winter molt, and it is a sure sign of spring to come.  Under the hay it is still pretty thick ice...middle of February....what can I there isn't much to scratch yet.

Buddy is a real gentlemen.  He always waits for the girls to eat before he does..he's one of the gentlest roosters we ever had.  There are some breeds I would NEVER have if I still had small children...Brahamas for one.

Oh, did you know chickens talk to you?  You can always tell they are about to start laying (when they first start laying) when they start to talk to you when you visit them to feed.  They never stop after is kind of a peaceful "cooing" almost.

Another time I will talk about chickens and the need for it good to give them extra light in the winter or not?

See you later..looking for spring..nothing to do but plan the garden...(I hear we may have snow next least the ice is off the paths!)



  1. That is very interesting! Especially to this city girl!

  2. I have heard to give chickens extra light in the winter to encourage egg laying.

  3. I found this really interesting. We've had chickens for a few years. Mostly ours get a dirty backside, and we know our time is short. Hubby then puts them out of their misery. I liked the info about fresh air. We don't often get below zero overnight here, but I used to wonder about draughts. We haven't ever lost a chicken to the cold or predators yet. We have them lock up at night too. Thanks for sharing.

    Lisa x

  4. I've always wondered what happened in the winter to chickens. Now I know. I didn't know they talked to you. How cool.

    With 63 degrees, sounds like spring is on the way. But then again, there's March. You never know what Mother Nature has up her sleeve for you in March.

  5. Hi Janie! I am having a giveaway today for my followers. As soon as I reach 300 followers someone will win! It's a great looking khaki jacket so stop by if interested.


  6. Lisa,
    we have had a few with dirty backsides to. One reason I am undecided about getting new chickens this year, is we always order from Murray McMurray. Their chickens are extremely healthy to start with. So we have had less problems. I think that makes a difference. Not that other places don't have good chickens, but I do know that Murray McMurray has a good reputation. Problem is they only sell a minimum of 25. And I don't want that many if we do move. I am thinking of My Pet Chicken, which will sell very small numbers of birds, and they are supposed to have good stock too.
    I actually think good cold air is kind of "cleansing", so if I lived in a warmer area I would definitely make sure they have good circulation in the chicken house. All my chicken books are packed away (BIG mistake) so I can't even check them.

  7. Thanks Di...(I LOVE Virginia...) That is one of the places we even think of going to.

  8. Sam, when we first moved here, there was an older farmer/egg man who's business was selling eggs. When we got our first chickens, I showed them to him. First he checked out the garden..gave it his approval..and then started talking about chickens. He told me to look for that sign, about them talking. It is so neat...
    I heard we might have "accumulating snow" next week..we'll's is so changeable!

  9. Lisa, if you only have 3 or so they really do become pets.