Thursday, February 9, 2012

Winter Chickens

It's been a while since I've discussed the girls (aka the chickens.)
At home school group last week I got into a discussion about chickens.
Some people have a few...or lots...or are taking the leap.
An ever popular part of the discussion is always:
"How do you take care of the water in winter?"
We have several methods that we personally use that do not involve electricity.
1. When locking up the chickens at night bring the container in in a bucket and let it defrost overnight.
Bring out fresh water in the morning when you go to let them out.
2. Boil water and pour it on top of the waterer (outside) and then fill with the leftover water and a bit of cool water.
3. If the night wasn't too far below freezing, their body heat will keep the coop warm and the water won't freeze.
No matter what we did, we always use warm water to fill their waterer in the winter.  The reason is this: it will take longer to freeze in the waterer if the day is cold thus supplying them with clean water for a longer period of time, and it will warm their bodies so they don't need to work as hard to keep themselves warm thus they won't eat as much feed as the would if they were drinking cold water and having to warm themselves with increased caloric intake.
And to increase that caloric intake...we give them lots of food scraps...
man do they love scraps...

Why don't we light our chickens in the winter?
Won't they stop laying?
1. Fire risk reduction. 
2. We don't have electricity out there...and we don't want the extension cords going way down there.
3. We let them have their natural cycles.  Naturally when weather is not compatible with raising chicks, chickens stop laying.  Makes sense right?  We let them have a break in the winter and they tend to lay very well for us for about 4 years...that's right FOUR years.  Chickens in commercial laying situations usually only get 1-2 years before becoming deep fried cuts of chicken stuff...
(let's not go down that road right now...)
Our chickens are well cared for and tend to have a long laying period of life due to the care they get and the breaks in laying we let them have.
(And by the way...we usually still get 1-3 eggs a day during the winter from a flock of 5 hens and 9 pullets.)

In the winter, I also take care to give them extra bedding material.  We use a deep litter method (works for us) and muck out the coop 2-3x/year.  Each week I put about one flake of straw on top of their floor.  It freshens up things. It keeps their little feet happy.  In the winter the deep littler gives them some drainage so the top layer is clean and dry.  
Drainage from what?
They track mud and snow in from their run.
They do defecate.
That all goes down into the lower layers of straw where it composts.
When you go to muck, you have semi-broken down compost on the bottom.
We have a door in the back of our coop that opens directly into our compost heap.
The straw and feces are then composted (it takes a short time because of the deep litter and the hot composting) and added to the garden.
And boy does it help things grow.

During the winter it is not too cold to let the girls out during the day 
(unless you live where it is below 0 degrees all the time.
Then you may have to come up with another plan...)
  They dig through the snow into the dirt and scratch around for bugs or scraps of food we threw in to their yard.
It keeps them stimulated so they don't peck at each other.
We also make sure that we lock them up at night.
Hungry animals can make a quick snack of a sleeping chicken.
And in winter those raccoons and possums can get very hungry.
When we didn't lock them up we had a massacre. 
Enough said on that topic.

So chickens in the big deal...just be prepared...use common sense...
and have fun.

This has been linked up to Simple Lives Thursday


  1. I dream about having our own chickens someday. You make it sound so practical, I love that. :)

    1. Those chickens are so much fun...and if you just had 5 you'd get 1-2 dozen eggs a week!

  2. Love your ideas! We had chickens growing up...and I am going to have some this next year one way or another!! Great ideas and practical solutions.

    1. My husband and I had quite a debate about the chickens, but eventually he caved and is now glad he did.

    2. My husband finally gave in to my pleading, and as we brave 0-20 temps we are building our coop. Wahoo.

  3. What type of floor is in your chicken coop? I like the idea of the deep litter method.

    1. We have a typical plywood shed with a plywood floor. Then on top of that we put a layer of whatever we have on the fall it's leaves, right now it's straw, in a few months we'll have dried grass clippings from mowing (make sure they dry out for a day or so so they don't get "gloppy") I'll add straw, or whatever we have about though typically.

  4. We bit the bullet and ran power out to our coop for a gentle water heater. I admire your resourcefulness!

    1. That's always part of our great fall debate, but by the time we get done debating, the ground is frozen! Maybe it's a better springtime debate.

  5. This is EXACTLY how we do it and the chickens seem happy as larks ;)


  7. Another option for keeping the water thawed is to add insulated siding to their coop house. We live in Alaska and it is consistently in the -'s for 6 months at a time, so our girls don't like to go out. We do still open their door and give them fresh air though and they could go out if they wanted. Their water is cold, but not frozen, so the siding has done an amazing job with that.

  8. my hubby wanted to ship chickens off for the winter months(iowa) I refused..i did cough up money to buy a warmer for the waterer and heat lamp..yes..dangerous as it is we have extention cords to the coupe. we insulated the walls but never got around to the ceiling which is tin so there is some snow that gets in. the coupe is warmer much to our surprise and the chickens put off heat themselves. they never miss a day of laying eggs. I did put straw down in layers as suggested by fellow pinners.i also give them different snacks to avoid boredom.




Thanks for visiting with us girls...put your feet up and stay for a while.