A common question I’ve been getting lately is “how are the chickens doing in the winter?”. Considering that this is still our first year with chickens, it’s been a bit of a learning curve, but thankfully we’ve been able to keep all five chickens alive and well. We did have a mishap earlier in the winter when it was extremely cold and our rooster Henry got frostbite on his comb because he refused to go inside. We felt awful but I’ve since learned from the gals at the farmers co-op that this isn’t uncommon for roosters. They tend to want to stay outside to protect the flock without thinking of the consequences. It didn’t seem to affect him one bit and he’s still got as much rooster attitude as ever.
Before winter came, Garrett set up a wind break along three corners of the coop to protect them from the wind, but still give them visibility and sunlight. He also extended it a little farther into the large run area to give them a larger protected area outside. On sunny days that we’re home, we’ll let them hang out in the big area for a couple of hours to peck around.
Garrett insulated the inside of the coop using thick styrofoam boards, covered in old chicken feed bags, to prevent them from pecking at everything. We’re eventually going to run electricity out to the chicken coop and the springhouse, but for this winter we used an extra long cold weather exterior extension cord and ran it into the coop from the house. This powers their interior light and water heater, which are both set up on a timer. The light is a small appliance bulb that comes on for a few hours each morning to extend their daylight hours and encourage them to still lay eggs in the winter.
Every morning we go out to bring them fresh water and feed, make sure the light is turned off and that the water heater is turned on.
Our water heater is actually an old Christmas cookie tin that we rig up with a lamp set. Inside there is a small appliance bulb that heats up the cookie tin just enough to keep the water in the waterer from freezing. We put the whole contraption up on bricks to prevent them from getting their water dirty and to keep the cookie tin stable so they can’t knock it over.
Aside from their normal feed we have been occasionally giving them a sprinkle of cracked corn in the afternoon. The sugar content in the corn helps keep their body temperature up on the colder nights. We also give them vegetable scraps from the kitchen, as well as the occasional treat of cooked plain oatmeal. Our friend Dave makes his own beer and gave us the soaked barley (which has no alcohol content) that we can give them as a treat as well. I keep it frozen and then warm up a small portion to toss out there for them and they go nuts!
The nesting boxes at the end of the coop are also insulated, so the chickens are able to comfortably lay their eggs and we don’t have to worry about the eggs freezing out there before we collect them. Thankfully we’ve only had a few days where we didn’t get to them in time, and that has usually been when we haven’t been able to get them until later in the evening.
If I’m able to collect them in the morning, we’re almost always greeted to 3-4 beautiful brown eggs in all different shades and sizes. We store the eggs in our fridge as soon as they are collected and then wash them with warm soapy water right before we use them. During my first trimester I couldn’t stand the thought of eggs (the irony of waiting months for them finally to lay eggs), but thankfully I got over that quickly. The really are so good – creamier and richer tasting that the ones from the store.
As I mentioned before, the chickens like coming out into the larger fenced in area, even in the snow, to play around and peck at the ground.
On the days when the snow has melted, it’s not uncommon to find them out there for hours, getting themselves covered in mud!
Just this weekend I was upstairs and I looked out the winter to see all five chickens hanging out on the plank in the sun, with the rooster right up top.
So far our first winter with them as been a success and we’re looking forward to making even more improvements to their coop and play area once the snow clears. These chickens sure do find a way into your heart and waking up to fresh eggs every morning feels like such a treat after years of living in little apartments.
I’m already looking at plants I can grow from seed this spring and plant around the coop for them. We started so late last spring, but by the end of the summer we were able to get it looking nice a lush with some great dappled light to keep them cool.
For all my gardening friends out there, can anyone identify what that climbing yellow plant is? It’s almost like a yellow morning glory. I’d love to plant it again for them!