Winterizing Your Flock - Giving Them A Decent Chance
Autumn isn’t just about beautiful trees, root vegetables, and 50 ways to eat apples
Oh no, it’s also about getting the hens ready for winter. I admit that winter is the most stressful time for me with regards to my girls, and this may stem from my inability to embrace the cold. There are worse winters than Maryland offers, but our humidity chills to the bone...or to the comb, as the case may be.
This is my 3rd winter since I got my flock, and I feel like I’m going in the right direction with winterization. I believe my efforts do keep the girls happy, and therefore laying more. Worth it’s weight in gold! Gold yolks! “ba dum dum tshh”
There’s a lot to consider when winterizing, so I’ve divided it up between “the flock”, “the habitat”, and “the menu”. I hope this makes it easier to digest.
The Flock all your living poultry. In my case, hens ~
~ Winter hearty birds actually are, well pretty winter hearty. If you give them a decent chance, they’ll survive. My highest priority when selecting breeds is that they are winter hearty. It’s tempting to get some of those other amazing breeds, but I’m a practical person.
~ Those with the big combs are at high risk of frostbite. I put Vaseline on some of their combs. I don’t worry about the ones with small combs. If you can manage it every week or so during the most bitter part of winter, you’re doing them a real solid, but good luck with that - they really give me a run for my money! Watching me chasing around after them with a jar of Vaseline must be quite a laugh-riot. Consider offering to help with that chore and bring a cocktail. No photos please.
The Habitat henhouse is the building they roost/sleep and lay eggs in, the run is the outside area, and the coop is the whole shebang/habitat ~
~ I built my henhouse with insulation - It’s pretty much foam board insulation sandwiched between particle board on all sides. There’s several layers of roofing materials, it’s got siding, and the floor has a lot of pine shavings.
~ I use the deep mulch method in the winter because it creates terrific insulation and even some heat. I start with a clean henhouse, fill it about 12” deep with pine shavings. Nesting boxes get 6-8” deep. On a weekly basis, I turn the bedding with a pitchfork, toss the shavings from the nesting boxes into the henhouse, and replace the nesting box shavings. Hens tend to keep their egg laying area clean, providing a nice refresh in the henhouse. I like to keep the nesting boxes the most comfortable place to lay eggs so we don’t end up having Easter egg hunts.
~ The subject of heat lamps is a complicated one. I know people who use heat lamps with success, but it’s a pretty rare occasion that I would even consider it in my 6’ cube henhouse. Having electricity in a coop is a dangerous and should be kept to a minimum, particularly in an enclosed henhouse with bedding and dust. Besides, winter hearty hens have their own abilities to stay warm, if given the opportunity. If you’ve got a heat lamp, they will stay under it to keep warm, but will get bored, increasing the likelihood of aggression toward each other. There is the risk of fire, and if there were to be a power outage they wouldn’t be prepared with their own natural defenses, therefore the risk of freezing to death is much higher.
~ It’s really important that the henhouse has ventilation. Fresh air is important when you’re in an enclosed area pooping all night long. If ventilation minimizes wind, and excludes rain and snow, you’re in good shape. I’ve got six 2” holes under the eaves of the front and back henhouse walls, and I sometimes block the door into the henhouse if it’s a super crappy night.
Straw has been absolutely invaluable! I usually get about 10 bales to create interesting/sheltering structures to protect them from wind and snow, explore in, on, under, and around, or I take them apart and spread the straw to cover snow and add more interest, as it’s such fun to peck around in too. They break it down so well that it’s all practically dirt by springtime.
~ Predators can get more aggressive in the winter time. Be certain that your coop is secure, and walk the parameter a couple times a week to make sure nobody is trying to get in. Pretty much everyone agrees that chicken is delicious, so be careful to close and lock the door to the coop on your way out.
The Menu all they consume ~
~ As always, they need water. It freezes quickly in the dead of winter, so you need to keep on top of that. I know some people are willing and able to provide fresh water several times a day as the previous one freezes, but I’m not one of them. There are many other choices, and after doing my homework, I decided to make my own.
~ For the last 2 years I’ve used a 60w lightbulb/socket inside a cookie tin, the trough style double walled waterer on top. It worked great - the only issue was that I was constantly concerned that the lightbulb would burn out and I wouldn’t notice because it was completely enclosed. I checked it a lot, like at least a couple of times a day, when in fact, I only needed to change the bulb 2 times per winter.
~ This year I’m trying something new that I’m very excited about. I’ve been thinking of making one for some time, but it’s plastic. I really like the galvanized steel look, and I often avoid plastic. Now that it’s completed, I’m over the moon because the girls can no longer dirty the water with their antics. This one has nipples on the bottom of the waterer that they push up or to the side and water comes out on demand. I had both waterers in the coop for about a week to get them accustomed to the new one, and it’s working great! Once the temperature drops I’ll add a 44 watt submersible birdbath deicer once the temperature drops. It will be at or near the bottom of the waterer to keep both the water and the nipples from freezing. I’m super excited about this solution!
~ Food is always varied for my little beasties. Their organic pellets are always available, I often have some sort of compressed seed block, and they get treats of meal worms, seeds, or kitchen scraps most days too. In the winter I’ll also hang a suet block for them. I will make them a hot breakfast, usually reserved for the coldest mornings, that includes faro, oatmeal, burgher, or brown rice, add cayenne and diced apples or something else yummy.
The health and safety of your feathered friends is all up to you. Keep your flock from freezing and getting bored, and they’ll be happy and laying this winter. That’s my favorite way to have chicken!