Monday Night, I held another workshop on chickens. It resulted from previous classes requesting a more advanced chicken discussion covering care of and problems that can crop up in chickens.
One of the topics (and I’ll be covering them all in future posts) is winter care.
If you live somewhere where it gets cold (really cold) in the winter, (like us in New Hampshire) it’s time to start your preparations for the winter.
I’ve already talked about the bedding. There needs to be one last mucking out of your henhouse and from now on you just add a clean top layer to what’s there. This accomplishes a few things:
- A thick layer of wood shavings serves as insulation keeping the birds warm
- A think layer allows a certain amount of decomposition/fermentation to occur which also aids in keeping the temperature up.
Just be sure to muck that henhouse out on the first warm spring weekend because, man, oh, man, it’s going to get ripe. (Add organic matter to those wood shavings (grass clippings, leaves) let it compost for a few weeks and you’ve got yourself gold for the garden.)
If you have a small henhouse, you can still build up the woodchip layer but be careful not to have it too deep, you’ll never find the eggs if you do, and you want to make sure that the hens can get in and out of the nesting boxes. (it was amazing how many buried eggs we found when we did our first spring muckout)
Although tempted, don’t fully enclose the henhouse. Even though you might think its necessary to insulate the chicken’s home and paint it a nice shade of Colonial Harvest, resist the temptation. (okay, go ahead and paint it if you really want to.) There absolutely needs to be open ventilation at the top of the henhouse (covered of course, and protected with chicken wire).
Chickens breathe. When they breathe, they release moisture, if there’s no way for the moisture to escape it will accumulate resulting in ice, frost, and eventually mold and mildew.
Remember that these chickens have been surviving forever either outdoors or in barns. It’s not cruel to have the wind blow through the top of their quarters. Try this: when the weather gets colder, go ahead and put your hand between two roosting chickens, you’ll be surprised at how much heat is generated. Apparently, these age-old birds know exactly what they’re doing.
You should make sure, however, that the birds are protected in the lower housing section. Walls should be sturdy and any large cracks should be plugged up. You should try to not have wind blowing directly on the roosting chickens.
If it’s not already, your water feeder should be raised on cinder blocks. Even if your hen yard is enclosed and has a roof, snow is going to drift in. Keep the water high to avoid it getting covered over. When it starts getting cold enough to freeze water, you’re going to need a water heater (unless you want to go out every few hours to chop a hole in the water for them. Oh and if you are going to use a water heater, for goodness sake, make sure you have a metal water feeder.
Go out and get a heavy duty one. Last winter, ours wasn’t strong enough to keep up with the below zero temps (not sure anything would have) and we had a heck of a time keeping our girls in fresh water. This winter, we’ll be getting a stronger, more industrial one.
We run our water heater all day long and turn it off at night. It’s job is to melt the water, not provide lukewarm water. The chickens don’t care about the temperature, they just need access to water.
Egg production goes down as the days shorten. Some people install artificial sunlight lamps in their coop to simulate daytime which helps to keep the egg production up. It’s your choice. Just know that those lamps don’t come cheap. You’d have to get a lot of eggs back to justify the cost.
As for me? I look at it this way, if nature has decided that the girls need a break in the winter, then so be it. A break they get.
Sometimes us girls just need to kick back with a good book, a glass of wine and chill, you know what I mean?