Preparing the Chickens
Before anyone gets nervous, I don’t mean putting them in the freezer. Although I do think about it whenever they peck up a plant I like (I have my moments). I love my chickens and despite their efforts to the contrary at times, I do my best to keep them safe, healthy, and happy.
Getting them ready for winter doesn’t take much. I clean out the coop thoroughly, and add extra straw to the nest boxes and around the walls to keep heat in. Their coop was also built with insulation in the ceiling, which helps retain their body heat when they head in at night to roost. They still need ventilation to prevent respiratory issues, so I crack one of the coop windows except in the coldest of weather. To keep their waterer from freezing over I plug in a heater (formerly a heated bird bath) and set the waterer on top.
Right now the girls are moulting, losing their feathers and growing in new ones. It happens about once year in adult chickens and apparently causes them to lose their minds. The video below should shed some light on the subject.
Even after they are done moulting, egg production will naturally slow down in the winter. But that’s okay by me. I froze eggs all summer long and can thaw some out any time the girls run short. Other people add in a light to the coop to try and encourage chickens to lay more in the winter. I figure it’s best just to go with the flow and let them do their thing – maybe it will help them lay eggs regularly for a longer period of time if I’m not trying to push. Nature usually has it’s reasons.
Other than a few basic preparations, there isn’t a whole lot else to do for the chickens except shovel snow and hunker down to wait for spring. Chickens don’t exactly do well in snow, so once it gets deep they’ll remain inside their shoveled out-yard, mostly by choice (meaning mine), and for their own good.
I’m lucky to not have had much trouble with critters so far, but I have taken steps to protect against them. The coop is sheltered underneath a grove of trees to keep hawks at bay, and the high fencing discourages other predators. I think my dogs are the best deterrent, however, patrolling the yard and marking their territory, coop included. But just to be safe, I will start shutting the coop door at night once real winter sets in.
Chickens are pretty hardy creatures and I always try to remember that, as a species, they’ve survived many winters alongside humans without any modern conveniences. Any help I give is probably as beneficial to me as it is to them, letting me sleep better at night knowing I won’t go out in the morning and find them frozen to their roosts. A comb or wattle might get a tad frost-bitten, but otherwise they’ll get through the cold and snow just fine, surviving to see warmer weather return once again.