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Monday, October 8, 2012

Cold Weather Winter Prep Tips - Winterizing your Flock


Winter is on it's way. Although we're fortunate here in Virginia not to get too much snow nor temperatures much below freezing for too long a stretch, I'm a New Englander born and bred so I know all about nor'easters, blizzards, snow storms, freezing rain, sleet and bitter cold. With just a bit of effort you can help your flock better handle the cold.




The most important thing is that your coop is dry and draft-free with good cross air flow and ventilation higher than the roosts.  Frostbite is partially caused by damp conditions, so having adequate ventilation not only provides clean fresh air but helps prevent frostbite.

Roosts should be wide enough that your hens' feet are flat when they roost and completely covered by their bodies/feathers from the top and the roost board from underneath. This not only prevents frostbite, but also rats or mice nibbling on the chickens' toes while they sleep (believe me, this can happen). A 2x4 with the 4" side facing up with the corners rounded off a bit is perfect.

Here are a few more easy things to do to prepare for the approaching cold weather to help keep your flock warm and also to make your life easier.

Set up Some Stumps, Logs, Pallets or Outdoor Roosts in the Run

Chickens generally don't like to walk in the snow. They would much rather stay inside than have to walk on a cold surface. I put down straw 'paths' from the coop door to sheltered areas of the run for them in the winter when it snows.



I also have set upturned stumps along the edges of the run.  We had a few trees fall in the last hurricane that swept through, so the trunks were re-purposed into 'run seating'.  I constructed some roosts out of branches in the corners of the run for our chickens to perch on.  They love to line up and watch the world go by.


The hens, especially those with feathery feet, really like being able to get up off the ground and out of the snow, ice and mud.  Free wooden pallets or logs are another great way to get them up off the ground, as are benches or even lawn chairs.

Add Scratch as an Evening Treat


Scratch should only be fed as a cold weather treat. The act of digesting the scratch warms up the hens' bodies, so I throw down scratch for them each afternoon all through the winter. You can purchase scratch grains in a commercial mix or make your own.  [Read more here about scratch...]

Make a Scratch Wreath Get creative and make a scratch wreath for your chickens. [Read here for instructions]




Make Homemade Suet Blocks


The fat in the suet provides energy for chilly chickens. Save up your meat grease in a small dish, then stir in peanuts, raisins or other grains and seeds and freeze until solid.  [Read HERE for instructions on making your own suet blocks]



Consider Trying The Deep Litter Method


Using the Deep Litter Method in your coop is probably the one best thing you could do over the winter. Easy, inexpensive and an old-timers' tried and true method for overwintering, it's what all three of us Fresh Eggs Farm Girls do for the winter.  Basically the methodology is that you keep adding layers of bedding to the coop, turning over the old soiled bedding which decomposes into beautiful compost by spring. It doesn't smell (trust me) and is actually beneficial in that pathogen-controlling microbes are a byproduct.  [Read more here about The Deep Litter Method...]

Hopefully you will decide to try the Deep Litter Method instead of heating your coop (we don't recommend it as a general rule), which can lead to fire or frostbitten or dead chickens if the heat source goes out unexpectedly.  [Read more about heating your coop here...]

Stock Up on Feed and Bedding

Especially if you live in an area that gets lots of snow, keep in mind that a deep snow or blizzard might prevent you from being able to get to the feed store, or even prevent delivery trucks from being able to make their deliveries to the feed stores.  

Your flock will also eat more in the winter, since grass and bugs aren't available, and they need more fuel to keep warm, so plan on going through feed faster than you do in the warmer months. Keep extra feed on hand.  

Since the feed will keep in a cool dry place just fine, plan on a month's supply on hand.  I also keep extra straw on hand to stack in the coop along the walls to provide natural 'insulation'.

Think about Supplemental Light in the Coop and/or Freezing Eggs


As the days shorten, laying will slow or stop completely in some instances.  Think about whether you will be adding supplemental lighting in the coop [Read more here about adding light to your coop...] to prolong laying through the winter (although not our recommendation) or freeze some of your excess eggs now [Read more here about freezing eggs...] to use over the winter (what we recommend).  


Figure out How You Will Keep Your Water from Freezing


Obviously providing your flock with clean, fresh (unfrozen) water is important.  You can buy (or make) a heated base for your metal waterers, but of course they do present a fire hazard of sorts - and I found they won't last all that long and are too expensive to keep buying new ones. 

We stopped using the metal waterers a few years ago because they rust and they aren't optimal for ducks.  Instead, we use deep black rubber tubs for water.  Set in the sun in the winter, the black rubber absorbs the heat from the sunlight and seems to keep the water from freezing far better than a metal waterer. Also, the greater surface area and depth both work against freezing.  A few ping pong balls floated on the surface of a water tub will also create just enough movement to prevent the tub from freezing.


We're lucky to have ducks who play in the water all day long, so that also seems to keep the water from freezing for the most part, but we do use an electric heated dog bowl in the winter.  Inexpensive, safe and easy to clean and refill, I find this is the easiest way to keep the water from freezing.

Cover Part of the Top/Side of the Run to Create a Wind Barrier


Chickens are actually pretty cold hardy and on all but the most frigid days would rather spend their days outside.  Covering part of your run with a tarp, sheets of plywood or plastic can create an area where they can get out of the wind and snow and enjoy some fresh air.  We use shade fabric in the northwest corner of our run to create an L-shaped protected area for our flock in the winter. They really seem to appreciate being able to get outside but out of the wind.

Start Growing Sprouts or Grasses Indoors 


Since in many areas of the country, there are no grass or weeds to be found through the winter, growing some indoors for your chickens helps supplement their diet with healthy greens.  Easy to do, you can buy a Grass Growing Kits or grow sprouts in jars on your windowsill. [Read more here about sprouting seeds...]

Just making these few simple preparations can ensure the winter will be far more comfortable for your chickens and easier on you.  Then you all can relax and enjoy the beauty of the season.





Do you have any other suggestions of things that you do for your flock to help winterize them?

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19 comments:

  1. Great info! I tried to click the [Read more here about sprouting seeds...] link, but the link isn't linked :( I think it's a great idea to grow some fresh greens for the birds to eat during the winter!

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  2. Bulldogma- soak your beans (I use lentils) in water over night. In the morning drain them and put them in a large wide mouth canning jar. Cover the jar with cheese cloth and secure with a rubber band. Prop at an angle in a sunny window. Easy cheap greens for the chickens in the winter.

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  3. We. Have so many trees. So I rake leaves all winter right into the runs..they have them for warmth and exercise I throw scratch into the leaves they also don't have to walk on a wet cold ground plus there's always bugs in the leaves they love going thru them.....then when spring comes there all composted for the garden.

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  4. We. Have so many trees. So I rake leaves all winter right into the runs..they have them for warmth and exercise I throw scratch into the leaves they also don't have to walk on a wet cold ground plus there's always bugs in the leaves they love going thru them.....then when spring comes there all composted for the garden.

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  5. I like your Blog and pics! & I am a new follower from Blog hop! I'm following for GFC, facebook, twitter and youtube. I hope your visit!

    Namaste!
    http://www.mamiholisticaygenial.com

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    Replies
    1. Welcome! So glad you are joining me on this journey!

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  6. Thanks so much! Wonderful tips! I won't be getting my ladies until next spring, but I have linked to this post in my new blog so I can refer to it next year!

    Thanks,
    Marcia
    http://www.blueacrefarm.blogspot.com

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  7. Speaking of chilly chickens, we live in MA and have 4 wk old chicks that will be ready to head out to their coop in a week or two. We've got them at a little under 80 degrees right now (which we will continue to lower weekly), and are worried they'll be cold when they move out. Can you recommend a way to acclimate them once they are in the coop? Should we give them a little extra heat for a few days or so in their roost? This week we've got high only on the 50's and getting pretty cold at night. AND when can we start to turn the heat lamp off, or shouldn't we?
    Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Hi there. I grew up in Massachusetts! Four week old chicks,MA this time of year - I would keep them inside for longer. Even here in Virginia in the spring I don't put chicks outside until they are about 6 weeks old. Heat lamps are a fire hazard out in a coop of course, not to mention if the bulb were to burn out overnight, they would freeze. At 6 weeks, they still need to be kept at 65 degrees or so, until they are fully feathered they can't regulate their body temperature.

      This time of year, I would suggest moving them into a pen in your garage if you can instead and keeping them there, under the heat lamp as long as you can. Technically, they need to be under the lamp until the temperature under it is the same as the outside low. So, as it gets colder, you're lowering the temperature each week, but its probably getting colder faster than you're lowering it. Hope that helps. I find it far easier to raise chicks in the spring since the outside temps are rising as the temp in the brooder is falling, so eventually they meet. This time of year, its the opposite.

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  8. Thats a really good idea to put the ping pong balls in the waterers to keep them from freezing. Also gives me a reason to get a couple ducks beings I just have 23 chickens. Iv always put a piece of wood in the water during the winter but Im also gona try the ping pong balls! Thanks for the great ideas! :)

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  9. Great tips! I like the stumps for 'outdoor seating'! I put a small igloo style doghouse in their run with hay in it for outdoor cover.

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  10. Thanks for linking up! I'm sure my sister will be happy to read your post, she loves her chickens and learning more about how to take better care of them.

    Hope to see you next week!
    Tayet

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  11. Tayet was right! Thanks for these wonderful ideas!

    Hope you decide to link up again next week ;)
    Yolanda

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  12. Thank you for the great info, just in time for the snow!

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  13. Hi, how are things? I recently discussed this information along with a friend, there was a great snicker. howtoloseweightfastf.com

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  14. I wound up with only one hen this winter so I moved her into my small greenhouse. I normally have my chickens in 4'x 12' chicken tractors that I move to fresh ground each day. Because it rains so often here in western Washington State the roof is two 2' x 12' sheets of translucent plastic roofing which allows them to forage in the dry.

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  15. Excellent information! Your chickens are so lucky to live on your farm :) Thanks so much for sharing on the Winter on the HomeAcre Hop!!!

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  16. Fantastic post. We acquired chickens a month ago and are debating how to winterize the coop as the snow may arrive in a month. I like the idea of not adding artificial light and freezing excess eggs right now (we almost bought a bulb the other day and had a weird feeling not to!).

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