We started off with eight and are now down to four. It wasn’t the cold that did my four hens in, it was 1) a hawk swooping in (it happens), 2) a hen flying up and over our six-foot fence to be then attacked and killed by a neighborhood dog 🙁 3) a strange illness that set in and killed two others.
We now have four chickens still with us. I really hate all the death. I’m not outrageously close to my chickens. I like them and they’ve provided us with eggs. Neighborhood kids consider our barnyard a local petting zoo so that’s fun too. My chickens have a really beautiful piece of land to peck around on and spread their wings. We have two goats that they are all friendly with. It’s a nice little set up for these animals.
Right now, one of my hens is unfortunately molting. This means she’s losing her feathers and looks like she’s dying. The three other birds have taken to pecking at her because she looks ridiculous and like humans, they are just mean that way. No really – they hate that she looks so ridiculous and they’re afraid she has some kind of illness so they keep pecking at her to keep her away. She was all bloody yesterday from the pecking, which really p’d me off so I’m taking special care of her.
Yes, Hens Can Live in Harsh Winter Climates!
So, yes, lots of people are surprised that hens can live in our environment where the summers are BEAUTIFUL and the winters are harsh, really cold and dark (but also really beautiful). Not every breed can handle it, but there are quite a few breeds that survive just fine in even our harshest of winters (sometimes the snow is five feet high and they are stuck in the coop for days on end). The two breeds we have are the Silver Laced Wyandotte and Buff Orpington.
If I were to recommend one breed above all others for families with kids (and especially if you live where it snows in the winter) I would recommend the Buffs. They are so sweet, they easily let you pick them up, they get along beautifully with each other. Our Wyandottes are okay but can be super b–chy and would rather die than have you put your hand on them – you should see them scoot away when I reach for them, ugh!
Molting Makes Them Look Weird and the Other Birds Hate It
I’m frustrated by my molting bird because she really couldn’t have picked a more rotten time to molt than now. It’s freezing out there – I look at her poor raw skin and just feel so badly for her. I want to bring her in the house almost but I fear that may freak her out (plus we have two big dogs and a cat living inside). So, I’ve been trying to separate her from the others and offering her warm water and extra protein-rich food.
I’ve been leafing through my chicken keeping books too for some help (but of course) including Ashley English’s Keeping Chickens: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy Healthy Flock and Hen Keeping: Raising Chickens at Home both of which I have read and recommend!
My Five Top Tips for Wintering with Chickens
Now, if you are questioning whether or not to raise some chickens in your backyard but you’re hesitant because your winters like ours are harsh and cold, just do your research on the types of breeds that do well in such environments. There are quite a few. Also remember, that caring for chickens in the winter is no party. It’s cold, you have to clean snow and chicken poop out of the coop, you have to break the ice that forms on their water bowls (if you don’t have a water heater out there). They are farm animals and once you get them you essentially have a small farm ;). That said, here are my top five tips for keeping chickens in the snowy winter.
- Don’t use a heater in the coop! The birds are fine. Even when the temps hover near 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The birds huddle together to keep each other warm and the feathers are a natural temperature regulator. I get asked this question a lot. Yes, it is really cold even in the coop but a heater will cause your chicks to do weird things and get sick.
- They won’t lay many eggs in the winter. Young chicks do but once they hit about 3 years of age they rarely lay in the winter. And that’s not because it’s cold, but rather because the days are so short (it has to do with light not with temperature).
- I find straw to be a great bedding material. We used to use tree shavings but the shavings always seem to be treated with something smelly (even when the packaging says it’s not). Plus it’s clumpy and difficult to clean. Straw bedding feels much more natural and I think it’s warmer.
- I have not used them, but my friend swears by mealworms as a way to up the ante as far as the chickens laying in the winter. Hers are younger than mine and they do lay a few eggs a week in the winter. Could be the mealworms – I dunno. It’s worth a try.
- It’s really beneficial to have one of these to keep the tin waterer from freezing. Unfortunately, I can’t use my waterer heater because our goats chew the cord and we can’t stretch the cord through the yard to the outlet without going through the goat pen so instead, I have to go out each morning with a steaming hot kettle of water to re-liquify the waterers. In fact, when it’s really cold I need to go out and break the ice a few times a day with the heel of my boot.
Anyway, that’s my advice on wintering with chickens!