Raising Chickens in cold weather
Raising Chickens in cold weather: I need some advice this will be my first year ever having chickens.
I'm a newby to this all and so EXCITED! I live in Minnesota and deal with the long cold winters.
I'm wondering how much work is involved and how do I keep the birds safe through the winter? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!
The wild ancestors of our domesticated Chicken breeds come from a tropical climate. Their favorite days are warm and sunny, though healthy chickens from hearty blood lines, well cared for, adapt to changing seasons in most parts of the world.
Some breeds have been developed for and do well in specific climates.
That said, chickens are usually hearty animals, but will benefit, in extreme cold temperatures, with supplemental heat lamps, especially when freezing and sub-freezing temperatures are expected day and night for extended periods of time.
The use of heated water containers will keep their water supply from freezing, and make sure they can drink as often as they desire for good hydration & digestion of their feed.
A coop should allow some ventilation to prevent the build up of ammonia fumes from droppings, but protect from strong drafts or winds and precipitation.
Insulating the roof and walls can help as well as a nice thick layer of floor litter on a raised wood floor.
Insulation like plaster board, fiberglass and Styrofoam must be sealed with some kind of paneling to keep chickens from eating it.
Allowing 4 sq. ft. of open floor area per chicken is minimum, but providing as much as possible for chickens that might choose to remain indoors for weeks will keep them healthier and happier.
Even on the worst days I open the coop to allow the chickens out, if they want. Stress levels can rise, being “all cooped up”, and lead to health problems.
A few minutes out in the fresh air can be just the time out a chicken needs to cure the boredom of confinement due to weather conditions.
A full spectrum fluorescent light will help keep them active and laying better if left on 16 hours a day, during times of little natural sunlight.
Tall chicken combs can suffer from frost bite, especially at night, when
chickens are less active, & temps lowest.
Heat lamps can help raise the general coop temp and provide warming up areas, when chickens feel the need.
Well feathered chickens can usually maintain a healthy body temperature unless unable to stay dry & keep away from strong drafts or winds. Legs and feet stay warm under them while roosting.
(I have rescued chickens that lost toes from frost bite, when forced to live in cold damp pens with no roost.) Wooden roosts are best (I use 2” x 4”s), as they won’t draw as much warmth away from feet as metal or hollow plastic might.
A chicken’s body requires more good fat & protein calories during Winter. Their bodies have to work harder to maintain a normal temp.
Supplementing with high fat/protein seeds like flax, safflower and black oil sunflower will help sustain them better than standard scratch and feed alone.
On very cold days I bring my chickens a nice warm mush made from their layer feed and periodically add a vitamin/electrolyte product as directed.
During Winter months, or anytime, an undernourished chicken will absorb its own muscles and fat reserves to survive.
In Winter months, especially, the loss of this body insulation is life threatening.
Winter months are hard on wild life. The carnivorous ones will take any opportunity for a good meal, and nice healthy chickens are a favorite.
The coop must lock up tight at night, not allowing anything larger than a mouse to visit. Weasels, skunks, opossums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, etc, can destroy a flock in one night, if they can get in.
Even rats are a danger to chicks. During the day chickens need easy access to the coop, or shelters, to escape birds of prey, if in an open pen or free ranging.
All year around, watch your flock for any signs of weakness, or something not just right.
Keeping them well fed, including access to fresh vegetation, eliminating as much stress as possible with adequate housing, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, shade, good water and a predictable routine, will help them through the toughest Winter weather.
Here in Ohio, we shoveled snow away in the yard and chicken pen to give them access to grasses all winter.
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