Posts Tagged winter chicken care
A thaw has arrived, bringing with it the illusion of spring and melting. The crunchy, powdered flakes of snow have become slick, slippery ice that tricks our feet and trips us as we tumble into the warming sun.
We turn our faces to the beaming light, rejoicing in the lack of pinching and biting in the winter air. But the ice beneath makes everything seem a little treacherous, a little unsure.
As I watched the chickens tuck into their treats of carrots and apple mush, I tore apart a hay bale to cover the slippery, shining pathways that our feet have made through the snow. From our house to theirs we trudge each day, stamping down the fluffy coating that rain and sun have made hard and smooth. The hay tears apart easily, releasing its bound shape and settling on the white ground, enhancing the illusion that spring has arrived.
The brown and green path cuts through the endless white and blue of snow and winter shadow. It feels as though it sprung up from beneath, like a goddess of spring walked that way and brought life back to the earth with her magical toes. The robust scent of summer blows up from the torn bale, the grass releasing its dusty fragrance and its memories. I am transported to the field where it was cut, the sunset of that day and the gentle warmth of a dying summer evening.
The chickens watch my work with more than usual disapproval. Their judgmental gaze amuses me as I move carefully around, trying to avoid the trap of becoming over confident and slipping. I am not so young that I enjoy the sensation of suspension and the crash down, I’m fearful of it and so I go gently. They look around the edge of their canopy and regard me with dinosaur eyes; the eyes of creatures far removed yet comfortingly domestic.
I walk to the house with surer footing, I turn back and watch the chickens investigate the path. Like me they are freer outside, the warming sun inviting them to venture out beyond the confines of their shelter. They walk along the path a little, enjoying the lack of icy pinch on their feet, they fluff and cluck their approval. I laugh and feel pleased with myself, my plan has come to fruition and surprised them out of their grim, old lady frame of mind.
Suddenly the longing for spring is overwhelming in me, I feel it in my stomach and ache for the green that is momentarily resurrected in the cast down hay. The longing hits my chest, contracting my heart with the desire to run my hand across soft green blades, to be assured the miracle will return this year as it has every other year.
I cast off the stillness and go about my work, throwing ice and water away on a shovel, listening to the patter of the dripping water returning to the ground. But the longing for spring remains, it is always there a little.
There is a word that accurately describes life as we know it in a Canadian January. Cold. Very, very cold. Temperatures are regularly down below the -25C mark and that wind chill really does make life interesting. We are snuggly warm in our house enjoying passive solar gain and free heating on these cold but sunny days, but our chickens are not quite as cosy.
Despite having an insulated coop (using leftover insulation from the house build) it gets a bit parky out there for the old chooks. So here are some of the things I’ve been doing to keep things comfortable for them and hopefully avoid a nasty case of frozen chicken one morning:
– Water. This is number 1 priority and we are changing their water 2-3 times a day, removing the frozen and replacing with slightly warm which hopefully delays the freezing process. If the weather is not too cold we go out and stir the water up but if it is, as it has been this last week, very cold I simply bring out another waterer and take the frozen one inside the house to defrost. This process is crucial as the chickens will not eat if dehydrated, they also don’t like it when the water gets too cold. We notice a big difference in the amount of food eaten when they have regular changes of water on cold days.
– Heat Lamp. As well as giving enough extra light to keep the hens laying it helps take the edge off in the coop, especially in the early hours of the morning. I wouldn’t call it snug, but it’s better than nothing.
– Sunlight. We have the coop facing South West so on cold but sunny days we keep the door open for them for a bit of solar gain. The door stops the wind from bothering them while allowing the sunshine to warm and cheer them. They have access to outside space but it is covered in snow so they choose not to come out of the coop.
– Greens and Veg. Through the summer and autumn the chickens were totally free range, so had all the greens and bugs they could forage. Right now there are no natural sources so we are giving them extra scraps of greens (they love cabbage and steamed broccoli) and I am making them special chicken smoothies when they seem to need a pick-me-up. I used the recipe found here but I didn’t put it in the water, I just put the pulp in their food tray and they loved it. It is also a great way to get their herbal wormer into them too.
– Extra Bedding. We use the deep litter method so we just add extra shavings as needed. I read recently that adding more bedding helps to build up warmth in the coop, a bit like under floor heating! We are also adding a couple of straw bales to block out drafts and for nesting material if they want it.
– Swift Egg Collection. This isn’t for the chicken’s benefit but it is really important in the winter time if you want to benefit from the eggs your chickens lay. Did you know eggs can freeze? I had never thought about it until this winter, but they can and do. When they do the shell cracks risking the loss of the egg. I am trying to make sure I get out to the chickens early enough to get the eggs before freezing, but if I don’t I wash the cracked egg and put it in a bowl to be used that day.
– Frostbite Treatment. This is something I need to look into as our roosters both has frostbite on their combs. I think some vaseline or other protective layer would help them, I just need to hunt around and see what I can find. So far the girls are ok but as they say a pinch of prevention is worth an ounce of cure.
Do you have any top chicken winterising tips? I’d love to hear them if you do!