In the past, when I’d contemplate getting chickens, the thing that would always start the doubt creeping in was WINTER. Sure, who wouldn’t want to raise a bunch of little peeping chicks in the spring and then saunter down the path to let them out each summer morning? But how would I deal with the winters? I feel fairly neutral about winter, in general, but that’s due largely to the fact that I don’t have to spend much time out in it.
But it hasn’t been too bad. Granted, though we’ve had some extremely cold days this month, it’s been a milder-than-average winter, over all. But even on the more wicked days, I still come back inside thinking I’d rather take care of dozens of animals outside than all these ungrateful wretches who live indoors (meaning the cats and dogs, not the humans!).
I usually go out mid-morning (between 9:00 and 10:00am-ish), and I bring out water, chicken food, and a ‘salad’ for the hens. They’re going through much more feed right now than they did in the summer, since they can’t spend the entire day eating their way through the property. The bowls of treats are made up of our leftovers and produce odds and ends (usually fruit or veggies that are a bit too over-ripe for M and I). If it’s really cold, I’ll scramble up a few eggs or make oatmeal for them. Mister Chicken gets the same in his bachelor pad.
In the autumn, I went on a search for a feeder and waterer that attached to the wall — since my hens would consistently knock over or spill anything on the floor of their coop (I think anything hanging from the ceiling would have been just as bad). In the end, both the feeder and waterer I wound up with were meant for baby pigs. They work SO well, though! I actually have two of the waterers, with only one of the holders mounted to their wall. That way, I bring in the frozen one each day when I bring out the fresh one. So I don’t have to trudge out to the coop, get the frozen waterer, thaw it, fill it, and go out again. And the hens seem quite happy with their wall-mounted feeder, too, even though they can no longer A) kick the crumbles all over their coop or B) kick bedding all over the feeder.
Cleaning out the coop is less enjoyable in the winter, I suppose (although it’s not very enjoyable when it’s hot out, either), but at least when we have stretches where the temperature never gets above freezing, the chicken droppings don’t smell. So I don’t have to clean it as often. I like the idea of the deep bedding method (you just keep piling new bedding on top of old, and the old stuff starts to safely compost), but I worry that their coop is too small for that. I don’t want ammonia to build up.
And in case you were wondering, the coop is NOT heated, though it is well insulated. My hens have quite large combs, and I’ve noticed a little bit of frostbite at the tips, but they don’t seem bothered by it, nor by the cold in general. Since they like to lay eggs right at the back of their coop, I’ve often climbed in and had the door blow shut behind me, and I always think to myself that it’s actually quite comfortable in there (temperature-wise), compared to whatever’s going on outside. I like to prop their door open on days where the temperature is above 20˚F and not too windy. They may or may not venture out, since they don’t love the snow, but often they’ll trek over to the deck and hang out under there.
Anyway, that’s how winter chicken care is going! Definitely not as bad as I expected. And we’re still getting 2-5 eggs per day, so I think the chickens must be happy enough, too!