Monday, October 19, 2015

Prepping Chickens for Winter Outside

"What do they do in the winter?" is a common chicken question.  Well, these birds don't give a crap, they want to be outside, come what may.  Snow? Rain? Freezing temperatures?  No problem.  The coop seems to be for sleeping, eating, laying eggs and not much else if they can help it.  The truth is the mix of birds I have are hardy breeds that can handle cold as long as they have wind and rain protection.  Last year I waited too late and rigged them up a wobbly plastic tunnel when it was already winter, (which they spent ALL their time in) so this year I am being proactive.

Chickens on compost with winter hoop in background

My ideal would be to make a walk in winter chicken run that could double as a spring hoop house for plants....something like this and maybe that will happen in 2016, but for this winter I decided a small hoop that I can put up quickly will do.  I also made a "compost shelter" area out of hay bales to contain the garden waste I am giving them now so they don't spread it all to kingdom come with their scratching (and they like the windbreak from the hay bales).  

Now I just need a way to get them from the coop to this area on rainy freezing days...I have an idea for version of a covered chicken tunnel....but more on that later.

strawbale windbreak/compost area and plastic tunnel for hanging out in on rainy and snowy days
compost area
Once the compost area was hastily assembled, I moved hoops from a garden bed I was not planning to cover this winter and covered with hoops with 6 mil plastic we had removed from a hoop house at work.

winter outside area
winter tunnel...I'll likely put some straw bedding down in here.

screwed on fiberglass panels on coop as windbreak
If you want this whole "minimal winter protection for chickens, no heat in the coop" thing to work, you need:

  • hardy breeds (New Hampshires, Australorps, Rocks, Easter Eggers, etc)
  • ventilation in the coop at the bottom and top (important!)
  • no wind blowing on the birds
  • bedding that isn't too wet
  • enough birds to keep each other warm...I'd say 3 or 4 minimum...we have 11
After learning from chickens for several years here are a few things I take into account when planning their winter quarters:
  • they like to be outside during the day...the coop is just for sleeping and egg laying
  • they like to feel safe when they are sleeping and egg laying so solid sides on the coop and curtains on the nest box give them privacy and make them feel secure
  • they don't like to get wind whipped (duh!  who does?) and rained on when its cold (although they don't seem to mind summer rain) so covered plastic hoops or runs with covered plastic sides for wind protection are good for outside space
  • they like new things to check out in their space, although they might be wary at first
  • they can move a lot of (soil, mulch, whatever) with their digging so any use of them in the garden or on land has to take that into account
  • they can turn grass to bare ground quickly - having 2 spaces they can rotate between is best
  • an established raspberry patch can hold up to their scratching and they absolutely love the dappled shade and protection it offers.  it seems to be number one area for chicken nap pile

raspberry patch and farm cart on blocks - fav napping areas

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