Wintering Hens

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As winter creeps in, this first time hen keeper wants to be prepared. Several internet searches, many articles and blogs later, I have concluded that it may be fairly easy.

Oklahoma, typically, has mild winters. Summer time appears to be more treacherous for our feathered friends. While this Summer was fairly tame compared to previous ones, we did have a couple of hot spells and it was obviously uncomfortable for my girls. I made several trips to their yard delivering ice blocks on which to roost, a mister in the shade, and frozen treats in a pan of water. They had shade and dirt for dust baths. I was the hovering mother and Butter seemed to be affected the most.

And now here we are facing Old Man Winter. Will he be kind and merciful? We do not know, so we must prepare for the worst. I have stocked up on enough feed rations that should get us through the winter. My current challenge is finding a good, pest free storage solution.

If you are preparing your hens for winter, then consider the follow tips I have found.

Adequate Shelter
A coop free of drafts, while maintaining proper ventilation. Wind and drafts are more detrimental to hens than ambient temperature.
Keep it dry.
Straw provides wonderful insulation and warmth.

Water
Invest in an electric heated waterer. Keeping fresh, unfrozen water will likely be the greatest challenge during winter.
If not an option, ensure they have fresh water throughout the day.
Bring water in at night.
Have an extra to switch out when water freezes.

Frostbite
If conditions are damp and drafty, combs and feet may become frost bitten.
Combs are effected, usually to wind chill than ambient temperature.
Applying petroleum jelly or olive oil will help prevent frost bite.
Shovel snow to create a path in the run or yard, and apply straw or pine shavings along the path to help protect feet.

Food
Provide energy treats such as scratch and sunflower seeds to pack a little insulating fat on your birds.
Ensure proper feed is being used.

Heat
Most of what I have found thus far recommends not utilizing heating devices in the coop.
If the coop is sealed well and insulated, it should not be necessary.
If you choose to heat, consider using a 60-100 watt bulb rather than a heat lamp.
A heat lamp may actually produce too much heat.
Keeping the coop too warm may be detrimental to the flock as the temperature extremes can cause them to become ill.
I read a story where a flock was kept in tropical conditions and when they were let out in the cold, the whole flock perished.
Chickens adapt well to the colder temperatures so do not over heat.
If using a light bulb, consider safety as it could get knocked down, or if chickens peck at electrical cords.
Keep this in mind if using a heated waterer as well.

By using a little common sense, and taking a few precautions, it seems chickens will do pretty well in the cold. A few easy preparations should get us thru the winter painlessly. Some breeds do better in the cold than others. So far, it seems all of the breeds living with us are cold hardy. Even our little Gold Campine who I thought would have been less hardy with her petite, slim physique, should do well.

And if you are real ambitious, I suppose you could knit a few sweaters. 🙂

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