Caring for Urban Chickens in the Winter

It’s been really cold in Helena lately.  This week we had our second arctic blast of the season–this morning when I checked the thermometer on the back deck, it read -14.9 degrees F.  Brrrr!  When it hits 0 degrees F, we turn on a heat lamp for them.  Most domesticated chicken breeds are pretty cold hardy, and providing too much heat in the winter can supposedly induce molting.  But when it gets below 0 degrees we like to provide a little additional heat to prevent things like frostbite on the comb.  Our Rhode Island Red (Miss Rhodie) is our old gal–she must be 5 or 6 years old now and she no longer lays eggs–and she has lost a few claws from each foot over the years.  During the winters?  I’m not sure.  But it’s plausible.

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When I walk home from work, I can see the red glow of the lamp in the coop.  You can see the silhouettes of a couple of The Girls settling in on the perch for the evening.

I always feel a little bad for The Girls in the winter.  They don’t like the snow (I don’t know that any chickens do) and their run doesn’t get much sunlight in the depths of winter because it is located on the north side of the house.  They spend most of their time in the coop.  Although they don’t like it, they do come out to eat and drink.  We use a large  heated dog bowl in the winter so we don’t have to break ice off their water.  With the recent cold snap we’ve had, even the heated bowl has frost around the rim, but it doesn’t freeze so The Girls have access to water all the time.  Their food and water are located underneath the coop where they can stay out of the snow, but they have to jump from their ramp onto the snow in order to get under the coop.  It’s funny to watch them crouch, hover, and make that leap of faith trying to get under the coop without touching the snow.  Sometimes they jump on top of one another in their comical attempt to avoid the snow.  A couple of The Girls don’t mind the snow too bad, and they will come out to eat scratch and other goodies I bring out for them.  This morning, for example, I gave them some cooked lasagna noodles for a treat.  They love pasta of every kind.  They are spoiled, but they are worth it.

They are especially worth it this winter because they continued to lay eggs all through the month of December…at least some of them.  We got some new breeds this past spring, and they must be more day-neutral (to compare them to onions) than the other breeds we’ve had in the past because we’ve never had chickens lay continuously through the winter–a couple of The Girls took about 3 weeks off during the shortest, darkest days last year.  But this year?  We are swimming in eggs!  It’s been great!  This morning I collected 3 eggs before heading off to work.  When I got home from work there were 2 more eggs in the nest box, but it was so cold that they both froze and split open.  Bummer…

I’m not sure exactly which gals are the laying troopers, but I’m pretty sure the Buff Orpington, the Brahma, and the Silver-laced Wyandotte were involved.  My Ancona and Araucana began laying last week, which is earlier than normal for them.  We specifically don’t put a light in the coop in the winter to promote egg laying–I like to give them a bit of a break if they want to take it.  But some breeds lay year-round, and so I like to reward them with special treats like lasagna noodles.  Why not?

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The Girls have pretty cozy digs to get them through even the coldest Montana winters.

2 thoughts on “Caring for Urban Chickens in the Winter

  1. My girls get very mad with me when there is snow in their run! The ringleader is very vocal about it until I put straw down over the snow.

    I’m not able to use a heat lamp due to the city ordinance for backyard chickens so we winterize the coop by insulating the coop, using deep-litter bedding methods and put up a tarp to keep the worst of the snow out of their run. I like the heated dog bowl use, I bring the waterer inside on a night to defrost because I don’t have outside power.

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    1. Ha! I know all about vocal chickens! I have put down some leaves that I scrounged from our neighborhood once people bag them and set them by the curb for pick up–the girls love to scratch in them for bugs and other goodies and it keeps them occupied. Unfortunately, we have had so much snow that the leaves just keep getting buried. That’s too bad about the heat lamp ordinance, but I can understand. Earlier this winter the local paper reported a chicken coop that burned due to a malfunctioning heat lamp. Sadly, all the chickens were lost in the fire.

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