Snow hens

From time to time, people ask me how well the chickens do in the colder weather. I worried a lot about this as well the first couple of winters. Until someone pointed out to me that chickens have survived a few thousand years of domestication, winters and all, without too much effort. 

They do tend to slow down in the winter, but that's as much about having fewer hours of daylight to get out and scratch for interesting tidbits as anything. As you can see, while ther sun is out, our hens take maximum advantage to soak up the rays. 

These are all 3rd generation birds of our flock, less than 2 years old. (The second one from the left is a Speckled Sussex and the others are all various shades of Araucana, which lay pale green, olive or blue eggs). The older birds tend to be a little slower to make their way out into the snow, and stay back in the more sheltered areas. 

The biggest issue with snow is that it covers up all that lovely dirt for scratching and the hens can get a little bored (which can lead to some issues - more on that below). This year, I planned ahead a bit more and rather than having to go out and clear the snow away by shovel, I created a wind & snow barrier around part of their coop to give them an easy place to get out and stretch their legs. Just a simple structure of stacked hay bales does the trick.

Added bonus, the little vermin that naturally seek out the hay bales to nest cozily through the winter provide an interesting diversion for the hens. 

About the only real challenge in the winter months is keeping their drinking water from freezing. Fortunately, I ran electricity out to the coop a few years ago, which allows me to put a low voltage heater under their water supply, designed to keep things liquid and accessible (available at pretty much any feed store). 

This also allowed me to put in an overhead light on a timer. Hens want between 12-16 hours of daylight for consistent laying (depending on the breed). Clearly not going to happen without artificial intervention during the colder months of the year.  There's still some slowdown, but generally, they keep going right through the winter months.  Just don't leave the eggs out too long, or they will freeze and crack.

I'll admit to one other concession - I put a red heat lamp in the coop during the darkest months of the year as well. Partly for the heat (although they really don't need it). But also the boredom of cooped up hens (Ha! "cooped up") can lead to pecking. And if they draw blood, they'll keep at it until it causes a real problem. The red lamp disguises any red they might see, and minimizes that kind of issue. 

This really shouldn't be too much of a problem, as long as your hens have ready access to the outside and something interesting to do. Like kids, they just get up to trouble if they're left without a better and more constructive distraction. 

This speckled Sussex is one of the friendliest (i.e. dumbest) birds in my flock. She's also one of the prettiest.

There may be a correlation between these facts. 

So there you go. Hens are really pretty easy to keep all year round, in even the colder parts of the country, with very little special preparation.. And seeing a pretty girl like this out pecking and hunting for interesting tidbits all fluffed up to keep herself warm will keep you entertained about as long as you can stand still in the snow yourself.