Over Wintering our Chickens

We’ve had some below freezing temps.

As such, our concerns for the chickens are 3 fold:

  1. There are a couple going through a molt, so they lack feathers for body heat retention.
  2. Their water has been freezing.
  3. There’s less sunlight and they aren’t laying as prolifically as in the summer.

The first issue of molt can’t really be avoided- it’s just part of the chickens’ cycle. But, it can be aided through dietary supplements. Protein, protein, and more protein is what has seemed to help our girls the most. They are focused on growing new feathers during the molt so any protein that would have been put into egg production is transferred to feather renewal. The solution- increase their protein. I prefer 18% protein in their feed. I also add supplemental layer mix to that, as well as oyster shell for extra calcium, and lots of Black Oil Sunflower Seeds in addition to their usual mix of layer feed, oyster shell, grit, and food grade DE. No corn though! I can’t justify feeding my animals something that I myself am allergic to, when there’s really no reason to introduce them to it. That’s my personal preference, and entirely subjective of course. I’ve found meat that isn’t exclusively grass fed just doesn’t sit as well with me so I’m keeping my chickens corn-free. This feed supplementation

 has helped them keep their body temps up as well as getting them through the most more quickly and gracefully. They also eat more of their feed through the winter because there isn’t as much greenery available to them. I have been foraging for them- any weedy herbage I can find growing around the property I snatch up and toss in the run for them. They also get our veggie scraps and I’ve been pleased to see they haven’t dropped any weight, but rather look a little heftier. In any case, it’s nice to see them looking healthy.

The water issue we thought about tackling a couple different ways. For now, we don’t have electricity run to the coop and the extension cord for a heated waterer would kill us. Plus, I’m just not a fan of one more thing that could become a potential fire hazard. So, we just bought a second 3.5 gallon waterer. We keep one cleaned and filled in the house, and rotate it out each morning with the one that had been in the coop. This actually cuts down on work because we don’t have to break or thaw any ice immediately; we just bring it inside and wait for it to melt on it’s own. Then we make sure it’s clean and full and ready to be swapped out. As of right now, we’ve been checking on the chickens and their water about 2-3 times through the day and swapping the water each morning is sufficient. If we get any colder temps, we may have to do that more than once a day just to make sure they have constant access to fresh water. About once a week, I add ACV 1 Tbsp per gallon to their water as a dietary supplement. It may or may not do anything, but the fact that my flock hasn’t had any health issues (only hawk attacks) is motivation enough for me to continue doing it.

The egg drop off has really been felt this winter. I took for granted having access to fresh eggs all summer. It takes about 7 eggs to feed my family one breakfast, and currently we’re only getting one egg a day. That means in a week’s time, we’ve only got enough eggs for one meal. If I make something like oats and custard or pancakes, I can stretch the eggs a little further. But, I’ve been forced to go back to purchasing eggs. Let me tell you, the drop in quality was instantly noticable. The shells of store bought eggs are paper thin, the yolks are pale and sickly yellow, and there’s virtually no flavor to them at all.

Nothing at all like my strong-shelled, firm, orange-yolked, delicious farm fresh eggs. It really is all about what you feed your flock. The more foraging they’re able to do, the better I like their eggs. I’ve actually only heard of one person who thinks free range eggs taste terrible. And that I understand to mean that they aren’t accustomed to their food having natural flavor. (Even our veggies grown in the Back to Eden style have so much more flavor- nothing is bland on our homestead, and it’s gotten to the point that eating out is a disappointment.)

I digress…The increase in protein has helped a bit, but frankly, being a woman and knowing how my natural cycle is impacted by external factors, it is my preference not to interfere with the chickens’ natural rhythm. I let them take a laying break over the winter because it’s what they would do in the wild; no lighting, no artificial anything… Just letting them do their chicken thing. And if I have to endure junk eggs for a few months until they pick back up again, I’m okay with that because I know that I’ve enabled them to live as comfortably, naturally, and freely as possible and I think that makes for more healthy birds in the long run.

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