Winter has only just begun and the challenges of keeping animals in colder months are becoming apparent to this newbie. I know with time I'll learn more about what works best for myself and my chickens and I, too, will become more acclimated to the cold, but for right now, I'm stumbling through with cold fingers, mumbling many curses and fending off worries. When I first got the chickens, a lot of people have asked me what I'm going to do to keep them warm in the winter. I'll admit, before learning more about chickens, I had the same fear---How will they keep warm!? But, I'm a human and require outside sources of heat and layers of materials to keep myself warm. Most livestock is built to stand the cold much better than we are. For starters, the chickens are eating more, throwing more fuel on their little internal fires, plus, their layers of different feathers insulate them very well. That doesn't mean I can rest easy. As we sink deeper into the colds of winter and the temperatures plummet, I will have to keep an eye on how they are faring and perhaps supply a little warmth for the coldest of nights.
Water, on the other hand, will freeze. I have two waterers, one in the run and one in the coop. I had come across those base heaters but got sick at the thought of spending $50 for one. Luckily, the Chicken Chick had a great DIY. And even more luckily, I scrounged up all the pieces needed in the barn and have a dear friend who was an electrician in his early days. I only had to put out for the thermocube outlet (which turns on when temperatures drop below 35F and off when they go over 45F) as well as a few craft brews as a 'Thank You.' I only set it up on nights I know its going to dip way down below freezing since inside the barn and coop it doesn't get as cold. Luckily, with two waterers, I can (and do) have the option of rotating them: bringing one inside to thaw overnight and then swapping it out for the frozen one in the morning. It's very important to make sure chickens (and all animals) always have access to water for the obvious reasons. Plus going without water for even a short period of time can affect their egg production for weeks.
Another issue in winter is snow. While they are pretty good at handling the cold, chickens are prone to becoming "snowblind." My Grandma and others warned me about it but, of course, I had to learn the hard way. We had a big, heavy (albeit beautiful) snow on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the next day, in between setting the table and helping guests off with their coats, I ran outside to let the chickens out of the run. They made a sharp turn into the honeysuckle and hid under the eaves of the barn, where the snow was sparse. I chuckled and figured they wouldn't stand for it and go back into the run. (Being a bunch of chickens and all.) So I went back inside and had my fair share of turkey, sweet potatoes, wine and pie and forgot all about the chickens. Until dark, when I went to close them up for the night. Only four of my ten birds were safely on their roosts. Luckily, I found four of them clustered together in one spot. Unfortunately, that spot was deep in a pine tree and digging them out was not how I planned on spending the evening. Considering he isn't a big fan of my chickens, I was very thankful that my brother grabbed a flashlight and helped me hunt for last two. He spotted one in the shed and finally I found Chuck hiding by the silo. So I crawled down in their, in my pretty dress and tights, and scooped him up.
Needless to say, lesson learned. As long as the ground is covered in snow, the birds are staying in the run.