Our chickens are not fond of their first big snow. They’re hiding in the sheltered part of their tractor, afraid to venture out in to the couple of inches of snow, even when I dumped hot food out there. (They did come out eventually, but brought each bite of food back under shelter to eat. Then they’d come out for more, run back inside, repeat.) Their water was frozen for the first time this morning, so we dumped a gallon of hot water on it to melt it.
This is their first winter, and I know they’ll get used to it eventually. Buff Orpingtons are supposed to be a good hardy winter breed. Their sheltered area is covered by thick, sturdy tarps on three sides and on top, and the fourth (open) side has a pallet and some plywood to temporarily block the snow that’s blowing from the southwest into their shelter. This weekend, we’ll put an extra 2 x 4 in the middle of the hoop coop for snow load support, and enclose the fourth side with more plywood, leaving ventilation at the top, and a human-size opening for us to get eggs and refill water/food.
What’s most important for chickens is ventilation. More important than insulation. They are outdoor animals, designed to handle the winter. They need to be kept out of drafts, but they don’t need heaters or 12″ of insulation. If you keep their coop tight, they can get sick from the humidity and lack of air exchange.
We might look for some Tekfoil insulation to throw over the shelter part of their chicken tractor, but we also might not. My farmer friend Anne keeps her chickens in open moveable pens, sheltered on three sides by straw bales, all winter, and they do just fine. We’re going to focus on keeping the drafts out.
We’re also going to put down 12 – 18″ of bedding, which the chickens will peck through all winter. Their droppings will naturally decompose, warming them up. This is called the Deep Litter Method, and it sounds easy enough to me. We will need to put up little walls around the base of the coop to keep the litter in, as the hardware cloth/cattle panel walls aren’t going to hold the bedding in. I’m thinking we’ll just have to buy a bunch of bags of wood shavings from Tractor Supply Company, because I haven’t been able to source free/cheap bedding elsewhere. Yet.
Those chickens are so funny. I can see them as I type. They’re all outside in the coop right now, eating the scraps I brought them. I think they’re realizing it’s not so bad.