Chickens are an important part of the Crow Homestead and keeping them happy in the winter takes a bit of work and planning. The biggest factor for us is that we are located in a seriously cold place…typically in the winter we have several nights dip below -45 F! Along with the brutal cold, we do not have any electricity….no solar, no nothin’. This means we cannot use heat lights or heated water containers for our gals.
Tip #1 Choose the right animals and the right breed
The most important thing to successfully keeping any animal is to choose ones that are best suited to where you live. For us, we have to look for cold hardy breeds and animals that thrive in northern places. Right now we have golden laced and black Wyandotte plus Americana chickens in our flock, and all three breeds are known for doing well in cold climates. I am looking to add Icelandic chickens in the future because they rate very high on cold hardiness, foraging and predator awareness….our ideal trifecta!! Right now we do not have any roosters as they become so mean and end up chasing me around the homestead, but we have had roosters in the past and they would sometimes get frostbite on their comb. If I were to get roosters in the future, I would look for breeds where the roosters have small combs. This is the first winter we have had ducks so I cannot yet give any feedback on how they do, but so far they seem to not mind the snow and spend the whole day outside of their coop.
Tip #2 Build the right coop
The coop needs to be designed for your climate. We built a nice little coop that is insulated with windows that can be opened in warm weather and shut to keep out the cold. We also use the deep litter method, which is basically getting compost going with layers of chicken waste and bedding. The beauty of the “deep bed” method is it generates heat inside the coop. We have a small flock (never over 12 birds) and have never had issues with illness or parasites. It does make for a very messy clean up in the spring, but it has worked for us for the last 7 years with no issues.
Tip #3 Give them water all damn day
The hardest thing to deal with in the cold is fresh water. On some very cold days, the water freezes over in less than 15 minutes, and then we live in a perpetual cycle of thawing out water containers and putting out fresh water. We keep three water containers in rotation and a fourth as a back up. This makes it very hard for us to leave the homestead for long, but as we also have to keep the fire going to heat the house, keeping close in the winter is mandatory anyway.
Be mindful when adding animals to your homestead. Ask yourself if they are well suited to the weather, and if the food and environment of your property is right for them. Then take the time to select the right breed and build them a nice little home. We love having chickens and ducks and with some planning they can do well in very cold conditions!