We are going to get some laying hens in spring and are hoping to house them in a chicken tractor. But we're wondering if that's enough protection in the winter cold (in Southern Oregon...lows sometimes in the teens, usually 25-35). Do we also need a henhouse to keep them healthy in the winter?
Hi Liz, I'm in Southern Oregon, too - at 2500' elevation. My flock lives in an open ended hoophouse, year round, no problem. From my experience, our weather gives us more bother with wind than with cold.
The important thing is to protect them from wind and wet. Then they can stand well below freezing with no problem. If you have a breed with big red juicy combs they could be subject to frostbite but it doesn't seem to bother them.
Thanks to all for the info. I'm glad to know chickens can probably tolerate our lowest temps but we'll need to work on the wind...it gets pretty brisk here. But now I heard from a permaculture pro that chickens don't like to be confined in tractors...we would love to let them free range, but there's a family of halks nearby so now we'll be looking for something larger than a tractor to keep them safe from overhead predators!
We are trying to marry the chicken tractor concept, free-range advantage, and protect the chickens from hawks. We are presently building the first Chicken Sanctuary. Hope this might help. You can see our ideas at:4-H Chicken Sanctuary
Not sure if it's feasible for you but what we did with our tractor (before we had a more proper winter house) was place hay bales around the sides and on top of the tractor(straw bales would work better). We left some gaps on the sides to allow airflow, and would remove some of the bales on the south side in the morning to allow good sunlight exposure.
Here are a few more thoughts that might be helpful:
I'm upgrading to a 20'x20' hoopcoop out of PVC and field fencing - similar to the dome structure linked to above (which is really neat, by the way), but a larger, stationary hoophouse shape to accommodate mating and brooding spaces, as well as leaving town once in a while. It will have the advantage of being low against the wind in winter (6' at center line), and easy to open up in the summer for maximum air and sun. Because we get all our Southern Oregon rainfall during the chilly months, ventilation is supremely important. A tight, dark, moist coop creates a sickening environment. Conversely, proper humidity promotes a fertile deep litter system, teaming with bugs and sprouts to eat during the lean winter months. I've seen open-air and tarp covered winter coops at 4000' near Grizzly Peak, it's fine here. Our hoopcoop is also cheap enough that I can build one on the south side of our ridge for winter, and one on the north side for summer. I hope that having two coops will save us from trashing our soil in one place. I haven't explored tractor solutions because I don't like rendering chickens flightless, the quality of their breathing is intimately connected to their wing movement - guess that's not such a big deal with meat birds since they don't live long anyway.
Our hawk population is light due to a healthy crow presence. Still, I've found that ranging the birds mostly in the woods, and propping up strips of that cheap, lightweight bird netting helps deter airborne attacks. Also, if you're aware of particular snags that hawks survey a pasture from, you can orient your electric netting to run narrow to the snag, preventing the hawk from having a good trajectory for swooping. Our turkeys are excellent hawk alarms, as are our 5 roosters - I can't imagine ranging hens without awesome roosters. Having electric fencing and a roving dog has deterred ground predation (fox, bobcat, cougar, bear, and marauding dogs). Pastured poultry in this region also tend to survive longer when their set-up is closer to the home rather than out in the back 40.
We have a winter coop but it is very basic. You do not need to be fancy. Basically they need protection from the wind - even just an open shed does the trick. We're in the mountains of northern Vermont which is a much harsher climate. They do not need heat. Adequate ventilation is very important, both for the animals and the farmer. Some of our winter chicken houses are earth bermed, others are snow bermed hoops and others are simply open sheds. All work great.
The breed of chicken matters when it comes to cold. I raise Jersey Black Giants in double digit negative temps. I had a few deaths due to them catching their toes in the 1/4 inch screen that led up to the door, but they were pretty much cold proof. If they got light for more than 12 hours a day, they would even lay year around. My sister got several varieties of chicken and their were select breeds that completely died out in the cold. As far as chicken tractors go, I built this monstrosity:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF7VhImO-JY It's primary problem is that the house was so heavy it would break stuff every time I moved it. Weight matters. If you can weld, I recommend building something with conduit.
I agree with what has been said. Wind and rain are our nemesis here. It can get pretty insane here on the Oregon coastline! It is extremely important that the roost area be free of any drafts, yet have excellent ventilation; as free range birds will be returning to their roosts soaking wet. Remember that warmer air holds more moisture and warm air rises... You'll want your roost bars up off the ground with some ventilation down low. You'll want a large amount of head space above the roosts with lots of ventilation, to facilitate the creation and removal of the warm moist air... One way is to have the bottom ventilation face into your winds (north/south for me here) and the top ventilation face perpendicular to the winds (east/west for me here). Make the top ventilation surface area about double that of the lower.
LMAO... Just realized how old this thread is... Hmmm; how did it get to the top of the list???
I knew I would regret that burrito. But this tiny ad has never caused regrets: