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Chickens just stay in coop most of the winter (Michigan)

 
Travis Schultz
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Hello,

Here in Michigan we are having a very mild winter this year. My free range flock wont go outside unless its a nice calm sunny day. They spend every bit of summer light outside but have barely come out in winter.

Should I remove food and water from coop and only give it to them outside?

I was under the impression that fully feathered chickens can handle much colder temps than we have been getting, or is this normal? Is the cold snow dangerous to their un-feathered feet?

This is my first winter with chickens.

Thank you.
 
Jessica Padgham
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Chickens, in my experience, don't really like walking around in the snow. Putting the food and water outside might help some. Also depending on the depth you could flatten or shovel some of the snow and scatter a treat on the ground. Any sheltered areas you can create will help too. I have a fence panel leaning against another fence so there is never any snow back there. My four hens like to hang out there right after a light snow. Days when it is actively snowing though I would keep the food and water inside both to protect it and just to be nice. The birds really are not going to go out on those days.
 
Marissa Creston
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Agreed. Chickens definitely don't like the snow, particularly when it gets deep. But they will get used to it. I have found that it helps to keep moving the feeders and waterers around and to have various objects about for them to shelter under or perch on. That gives them an incentive to get out and explore. I've never bothered to shovel for them, but then I have ducks and geese that keep the area around the coop trampled down flat.

Ducks have the ability to regulate the temperature of their legs separate from that of their core. This allows them to conserve energy in the extreme cold, since they only need to keep their feet warm enough to prevent frost bite. Chickens are not so adept. But they do manage by standing on one foot and warming the other. And cold alone is less of a concern than cold and wet. So as long as they have a place to keep dry, and they should be just fine.

A basic explanation of the physiology:
http://askanaturalist.com/why-don’t-ducks’-feet-freeze/


 
Travis Johnson
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I keep my chickens and ducks penned up for the winter and found I get much higher egg production because of it. Considering their very short productive life it is important to me to keep them warm and happy and pumping out eggs. Granted their coop is super well insulated so I don't use a supplemental heat sourse, just the chicken own body heat, but unless it dips below zero (F) it stays above freezing inside the coop. This helps with dealing with frozen water buckets and all that too.

I do plan on using geothermal heat next year to keep temps above freezing even in extreme cold. I'll use a little in electricity but it will be vastly less then using electric heaters to keep the water unfrozen, and again, egg production up during cold snaps.
 
Kate Muller
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We build a chicken bunker for the birds in the winter. It is great as a wind break, keeps them dry, cover from predators, and it gives the birds room to spread out. It is 2 cattle panels side by side formed into an arch with clear or translucent plastic over it. It gives them approximately 8' by 6' foot space to hang out in that is not the coop. It is tall enough to walk into and we have our water, feed, dust bath and mulch hay under it. The black rubber water bowl has a bird bath heater in it on the coldest days to keep the water from freezing. The birds love it and it gets them out of the coop. The only time we have food and water in the coop is when it is actively snowing. Once the snow stops I shovel a path to the bunker and they all head on over.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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We keep all of the food in water out side of the coop, actually underneath it (elevated coop). It forces them to come out. I'll spread a bit of hay around every morning as part of their feed regimen. This really gets them out unless it's actively snowing, then they'll just come out and go under the house to get their feed. They really like scratching through the hay though!
 
Angie O'Connor
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My chickens are babies when it comes to snow. They're excited for me to open the door, only so they can all crowd around and look out.... I've put some hay, straw, shavings, whatever, out the door and they'll venture onto that, but it just turns into a chicken island. No adventuresome chickens past that point.

I've recently added some older Isa's to my flock and they don't seem to mind skiffs of snow as much. Or standing in icy puddles for that matter. But the rest of the birds haven't picked up this inclination yet. Lucky for them lots of the snow has melted so they're getting around on grassy patches just fine right now.

Oh, and many of my birds are Cochins or Cochin crosses and despite having feathered feet, they still don't like the snow!
 
Travis Schultz
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Chickens never cease to fascinate me.... Really good to know that there is nothing wrong with my flock, besides being babies. And My ISA's are always the most courageous birds in the flock. They are the only 2 that venture outside in the snow.

Thank you all for your feedback, love the quick responses.
 
Matt McKechnie
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I live in Chelsea Quebec, zone 4, so I put their movable roost and nesting buckets I inside an unheated movable greenhouse with piles and pile of leaves as deep mulch.
No matter how cold it gets the chickens keep on keepin' on. The only slow down in eggs is photoperiod related. We get weeks at -20 Celsius so I keep their water on a seed starting mat.
Makes ridiculously good soil.
The down side Is that the entire thing needs to shovelled. Just had 50cm (20") of snow.
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Movable roost inside greenhouse
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Nesting boxes and chickens getting treats
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My buried greenhouse.
 
Todd Parr
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Kate Muller wrote:We build a chicken bunker for the birds in the winter. It is great as a wind break, keeps them dry, cover from predators, and it gives the birds room to spread out. It is 2 cattle panels side by side formed into an arch with clear or translucent plastic over it. It gives them approximately 8' by 6' foot space to hang out in that is not the coop. It is tall enough to walk into and we have our water, feed, dust bath and mulch hay under it. The black rubber water bowl has a bird bath heater in it on the coldest days to keep the water from freezing. The birds love it and it gets them out of the coop. The only time we have food and water in the coop is when it is actively snowing. Once the snow stops I shovel a path to the bunker and they all head on over.


That is the same way I make them. The cattle panels are great. Save yourself the shoveling by putting the shelter right up to the coop around the chicken door
 
Travis Schultz
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Matt and Kate, awesome job! I am doing this for next winter, for sure. And I could only imagine how great the space would be for gardening in the following year. You guys rock!
 
Rick Knoll
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Just a 5 gallon bucket in a hole works surprisingly well!

Here in southern Wisconsin, previous years, I've used a heated water fount, but this year tried something new. we keep our hens (~12) in half of an unheated high tunnel (veggies in the other half.) This year I just dug a hole, placed a 5 gallon bucket in that and most of the time the water stays liquid for a few days, till get's dirty anyhow. Seems like outside temperature of about 5 deg F is critical point when freezes too much. We've had a mild winter, so hasn't been a lot mornings where have to dump out bucket (has never frozen solid) and refill with water from the hydrant, and stick back in the hole.

Another trick I've used with our sheep for late fall/early spring is using insulated "frisbees" for top of heated livestock water tank, (supposed to minimize heat loss.) I've put two of those on top of buried bucket, and that works out surprisingly well to keep water from freezing too quick also.
 
Travis Schultz
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Rick Knoll wrote:Just a 5 gallon bucket in a hole works surprisingly well!

Here in southern Wisconsin, previous years, I've used a heated water fount, but this year tried something new. we keep our hens (~12) in half of an unheated high tunnel (veggies in the other half.) This year I just dug a hole, placed a 5 gallon bucket in that and most of the time the water stays liquid for a few days, till get's dirty anyhow. Seems like outside temperature of about 5 deg F is critical point when freezes too much. We've had a mild winter, so hasn't been a lot mornings where have to dump out bucket (has never frozen solid) and refill with water from the hydrant, and stick back in the hole.

Another trick I've used with our sheep for late fall/early spring is using insulated "frisbees" for top of heated livestock water tank, (supposed to minimize heat loss.) I've put two of those on top of buried bucket, and that works out surprisingly well to keep water from freezing too quick also.



Yeah I am sure burying the bucket with a heater may work for me. It was however -8f this morning. And the frost line is probably 3 feet deep (and its a mild winter). But the earth surrounded waterer would def save on energy.

Thanks for that.
 
Helene Dube
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Looks like I'm the coldest of the bunch here! I'm in the Northern Laurentians with -30 regularly
My chickens don't go out in the winter. They do like to gather by the door when it's open, just curious, but not tempted!

We transfer them into our unheated greenhouse for the winter where they have plenty of room, dust bath galore and deep litter under the perches (6-8 in.)
Being off-grid, we can't heat the water so we bring in a full bucket of warm water in the morning. When it gets really cold, I make sure to shovel a pile fresh snow in there to make sure they can drink... Yes, they drink snow! A neighbour keeps his chickens in an outdoor pen, covered with tarps on top and 3 sides, he doesn't give them ANY water, just snow!

And by the way, on the shortest day of the year, not quite 8 hours long, we got 9 eggs from the 9 ladies! And they kept that up all winter, 8 eggs most days. I think our secret is giving them a couple of cups of sprouted grains everyday.

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Travis Schultz
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Love the rammed earth tire wall, Helen! Awesome. I love earthship stuff, and that will make up the north wall of my future greenhouse when I buy new land and get out of the yuppie central I am living in at the moment.
 
Erica Wisner
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My in-laws' chickens had a big outdoor run with small trees and bushes, but once the snow got deep they were not interested.

One year I helped them get back outdoors a little early just by doing a half-hearted cleaning on the undercover run area, pitchforked some of the picked-over hay onto the snow to make a path up to the area with trees.
The next day they were all outside exploring the trees again, and the path was all covered with chicken footprints. Way more effective than throwing food out there, in my limited experience, though I'm sure the combination would work even better.

The basic setup was not too bad to let them have some wiggle-room even in deep snow. We just wondered if they were getting enough sun, as this was all on the north side of the barn.


The basic setup:
Coop with nest boxes and roosting poles, attached to barn (they would be let run loose in the garden at pre-planting time but otherwise not interested in permie chicken-tractor or herd moving strategies).

We get to -10 F most years, -30 F not uncommon, so they used one or two electric-heated water dishes, and a light bulb inside the coop to keep the temperature up a little bit.
(I have heard that running a light all winter will make them lay more during winter, but stop laying/wear out their laying capacity sooner in life. However, we were still getting an egg or two a day with the last 4 hens in there, at 5 to 8 years old. I hear the commercial ones only lay for a couple years, so it seemed like at least one of ours didn't mind the light too much.)

They would definitely hunker down more in winter, a few feet of snow is normal, and it tends to stick around for 4 to 6 months.
My father-in law built a little sheltered run area outside the coop.
There was a dirt bath area with a variety of logs, frames, and boxes; and some plywood floor area with hay on it, where they could scratch around the feed trays for grain, kitchen scraps, and oyster-shells.
They'd feed some alfalfa hay that was on hand for the horses, let the girls pick out the leaves and good stuff, then leave it in there as bedding. That's what I forked out onto the snow to make them a path - beats shoveling, in my book.

We ended up retiring the setup as my mother-in-law can't stomach cooking or eating birds that she has fed and raised, and my father-in-law was tired of running a rest home for elderly hens. He nixed the idea of getting 50 more chicks "to keep the last one company." But other than that, it worked pretty well - and they sure made tasty eggs.


-Erica
 
Travis Schultz
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Hey, Erica thank you for the good info. Head is racing with all the good ideas in this thread. Looking forward to setting up something real nice for next winter.

Sadly have to say though, my broody hen was found this morning being torn apart by a hawk... Really a shot through the heart for me. None of the others have that broodiness to them and I really do not want to hatch and raise chicks... I just want the momma to do it for me.
 
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