Winter is Definitely Here

It normally doesn’t get that cold here where I live.  Sometimes we have a little snow, sometimes we don’t.  It normally dips a little below freezing for part of the winter, but not by much.

I love that about our winters.  I am not a winter person.  If it never got below fifty degrees, I would be very happy.

This year, though…wow.  Already we’ve had more than a week of really cold temperatures.  As in twelve degrees, which is highly unusual.  It’s made for some interesting times caring for the outside critters.  I hate having to deal with frozen water!

Fortunately, the animals themselves aren’t that bothered.  Chickens are exceptionally cold-hardy – temperatures of twelve degrees are nothing to them.  They sit around with their warm downy coats of feathers puffed up and complain because the ground is frozen and they can’t dig for worms, but they are perfectly fine.  I’ve gone into their coop late at night and their feet are toasty warm, and when I put my fingers into their feathers I can feel the heat radiating up from their bodies.

Really, the absolute worst thing you can do for chickens is give them artificial heat during the winter.  The temperature is not a problem (unless you live somewhere really cold, and have the wrong breeds).  The biggest issue is not enough ventilation – or too much of the wrong kind.

Chickens don’t mind cold.  They do mind cold wind, so you need to be sure their coop is protected from drafts.  Our coop has year-around vents surrounding the top of the coop.  Air can circulate, but it’s all above the heads of the chickens, so they aren’t in a draft.  If you don’t have enough ventilation, humidity builds up in your coop, and that’s horrible for chickens.  It dampens their feathers, so they can’t puff up and keep themselves warm.  If you ever have condensation on the inside of your coop, you don’t have nearly enough ventilation – and besides being cold, your chickens are at serious risk for developing respiratory illnesses.

Please, don’t use heat lamps.  Ever.  Besides being a horrible fire risk (I’ve already heard about a bunch of coops catching fire and burning up with the chickens trapped inside) it makes your Girls more cold, not less.   Chickens have a variety of techniques to keep themselves warm.  Besides puffing their feathers, they eat more to produce inner heat, and they can actually shrink the size of their combs to conserve heat.  They will do none of these things if they have a heat lamp, so every time they walk out from under it, they will suffer from the cold.  And if you happen to lose power, and your heat lamp goes off?  That’s when they can actually freeze to death!

Things like frostbite rarely (if ever) happen to chickens if you keep them out of drafts and damp.

My Girls are just happy it’s warmed up enough now that they can go hunt for bugs again!

The quail I was a little concerned about, since I am largely unfamiliar with how they do in cold weather, and the info from the internet was contradictory.  In the end, I covered one end of their run with tarps to make sure they had a draft-free area, and also made sure they had enough nest boxes (stuffed with shavings and hay) for everyone to go into if they wanted to be warmer.

They didn’t.  Even in the 12 degree weather, they spent the nights out in the most unprotected parts of their pens.  When I’d go out in the morning, their water would be frozen rock-solid, but they’d be happily walking and jumping around like always.  I couldn’t see the slightest difference in their behavior.  Such a relief.  Now I know I can treat them like chickens and not worry about them!

And the rabbits?  Again, we just made sure they had water to drink, and they were fine.  They also chose to sleep in their lower, more exposed, area, rather than in their lovely upstairs nest.

Crazy animals.  It just seems like they should be miserable, just because my fingers started aching with cold every time I was out there tending to them – but instead they just couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to sit outside with them and have a nice chat…like we do in the summer.

Here are a couple of excellent links if you want more info about winterizing your animals:

http://hencam.com/henblog/2009/12/winter-care-for-chickens/

http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2013/11/surviving-winter-with-chickens.html

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