Snow Birds – Sugar Mtn, Mt. Knox and Butterfield in background.
Chickens don’t particularly like winter. They survive it. Winter is something to get past until spring’s warm weather brings an explosion of black flies, mosquitoes, gnats, house flies, worms, tender shoots and other goodies. Until then, the chickens get by.
During the warm months I don’t feed the chickens. They feed themselves, foraging in our pastures and just about everywhere around the farm. They get along fine with the dogs, sheep, pigs and other animals. Occasionally a clutch of eggs will get missed during gathering, or left by us intentionally, and more chicks are hatched.
Ms. Very Buff Orpington
We find the Americana/Auracanas to be particularly hardy as well as having the fun trait of laying green to blue eggs. The Buff Orpington and Reds (RI & NH) both do very well too and lay brown eggs. We have tried a few other breeds over the years but come back to these. Breeds with smaller combs tend to do better in our cold climate. The greenhouse sun room helps prevent frost bite to combs and toes.
The Buff Orpingtons seem to be the best brooders and mothers closely followed by the colorful Auracanas and then the Reds. Yes, above is the semi-famous NoNAIS.org chicken in person. Interestingly, photos of our chickens have appeared on television, in documentaries, paintings, art shows and other places around the world as far away as Japan and Australia. The internet is amazing.
Hawk Attack Survivor
I like the look of the Barred Rock but they seem to be a real predator magnet when young so beware. I ended up putting one of our LGDs, Coy, in the brood coop over night with the chicks at one point. He immediately killed the offending rodents and solved the problem. The White Orpington above survived a hawk attack thank you to the attentiveness of one of our dogs Kita. Some people say the whites attract arial attackers but I don’t have a statistically significant sample set. Normally the owls, hawks and ravens are not so foolish as to land – we’ve only had two cases where I know they’ve attacked a chicken. In this case the hawk actually entered the chicken coop in the early evening. My wife Holly saw the big red tailed hawk go in closely followed by Kita. After a loud scuffle and much squawking from the hens, the predator and protector quickly exited. With Kita close on its tail the hawk almost never made another flight. I like seeing the big birds of prey, at a distance and up in the air. Kita lives for the moment they’ll descend within her reach…
We have about 100 chickens. That is a lot more than we need for eggs for just our family at the height of the laying season. The eggs are a nice bonus but that isn’t why we keep chickens, certainly not so many. Rather it is their all natural, organic non-chemical solution to pest control that I’m after. With a large number of chickens around we have hardly any flies or other insect pests. The chickens also eat mice, voles and the occasional snake just like the dogs do.
The chickens stop laying en-mass this year during the darkest month, December. I really should have had a light on in the hoop house. Normally they slow down but we still typically get a dozen eggs a day from the flock even during the winter. The hens have picked up again as the sun returns so fresh eggs are back on our plate. With winter and no bugs to grub they are dependent on left over veggies, some store bought chicken food, a bit of whey, some butter and cottage cheese from a recent big score. I also give them meat. Chickens, like us, are omnivores by nature and appreciate a some flesh in their diet. Add in some oyster shells and broken up egg shells and they lay the most delicious, nutritious eggs. Extra’s go to the dogs and piglets which is great for weaning time – eggs are high in protein, cook them for the greatest digestibility.
Geese & Ducks Watch Petra Pig Farrow in Garden Shed
Unlike the ducks and geese the chickens are not fond of walking on the snow. In fact, they’ll do just about anything to avoid walking out on the soft fresh snow. Understandable as they sink in deeply. Unlike the ducks and geese the chickens lack webbing on their feet. Cold feet doesn’t appear to be the issue as they’ll stand on ice or packed snow – they just need snowshoes. Our solution is to spread sticks, hay and the like on the snow and to provide them a stronger surface. The chickens’ sun room gives them a bit of space with little snow in it. A periodic addition of hay under the translucent plastic makes that a pleasant space, for chickens, to sun themselves on winter days. Come summer time that will become a compost pile and then eventually get used for garden space.
Snow Banked Hoop House
For the winter we moved their hoop house up above the upper whey tank. That is a windy spot, compared with the gardens down by the old farm house. Burying the chicken house in a snow bank solved that problem. Snow banks make for great insulation and lift the wind up over things. I use the same technique on our house, animal shelters, dog houses, whey tanks and anything else needing protection six months of the year from the cold north winds.
Petra Pig Farrowing in Garden Shed – First Piglet Out on Tit
Moving the hoop house twice a year helps to naturally clean it out as the chicken droppings are left behind. We typically flip it upside down so the interior is exposed to the sun and air. This may be why we’ve never had problems with mites and other chicken pests. A little fresh air and sunshine goes a long ways. Works for the pigs and us too although I’m not going to turn our cottage upside down to air it out!
Our Tiny Cottage – Rather like the hoop house.
During the warm seasons the chickens aren’t cooped up at all – they strut about our farm pretty much where ever they please. My only focus is trying to keep them out of some my gardens where where there are young plants that are too tempting to taste. Without our livestock guardian herding dogs (LGDs) predators would be a major problem – but the dogs eat those for lunch and keep the chickens from wandering too far, herding the overly ambitious explorers back out of the brush towards the central homestead. Dogs have very strong sense of order, of where things should be and want everybody in their place.
Big Pig Sow, Piglets, Sheep, Chickens in South Field
In the spring the insulating snow will melt away. The chickens will fly the coop to free-range all over the farm in search of that perfect bug. I’ll plant veggies where the hoop house was this winter. The cycle of the year continues. For now, the chickens and I only dream of warmer weather. We have faith the sun will return. Some days it just takes more faith than others.
I met a moose,
amoungst the mist.
He must’ve taken,
the other ditch.
Outdoors: 22°F/10°F Sunny 4″ snow, clearing skies with some flurries
Farm House: 43°F/37°F
Tiny Cottage: 62°F/58°F