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I am a 50+ yr old stay at home wife of a scientist/Military man.  I raise chickens for eggs, rescue dogs & cats & spoil them all.  I am a silver/metal smith & stained glass artist.  I, at one time was an secondary art teacher & Social Studies teacher.  I am sorta a eclectic earth mother who recycles everything I can get my hands on.  Enjoy working with power tools & even built my own 10ft by 6ft chicken coop.  am pretty much interested in learning everything I can thur books, magazines & friends. I enjoy veggie gardening & doing gardens just for the chickens. I also sew & love making pioneer style comfortable clothes for myself & adding vintage lace when I can find it. I am pretty easygoing, but need my coffee first before I am ready to face the world & day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Preparing for the winter my way

Can you say heat lamps?!
Up here in Massachusetts, USA it can get pretty cold if you live near the New Hampshire & New York borders. Plus we live on a slight hill that when it snows we get huge snow drifts in our yard. Last year since I had to bring all the chickens into the basement because of the Fishercat for the winter I didn't have to worry about whether they were warm enough. Since I built the new coop, even though it is inside the shop its up against the north facing walls so the wind will hit that area...as well as the run. I did line the inside of the coop walls with tarps which should help with any heavy winds but I also know that since its 8 ft high to the ceiling the heat will rise & the chickens need extra heat especially when the run door is open during the day. Today it is cold & rainy, so I have on a traditional light heat lamp in one area & a red light heat lamp in another area. I already have 4 girls who have decided its too wet & cold & are hanging out in the coop. I know that chickens can handle the cold as long as its not below freezing but when their little combs get all purple I worry. I try to clean out the old bedding hay at least weekly but in the winter I let it go longer & just dump more over it if its not wet & icky. The floor is also tarp-ed so when I do have to clean it up its easy for me to get to all of it.
During the winter I try to have the extra grains, dried fruit, oatmeal ect ready in big lined metal trash cans in the shop so that when I fix their warm morning meal its easy for me to get to. I bring out a 1/2 gallon milk jug with warm water in it & mix it up out there so I don't have to battle with feeding dishes through the snow...I have dropped stuff trying to get it to the run before so learned my lesson.
At night when I close them up in the coop from the run area I just grab the feed dishes & clean them for the next morning. I don't use traditional chicken feed containers for this. I found at a thrift shop the lidded antipasto plastic dishes. They have the separate areas for olives,ect...well anyway they work great for feeding the hens special foods since they can all get around it, so less fighting or climbing over the dishes. I have 3 of these I got for .99 cents each & I use the lids as well if I am doing raw vegs or fruits. Plus if I am doing fruit &/or vegs I can do them up the night before pop on the lid & put them in the frig until the morning.
The girls run is on a slight hill as well so when it rains they end up with a muddy mess since it runs down through the run....snow tends to pile up in certain areas as well. During the rainy times I go out & throw down bedding hay so they don't slip & slide every where or if I am cleaning out the coop I just throw the coop hay out there for them to tromp & have better footing. I do shovel out as much snow as I can during the winter, but I can never get it down to the ground so out goes more bedding hay. It has become my new best friend during icky weather!
One thing that I find important is to check all the hens/roosters at the beginning of the cold spells. I grab the medical kit & pick up each chicken, inspecting eyes, beak, comb, waddles, feet, vent ect so any injures or things such as toenails needing trimming or treated. I do this in the spring as well but when they decide not to spend as much time outside I think its a good thing to check them all before they winter over mostly indoors.
During the winter its easy to check on them since you pretty much have to pick them up to get them out the door into the run...well anyway mine have decided if its nasty outside they ain't goin!
I also check the run fencing for any areas that need repair before the snows come since I don't want any unwanted wildlife getting through an area I might have missed earlier on. I do the same with the bird netting I have over the run as well & fix, tie down or replace.
I also make sure the hiding boxes I have in the run are tarped & in good repair so they have a place to hang out if they will go outside & not be in the snow.
I do not have a electric water heater so I try to keep the water in the coop near a heated lamp for them but I do check it often during the day if we get a really cold spell. I tried to put out water in the run last year & they didn't use it they preferred the ones in the coop. I keep a metal tray with hay on it under the water so they can spill the water & its easy to clean up.
Another thing I have found my girls eat like pigs during the winter so I make sure to give them lots of chicken feed along with cracked corn all day long. I also have feed set out at night since they have the red lighted heat lamp on they do get up for a midnight snack.
I also make sure they have apple cider vinegar in their water since they are in more & can get more parasites. During the warmer months I do this but maybe once a week in the winter each time the water gets changed they get a cap full of water per gallon of water. I also try to remember to put chicken vits either in the water once a week if I forget to put it in their warm oatmeal mix.
The two biggest things I watch for in the winter is:
frost bite of combs & waddles
more fighting or picking at each other
My chickens get along really well but if in the coop all the time they do tend to get cranky with each other over nesting box or perch space.
Well I think I have covered everything that I do for the winter months, but you never know I may find something else that I forgot & will surely add at a later date.
Have a great Chicken day!

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