The sight of chickens pecking at the ground is truly a relaxing thing. I love having chickens. They keep the mosquito level down, my garden gets great compost, they give us more eggs than we could ever dream of, and the sight of them just makes me happy. All of those pros to having chickens all come from summer time. Do you know what a pro is to winter chickens? Well, I don't know one. They don't lay eggs, they eat twice as much feed since there is no grass or bugs to graze on, you have to constantly thaw their water out, and they go from pretty much taking care of themselves to another kid to tend to! So here are some tricks I have learned over the years to making wintertime chickens a little easier.
1.) Move their water by a heat lamp. I use two heat lamps in my coop- one for the chickens, and one for the hanging waterer. It makes life sooo much easier. But be careful not to get it too close or the heat lamp will melt your plastic waterer. We don't need any fire hazards in the coop.
2.) Give them a boredom buster- you can mix any kind of their feed with lard (just enough lard to hold it together) and press it into a mold (i use a cake pan). Then I just set them outside and let the temperature do the work. In a few hours the lard is solid as a rock and it pops right out of the cake pan. I make quite a few of these at a time and set two out in the chicken run. It gives them something to take the place of bug hunting and it will keep them happier and healthier.
3.) Quit wasting your money on laying pellets and just switch to scratch grains and corn. They are not going to lay any ways (well, unless you use heat lamps, then you may get a couple but the eggs end up half frozen and unusable anyways). Save your money and give them and exciting diet change. Plus the scratch grains will help them hold more body heat in the winter time.
4.) Save those pumpkins from Halloween! If you have extra pumpkins left over from Halloween that you are just going to let rot, store them somewhere that they won't freeze and toss one to the chickens every now and then (I mean, you have to cut or break it in half so they can get to the good stuff). The fresh food will really help their digestive system, especially if they are used to getting fresh veggies or grass throughout the year.
5.) Save your straw bales! You know, like ones from you or your neighbors fall decoration display that was in the yard to insulate the coop better. Most people don't want them anymore after Thanksgiving and are throwing them away, so I go grab everyone's unwanted straw and store it under a tarp beside my coop. The next part is super easy- I honestly just toss a bale into the chicken coop, cut the strings, and let them have at it! They have so much fun tearing the bale apart, hunting for any wheat seeds left, and once they are done demolishing the bale your coop is better insulated so it will be warmer for your girls!
If anyone else has any other awesome tips or tricks they have learned to make winter easier for chickens (and the owners) just type them in the comments. We are all in this together after all, why not share! Happy winter everyone!