Often times, I think, our first instinct is to think that the cold temperatures of winter are always a bad thing, at least when it comes to our animals. Generally speaking I would agree with that assessment, but I've actually noticed something else that I think is interesting with respect to my hens.
Last year I was very good about making sure that my chicken coop was covered and kept from most of the harsh winds of winter. I covered the bottom sides of the coops walking area with plastic sheeting to keep out the drafts, and taped closed the top to keep the bigger gusts of wind and snow from blowing in as well. It worked well for the most part but I did end up with one thing last winter that I hadn't expected... mites.
Now, fast forward to this winter. I didn't cover any of the coop with plastic, allowing full exposure to the elements for everything outside of the roost house. What I did do was to spend a bit of time at making myself a good water warmer for the girl's water dispenser and set my heat lamp and warmer up on individual timers to optimize the heat for the coldest parts of the day. Now, I didn't do this because I was intentionally testing something, but as it turns out I did learn something interesting in the process.
As I think back, I believe the main problem that caused my mite problem last year stems mainly from the fact that while in the summer months the chickens get to move around the yard, regularly on new ground, in the winter they are essentially stuck in one place because of the snow and the permafrost. Because of this, and with the higher temperatures of a well insulated hen house, I think the mites had a perfect place to take hold.
Now then, that being said, the interesting observation that I made recently was that I have had no problems nor even signs of any mites this year and in fact, my girls seem to be even healthier than they were last year despite my best efforts. They are all laying very regularly, I've seen no evident of mites at all and their feathers are much thicker than they were last year. The only significant difference I can see is that they have not been as sheltered from the cold this year as they were last year. From that I'm making the assumption that the cold has been enough to stimulate them to adapt as they are genetically programmed to do, while also being too cold to allow the natural pests to develop. In closing, I guess I would say that while the cold weather can bring a lot of challenges, it also can be less detrimental than we may be led to believe.
All seasons in nature are there for a reason and winter is no exception. While it may not bring us the excitement of spring, the lush growth of summer or the beautiful colors of fall, it allows the garden... and the livestock a time of renewal. Otherwise difficult to deter pests are laid bare to buy us some time before their annual assault on our gardens, livestock carry their young to be birthed just in time for a full season of feed and even the gardeners are given a few months off to mend achy backs and re-plan the garden for the next season.
Have you found any surprising benefits to winter where you are? I I'd love to hear about them.
Read more: Growing Possibilities