Over the past two winters I have learned some things with raising chickens. The first thing is that the chickens do not like to leave their coop when there is fresh deep snow (subject of a future post). The other thing is that chickens need to have access to ample water and feed during the winter. I am imagining that some people would ask, "Why does it matter if they have plenty of water or food? It's cold." Well, we all know that water is important to us as humans. It is also important to chickens. The same goes for feed too.
The next parts of this blog post will share some experiences and ideas for proper winter feeding and amounts. I have also included two links from the Michigan State University Extension Service on winter with poultry.
Hen by feed
1) Feed is very important.
If you are expecting your hens to produce eggs during the cold winter months, then you need to ensure they have ample opportunity for food. We use two different feed types. We use a 16-percent egg layer crumble (pellets are OK, too) and a high energy mix of scratch grains. We lock our flock up at night so when they are let out in the morning they are hungry and happy to have several piles of scratch grains spread out. How do I know they are happy? Do they say, "Chris, we're happy"? Of course not. They just seem to have a healthy feather coat and their coloring is right.
Barred Rock rooster using height as an advantage
2) Water is very important
Why is water important? This comes down to ensuring that your flock is properly hydrated. In the hot months or the cold months, water is important. We use a heated metal waterer. The waterer sits on top of a metal warming platform. I have seen this perform very well during our winter here in Michigan. It has done well overnight during times of 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures without an issue. The cost of the waterer is approximately $45 and the heating base was approximately $35.
Last winter, we used a plastic heated waterer. It was not optimal for us in two ways. First, during the 2014 "polar vortex" winter temperatures, the plastic became brittle. I dropped it on a concrete floor in the garage and it broke. While this may be my fault, I would imagine I would not be the only person to have this happen. Secondly, another issue is it seemed to me that filling it was messy and more difficult.
The metal version is more sturdy and easier to deal with in the winter. Please see the photo below with the steel waterer that needs to be filled. Forty-plus hens and five roosters go through the four gallons of water every day and a half.
Hen By Empty Water. Time to Fill.
Heated water and plenty of feed (plus scratch grains) makes a happy and productive flock. We are still getting 12 to 18 eggs a day even with the reduced hours of sun light. We do not have timed lights in the coop.
Michigan State University Extension links:
Preparing your chickens for winter
Tips for managing backyard chickens in the winter
Chicken snow tunnels after February blizzard.