Friday, February 18, 2011

Surviving the Ohio Winter

First and foremost, apologies for taking so long to write the next entry! As anyone who knows me fairly well may already know, I tend to struggle with consistency. I'll try not to let it happen again!

For those of you who may have been wondering if I stopped blogging because our lovely girls didn't make it through the winter... I am thrilled to tell you that that has not been the case!

I decided to write about our housing method of choice for the delightful winters we tend to experience in Ohio, as it is one of the first things most people ask me about when they discover that I am a chicken-keeper. This is our first winter keeping chickens, and it hasn't been a mild winter by any means with plenty of chilling below-freezing nights and quiet snowy days, complete with an ice storm that caused power outages across the state! Our ladies have survived it all and continued to lay about ten eggs a week, too (collectively).

There are many schools of thought on how chickens ought to be kept throughout the winter in order to keep them safe and well-fed and to keep egg production relatively high. Many people board up their chicken houses and hang heat lamps to keep them warm and laying (some hens stop laying when temperatures get chilly).
Other people swear by open-air chicken coops with clean, dry "litter" (the stuff in the nest boxes and on the floor) to keep chickens disease-free and as healthy as possible throughout the winter, despite the fact that egg production sometimes slows down. This has become our method of choice, and seeing as how it is almost March and the girls have thrived and kept up egg production, I'd say it works!

We modified the "chicken tractor" slightly for the colder months by giving it a wooden floor and ceiling, but we left the two sides open to ensure good ventilation. To prevent drafts in the coop, we covered the sides and top with a heavy doubled-up tarp and surrounded the coop with big sheets of plywood. It is not the most beautiful chicken coop at this point (and we have a privacy fence so the neighbors don't complain), but it has served to keep Twink and Moo alive and well throughout the storms. I throw new pine chips (our "litter" of choice) over any wet spots or poo daily and replace the old chips every week or so.

(From left to right) Moo and Twink enjoying their cozy coop,
but perhaps not the flash on my camera! 
Aside from housing, it is also important to keep plenty of food and clean, non-frozen water available for the chickens. Like other animals, chickens need more food in the winter and will often not eat if they don't have fresh water available to them. We didn't buy a fancy water heater or anything this year, but Santa did bring the girls a metal dog food bowl that works perfectly for water. Now morning feedings are so simple that I just have to stumble outside, pour warm water over the frozen bowl to melt the ice, shake the feeder around a bit and scatter a handful of oats. This seems to quiet down the chickies and keeps them well-fed. Throughout the day, I check on the water bowl and unfreeze/replace the water as necessary. Simple and cheap, just how I like it. :)

We also let the chickens free range all day just as we did in the warmer months, always checking to make sure they make it back inside the coop before falling asleep! (We have had to move Moo a couple times when she's dozed off outside; she's not a very big fan but I'm sure she'd thank us if she could!)

Diligent egg-collecting is imperative during the winter months if you don't want to lose your eggs to the frost! Twink was in the habit of laying her eggs outside the coop at the start of winter, so a couple of her hidden eggs were frozen by the time we'd find them. Now, I'm happy to say that they both are back to laying in the coop... at least until the sun comes back out...

"What? This isn't where we're supposed to lay?"
DISCLAIMER: This method of chicken-keeping may not work for everyone. Our feathered females both come from strong egg-laying, and winter-hardy breeds.


  1. Thanks so much I am in Toledo Ohio and my only concern about getting chickens was the cold weather. Looks like I will be a chicken owner here soon.

  2. I'm so glad I could offer some insight! Have you joined the chicken-keeping club yet?

  3. Due to unfortunate events my neighbor abandoned an old hen as of a few weeks ago. She has been eating with my young hens. Each night she returns to her vacant home. With the nights getting colder I was concerned for her health and safety. I followed her home with a flash light and found her sleeping on the pumpkin of a rear axle of a pick-up. I rolled under the truck and grabbed her with a towel. I brought her home and put her in my coop. That was three nights ago, she comes in on her own now. The truck has since been towed away. Her name is B.C. Now she has a chance of surviving this Ohio winter.

    1. I'm just now seeing this comment - my apologies! I'm so glad to hear that you have taken her under your wing. :) How did the winter go?