It was so cold here on Tuesday, I think with the wind chill it was whopping 9 degrees. Though throughout the day the sun was out and the sky was blue, you couldn’t spend more than a few moments out before your fingers and ears started to sting.
In the morning I ran out once the sun was up to give the Chickens some warm water and to feed them a bit of chicken scratch, which is a mix of grain. The reason I feed them scratch in the morning and early evening on cold days is because when the chicky-babes eat and start to digest the scratch it causes their bodies to warm from the inside, helping them to fight the cold. (scratch should never exceed 10% of chicken food source)
I couldn’t stay out longer than to say a quick hello because it was just too painful for my hands and face. I soon headed off to the gym to go to spinning, and I was surprised that a few ladies who know I have chickens asked how they were handling the cold. I have never really broadcasted that I have the chicks, because most people start to look at you like you’re the “crazy lady”. Inevitably the first question that someone asks after they hear you have chickens is “why?” with a look of bafflement on their face that replaced “you’re a crazy lady” look. Occasionally you will get a smile and some excited questions, like “do you have a rooster?”, my answer “yes, I have four roosters” usually makes them give me the “crazy lady look” if I didn’t get it initially, guess what their next question is… “why?” I used to give them the long version, now I just say “cause I am crazy” which seems to make them happy and the conversation is over.
I have been planning for the cold where the chickens are concerned since fall, making sure that the chicks would have a place to shelter themselves from the wind or snow and making sure I had scratch on hand to feed a bit in the morning and a bit before they go to bed at night.
I have also adapted the “deep litter” method in the coop to help heat the coop during the cold winter nights. This basically means you leave your shavings or straw with the poo on the floor of the coop and toss fresh shavings or straw on top every few days. The thinking is that the lowest layer will start to compost and generate heat source. Kind of like the pile of compost or a pile of mulch you’ve seen with the steam coming off of it? That being said here is what you have to worry about, you really don’t want the steam to release from the layers only the heat. If the steam rises up during a cold spell it can cause your chickens who are roosting above it to get frost bite on their special bits. Like their combs, wattles and feet. So you have to keep an eye on the humidity in your coop not just the temperature.
My simple solution was to install a little $1.00 thermometer I found at Home Depot inside each coop that shows temperature and humidity. When I collected eggs on Tuesday I checked the thermostat and the temperature was just above 30 degrees and the humidity was in the regular range. Now I know your thinking with your big eyes, 30 degrees, shite that’s still cold. However, that 30 degrees inside the coop is with the small run door open, so at night with the run door closed and all the feathered bodies generating heat, the inside temperature should easily stay above 30 degrees.
Now here is another thing you have to worry about with the cold and your chicks. The chickens with the big combs and wattles will get frostbite during the day on their bits if you don’t protect them.. Just in case you don’t know what a comb or a wattle is, the comb is the red thing on their head and the wattle is the red things that hang from their chin. Certain breeds have no comb and most hens if they have wattles are very small. So, if you live somewhere where it is really cold try to get chickens that, you guessed it, have small combs or no wattles.
Most of my chickens are cold hearty, except for Foghorn, the big guy has a huge comb and wattles that hang down to his you know what… well, not really but you get the idea. I have been trying to be a good chicken mama by going out periodically at night with a tub of Vaseline to pop him off his roost and lube up his comb and wattle………………………..ummmm, that sounded really weird.
Why Vaseline you ask? The Vaseline forms a protective barrier between the skin and cold, trapping in the heat helping to prevent frostbite.
Anyway, Tuesday when I was out in the chicken yard jumping foot to foot feeding chicken scratch and whining about my hands and ears to any hen that would listen (crazy lady), I noticed that the windchill was really doing a number on Foghorns special bits. His comb was turning black and I noticed a small spot that had a yellow tinge, not good. Sure sign of frostbite. Now Foghorn is a nice guy, he has never chased me or threatened me in any way (none of my guys have) but he sure as heck isn’t going to let me walk on over and easily pick him up either. The only way I can get him is at night when he is locked up in his coop. I waited for nightfall and I asked my friend, my pal Jacob (my youngest son) to help me out by meeting me in the garage in 5 minutes. I ran out snatched ol’ Foghorn, who was sleeping peacefully with his lady friends right off his roost, skedaddled on into the garage and put Neosporin on his comb and then a thick layer of Vaseline over top. I then slathered a solid amount on his Wattles, all the while Jacob my friend, my pal snapped a few photos, so I could show you the damage done in 1 freaking day to poor ol’ Foghorns comb. YIKES- bad mama.
My best hope is that I can keep his comb covered in Vaseline enough over the next few cold days that it will heal. If not the parts of the comb with damage will die and fall off. I was told by the “nasty farmer” that I bought Foghorn from, that when a roosters comb turns black from frostbite that he will become infertile, but I have since read that he was full of malarkey among other things.
You can read the story about how we got Foghorn here: A story of love, loss and family memories
Now an update on the lovely ladies. In winter as the days get shorter a hens body start to produce fewer eggs. Mostly because their internal clocks tell them that the chances of survival of offspring would lessen with the cold and shorter days. Many farmers trick the hens by putting up lights in the hen-house at night, but I choose not too. For many reasons, but mostly because it is taxing on the hens health. When a hen lays an egg the calcium to form an egg-shell is taken from the hen herself, and nature allowed for the hens to rest through the winter so that they replenish their calcium storage.
I believe it is more important to keep healthy hens that in turn produce healthy eggs. Again, thats not to say they don’t still lay, just not as often. I am getting anywhere from 7-9 eggs a day, which is more than enough.
Besides our case of frostbite all the chickens are doing well. I have added a probiotic, garlic powder and Omega-3 mix to their feed and I have noticed a big improvement in their overall health and the color of the egg yolks. The two Blue Maran hens that I bought last winter that were ragged and missing back feathers are covered in beautiful blue-black feather and look great. Cheeks and Dorie my Araucana hens are laying beautiful green-blue eggs.
So all is well in the Chicken Yard over here, with a little special planning and care. If you have any suggestions or questions don’t hesitate to drop me a note. I would love to hear from you.