Do you let your chickens free range when there is snow on the ground?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Skyfire, Oct 4, 2016.

  1. Skyfire

    Skyfire Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Feb 9, 2015
    This will be our first winter as chicken owners. We have three adult buff orp hens. We converted an old outhouse into a coop for them when they were old enough to live outside. Here it is:

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    It has narrow rectangular vents covered with hardware cloth on the top and bottom side walls. You can see the vents above and below the nesting box.

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    Here you can see the extra vent my hubby added to the bottom of each door. They are also covered in hardware cloth. The vents at the top are covered in some sort of thin hard plastic.

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    This is the right half of the coop. One of my girls was busy laying so I didn't take any photos as to not disturb her, but the left side matches the right side. The only difference is the left side has the nesting box. We removed the partition wall and toilet seats. We put a thick board on top of the toilet boxes, then put a perch on top of that.

    These next photos are various places the chickens free range during the day.

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    We live on the 49th parallel, where Father Winter comes early and brings plenty of snow with him. My questions are: Should we build a covered run for them? Is it safe for chickens to run around on the snow or will it hurt their feet? I want to allow them to free range over winter, but my hubby thinks they should be kept in a run. I don't have a problem getting out there with a snow shovel to ensure they have a patch of ground they can peck at, but if it's better for them to stay in a run over winter, do you think the coop they have now is adequate to attach a run? Responses greatly appreciated!
     
  2. Adalida

    Adalida Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I also live on the 49th parallel- Eureka, Montana. We don't get as much snow as other places but we still got our fair share last year. My chickens (I also have Buff orpingtons) were quite happy to free range all last winter. I shoveled paths for them to get from their coop to the driveway, which was plowed. Once the snow got a crust on top that they could walk on, they didn't use the paths anymore. Some were more hesitant to walk on snow at first but before long they were gallivanting happily all over. I'd throw scratch on the driveway, which was plowed but still had a layer of snow over the gravel, and they would peck through it like there wasn't even snow. I have a large front porch which always stayed clear of snow underneath, and they'd go under there to take a dirt bath but otherwise they didn't hang out under there, even though it was free of snow. They always wanted to get out and explore, more so than I do in cold weather!
     
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I don’t get as cold as you do but it was 4 degrees above zero when I took this picture. I leave the pop door open and let them decide what they want to do. If a cold wind is blowing they seek shelter from the wind but not from the cold.

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    Chickens don’t like change. When they wake up to a white world, that’s a big change. It may take mine two or three days before any venture out in the snow. The day I took this picture they were already out when it snowed. The change was gradual enough they never bothered to go in.

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    Snow can blow in from the side so you might need more than just a covered run to keep snow out. Having a place protected from the wind and a place where they can go out without getting in the snow when they wake up to a white world can be a big help. Just like the wild birds that overwinter where you are the snow will not hurt the chickens but it may take them a few days to get used to the change.
     
  4. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Be prepared to confine them when you get a combination of extreme cold and deep snow or a predator starts working flock. Covered run would be a good way to allow birds to air out when they really want it. At higher latitudes when it is cold forage is buried, the birds will more likely than not run an energy / nutrient deficit unless you put feed out for them. If you do that I suggest you have hay / straw bales or something like a pile of branches they can use as cover and go directly to when looking for eats. I would arrange them so the chickens have little islands every 20 feet or so unless you clear a path. My birds will fly considerable distances to avoid walking in snow but most breeds will have a hard time mustering a flight more than 20 feet. If you are in the boonies and predator pressure is high, your birds will be more obvious and limited in response to predators when on snow so there will be a balancing act between benefits of simply being outside and being at increased risk.
     

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