Feeding your flock during cold winters

britinpa

Chirping
Jun 22, 2020
137
158
73
Central Pennsylvania
@centrarchid has lots of experience, and it's a much more labor intensive method, including planning for nearly no egg production over winter.
Do you have your birds in different age groups, separated by breed, and sex? I can't see it working in a mixed age, breed, and sex flock like mine. And here there's a light on 4am to 8am daily to encourage winter laying, so these hens and pullets need more of their base diet, not more scratch.
It sounds like a good plan for @centrarchid , but not so much for lazier folks like me, or for people with less experience.
Mary
We're new to chickens this year, so little experience. Ours are 16 week old pullets. We don't have electric to our coop, so there will be no extra lighting over the winter. We may get electric out there next year. I want to keep it simple, but just with the very cold weather that we can get, just really wanted to know whether we needed to add anything extra to the diet to get them through winter.
 

britinpa

Chirping
Jun 22, 2020
137
158
73
Central Pennsylvania
I have a waterer with a warmer that keeps the water about 40 F.
I have two peckomatics hanging in the coop and one outside for food. The girls eat what they want and need.
im in the mid south in Tennessee so we don’t get that cold. If we do get a polar blast it usually only last 1-3 days and then it’s 55 again.
The low this morning was 44 and the girls were out the moment the doors opened.
We don't currently have electric to have a warmer, so I was intending to get extra waterers to change them out regularly
 

britinpa

Chirping
Jun 22, 2020
137
158
73
Central Pennsylvania
Use the small black rubber pans from the feed store; get two, and you turn the frozen one over and stomp on it to get the ice to come out. Then refill. If the ice doesn't all release, you'll have that extra pan already out there.
This will inspire you to run electricity out there too!
Mary
We really would like to, but haven't had a chance to get it done this year. We shut off the water to our outside hoses over winter, as they will freeze and burst. I will keep extra waterers handy in our garage to refill with water from our kitchen sink. A bit of an aggravation, but I've prepared myself for it
 

centrarchid

Crossing the Road
Sep 19, 2009
26,251
16,975
786
Holts Summit, Missouri
We really would like to, but haven't had a chance to get it done this year. We shut off the water to our outside hoses over winter, as they will freeze and burst. I will keep extra waterers handy in our garage to refill with water from our kitchen sink. A bit of an aggravation, but I've prepared myself for it
You are in my realm with water freezing. My birds can have access to liquid water for only an hour or so early each morning when it gets really cold. No deaths yet. There are ways you can compensate for the water issue.

First, do give them that water at least once per day when they are off roost t drink it. Do not it when it is froze over before birds come down to drink. I try to do it about dawn when there is a conflict with work. Then place water in a larger volume that takes longer to freeze. A container with less surface area is better, avoid shallow bowls. Also protect bottom and sides of water bowl from direct exposure to ground and air. You can place a larger rubber bowl inside an old vehicle tire to provide of the needed protection. It will be a bear to roll over to kick out ice, but it increases time required for water to freeze.

Then provide food that is more hydrated. Much of the fermented feed benefits I see likely due to water being more hydrated when birds prone to otherwise being water stressed. The food mixed into the water depresses freezing point for the water and makes the resultant mass easier to pick apart. The birds will spend more time feeding than otherwise, but in my setting at least that time conflicts only with loafing they otherwise do for most of the day. I also soak oats for a couple days to hydrate them and make some of the contents more available as nutrients. The process is carried out in a location that does not freeze like a garage, basement or root cellar. The oats are placed in a bucket or tub and covered by a couple inches of water. The oats soak up water and begin germination process. If you soak the oats for longer then fermentation begins which appears OK. The oats I also use to increase energy intake beyond what is provided by the complete feed. A mixture of grains works as well as soaked oats, although I prefer whole corn over cracked in the scratch grains mix for soaking. The nasty mass is applied at any time although you are likely to find the birds really like it a lot. Take care not to apply so much that it conflicts with intake of the complete feed.

My birds also appear fond of crushed ice and will peck at it much like they do hay and straw. They can consume lots of water that way without compromising their body temperature as it is not all consumed at once.

Growing up, we simply watered the chickens multiple times per day. This was before advent of the rubber tubs I have lots of today. The added water was hot enough to melt most of the ice with resulting water volume within temperature range suitable for drinking.

Having only a single group of chickens does make the use of heated waterers more effective. Once I figured out how to make certain the power to the units is sufficient (properly sized wiring to plug into) the heaters became more reliable.

You can get a handle on water status on birds without even seeing the birds themselves. Look at the feces. Water stressed / dehydrated birds will produce smaller drier feces compared to birds in good or more hydrated status. Good water status will result in larger fecal pellets that are softer to touch when thawed out. The birds void excess water largely through feces rather than as a part of the urine stream in mammals. When they are trying to conserve water, then they extract it from posterior intestine during final stages of fecal processing. I get a lot of information from fecal characteristics regardless of season. Think internal parasite issues and things that interfere with normal processing of what is consumed.

Keeping chickens in a backyard or barnyard setting can be a lot tougher during periods of harsh weather. You can learn fast to get past the chickens for dummies stage and keep the birds productive and in good health. If you can not keep them in enough water and warm enough, then the first thing you will see drop off is egg production, which can occur even when water not limiting if the birds get cold stressed enough.


Another thought is about keeping the environment chickens are in warmer to keep them from being cold stressed or the water fluid. Avoid trying to close up coop / henhouse to keep in heat as you will then be trapping moisture in with birds that can be a major health issue when it is cold. Keep their living space ventilated.
 
Last edited:

britinpa

Chirping
Jun 22, 2020
137
158
73
Central Pennsylvania
Depending on what waterers you are using, many will die when water freezes inside. That's why the rubber pans work so well.
Mary
Rubber pans it is then - next trip to Tractor Supply I will buy a few. Thanks for the tip!
You are in my realm with water freezing. My birds can have access to liquid water for only an hour or so early each morning when it gets really cold. No deaths yet. There are ways you can compensate for the water issue.

First, do give them that water at least once per day when they are off roost t drink it. Do not it when it is froze over before birds come down to drink. I try to do it about dawn when there is a conflict with work. Then place water in a larger volume that takes longer to freeze. A container with less surface area is better, avoid shallow bowls. Also protect bottom and sides of water bowl from direct exposure to ground and air. You can place a larger rubber bowl inside an old vehicle tire to provide of the needed protection. It will be a bear to roll over to kick out ice, but it increases time required for water to freeze.

Then provide food that is more hydrated. Much of the fermented feed benefits I see likely due to water being more hydrated when birds prone to otherwise being water stressed. The food mixed into the water depresses freezing point for the water and makes the resultant mass easier to pick apart. The birds will spend more time feeding than otherwise, but in my setting at least that time conflicts only with loafing they otherwise do for most of the day. I also soak oats for a couple days to hydrate them and make some of the contents more available as nutrients. The process is carried out in a location that does not freeze like a garage, basement or root cellar. The oats are placed in a bucket or tub and covered by a couple inches of water. The oats soak up water and begin germination process. If you soak the oats for longer then fermentation begins which appears OK. The oats I also use to increase energy intake beyond what is provided by the complete feed. A mixture of grains works as well as soaked oats, although I prefer whole corn over cracked in the scratch grains mix for soaking. The nasty mass is applied at any time although you are likely to find the birds really like it a lot. Take care not to apply so much that it conflicts with intake of the complete feed.

My birds also appear fond of crushed ice and will peck at it much like they do hay and straw. They can consume lots of water that way without compromising their body temperature as it is not all consumed at once.

Growing up, we simply watered the chickens multiple times per day. This was before advent of the rubber tubs I have lots of today. The added water was hot enough to melt most of the ice with resulting water volume within temperature range suitable for drinking.

Having only a single group of chickens does make the use of heated waterers more effective. Once I figured out how to make certain the power to the units is sufficient (properly sized wiring to plug into) the heaters became more reliable.

You can get a handle on water status on birds without even seeing the birds themselves. Look at the feces. Water stressed / dehydrated birds will produce smaller drier feces compared to birds in good or more hydrated status. Good water status will result in larger fecal pellets that are softer to touch when thawed out. The birds void excess water largely through feces rather than as a part of the urine stream in mammals. When they are trying to conserve water, then they extract it from posterior intestine during final stages of fecal processing. I get a lot of information from fecal characteristics regardless of season. Think internal parasite issues and things that interfere with normal processing of what is consumed.

Keeping chickens in a backyard or barnyard setting can be a lot tougher during periods of harsh weather. You can learn fast to get past the chickens for dummies stage and keep the birds productive and in good health. If you can not keep them in enough water and warm enough, then the first thing you will see drop off is egg production, which can occur even when water not limiting if the birds get cold stressed enough.


Another thought is about keeping the environment chickens are in warmer to keep them from being cold stressed or the water fluid. Avoid trying to close up coop / henhouse to keep in heat as you will then be trapping moisture in with birds that can be a major health issue when it is cold. Keep their living space ventilated.
Thanks for the advice. I am at home most of the time, so will be out there frequently to check/change their water - I am going to be purchasing some of the rubber pans. I am going to read up more on the fermenting, but not sure whether I will get round to it this year, but will most likely add water to their crumbles and offer it afternoon before they settle down for the eve/night. Our coop is quite small, with one roost bar - our 8 pullets huddle together. The coop was built with openings/slits on one side under the roof/eaves will this be enough ventilation when they are closed in for the night? It is not insulated in any way.
 

centrarchid

Crossing the Road
Sep 19, 2009
26,251
16,975
786
Holts Summit, Missouri
Rubber pans it is then - next trip to Tractor Supply I will buy a few. Thanks for the tip!

Thanks for the advice. I am at home most of the time, so will be out there frequently to check/change their water - I am going to be purchasing some of the rubber pans. I am going to read up more on the fermenting, but not sure whether I will get round to it this year, but will most likely add water to their crumbles and offer it afternoon before they settle down for the eve/night. Our coop is quite small, with one roost bar - our 8 pullets huddle together. The coop was built with openings/slits on one side under the roof/eaves will this be enough ventilation when they are closed in for the night? It is not insulated in any way.
The feed need not be actually fermented, just well wetted to consistency of mud. That level of ventilation should be good. Insulation is not the problem, rather is it the reduced air exchange often associated with insulation that is the problem.
 

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