free range in winter?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by RockyToggRanch, Jul 28, 2008.

  1. RockyToggRanch

    RockyToggRanch Songster

    May 22, 2008
    Upstate NY
    Hi, I live in snow country Upstate NY. My new chickens are free ranging during the day and only go in at night. At what point should they be kept in all day? Cold or snow? I'm also thinking about a roost made from an aluminum pipe with a heat tape and rigid foam insulation over it? Any reason that could be bad?
  2. bangor777

    bangor777 Songster

    May 4, 2008
    I live in northern maine so I'll be interested in hearing the answer to this. I wonder how mine would even GET out if the snowpack gets too high....guess I'll be shoveling.

    I remember frozenfeathers writing about her chickens out in the snow (I think it was her?) looking forward to responses!
  3. Jennyhaschicks

    Jennyhaschicks Songster

    May 3, 2008
    Haha. Last night as I was sitting watching my flock I thought of the same exact thing.
  4. RockyToggRanch

    RockyToggRanch Songster

    May 22, 2008
    Upstate NY
    It's coming quickly. A recent February here brought 11 feet of lake effect snow for the month.
    This morning when I lifted my birds down from their roost, their feet felt cold and it made me wonder if they can withstand the snow. Perhaps I can fashion them some little snow boots:)
  5. Windy Ridge

    Windy Ridge Songster

    Oct 3, 2007
    Chickens will generally self-regulate as to what weather they will go out in and what is too much for them. Some of my girls go out in snow that is nearly to their vents, while others stand at their door and complain bitterly. I had one girl that would fly from coop to bench to porch railing to tree stump--all to avoid getting a single toe touched by a light dusting of powder. [​IMG] Others of her breed had no problem plowing through, so sometimes it's just a personal preference.

    In very bitter weather, I usually don't encourage them to come out to get treats, but may instead scatter their handful of corn or sunflower seeds inside the coop. If they choose to come out after that, it's their choice.

    If you have birds with large single combs, a light coating of petroleum jelly (especially if it is windy) can help to protect against frostbite. In general, birds weather cold well so long as they have a draft-free coop to shelter in. You want the coop to be well-ventilated, too--meaning there should be no build-up of moisture from respirations, because that can lead to more incidence of frostbite, too. "Ventilation" usually means air circulates above the height of where the birds congregate or roost. If air circulates at bird height, it's drafty (and not-good!).

    I wouldn't give chickens access to insulation; they tend to eat things like that. If you use 2 x 4 wooden boards and allow them to roost on the wide side, their feathers cover their feet at night and help keep them warm. The problem with using heat lamps and so forth can be that if you lose electricity suddenly, the birds will suddenly lose their heat, too, and will not have acclimatized slowly to the colder weather. Subzero temps can then shock them, and you can lose birds.

    We lose electricity a lot where I am; it may not be such a problem for you.
  6. FisherMOM

    FisherMOM Songster

    May 7, 2008
    Bergen, NY
    I am in Western NY and am going to let my chickens out. I looked at farms last year and saw chickens outside at different places. I had no where to let mine out last winter.. but am going to do it this year! I can hardly wait to see them see snow!
  7. chickenannie

    chickenannie Songster

    Nov 19, 2007
    My chickens are ok in the cold, but they do NOT like snow. It makes their itty bitty feet cold and so they refuse to walk in it. If it snows, they just stand around the concrete pad outside their coop door and complain complain complain. Once I made a path of hay for them across the top of the snow and then they ran back and forth across the path between their coop and the big barn and seemed grateful for my attempts to make them happy.

    I just looked at your breeds, and I think cold-survival has a lot to do with having a cold-hardy breed. The Buff Orpingtons should be fine -- I"m not sure that your others are cold-hardy breeds (like the Sumatra) and they may need heat and protection from frostbite.

    Chickens love to peck at and eat insulation (the foam board kind) if they can. Once, my hen pecked out a shallow bowl in a foam insulation board and started laying eggs in it!! I hate to think what eating insulation does to them, but mine all survived.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2008
  8. Chickenaddict

    Chickenaddict Songster

    May 19, 2008
    East Bethel MN
    Last year was the first year i had chickens outside during the winter. Usually the coop and run are in the backyard but i wasn't up to shoveling feet of snow to get to them not to mention running an outdoor extension cord for the heated water bowl so i drug the coop and run (coop 4ft by 6ft by 4ft tall, run 10 ft by 15 ft dog kennel) up to my patio. I covered the run in tarps all the way around and also covered the roof with a tarp i had pitched up like a tent with 2 by 4's. I loaded the run with about 3 bales of hay and added to it once a month( kind of a deep litter method) leaving some bales whole so they could perch on them during the day. I did keep a heat lamp in the coop just so the water in there wouldn't freeze. I didn't free range during the winter because they didnt want to go out in the snow. It was 40 below several days in a row but they seemed to be just fine. Also i had some not so winter hardy birds out there to see if they could take it. They did just fine, i picked up a few big hens to keep the little bantams warm as well as having a few bigger roosters. It was adorbale to see the little japanese and dutch bantams burrow underneith the big hens wings to keep warm. The run was draft free as well as the coop. The heat lamp made it just above freezing temps and i kept the little coop door open during the day so they could go in and out as they pleased. My husband added insulation 3/4 of the way but never finished it so we had "moisture issues". We will be correcting that problem before this winter sets in. I am in "minnesnowta" so the winters are a bit harsh sometimes. I learned alot last winter on what to do this winter to keep them comfy and happy. As far as the not winter hardy birds go even tho they survived the winter unharmed by the elements i will be bringing them in the garage this year so my new serama babies will have some more buddies around their size. [​IMG]
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2008
  9. redkan

    redkan Songster

    May 15, 2008
    Central Maine
    I'm in central Maine and mine decide whether they want in or out. Typically I find they go where the path is either shoveled or packed down. Since I have horses their favorite place is the horse paddock. Because mine are generally free range (being cooped at night only) my feed bill goes up a LOT in the winter and I do have a water heater but that's all I do differently. If the temps get very cold I find I have to take hot water down to thaw out the water as the water heater can't seem to quite keep up with sub-zero temps. FYI, I also have bantams so even with the smaller body mass they do fine.
    1 person likes this.
  10. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Quote:I'd let them make the choice themselves. The idea thing would be to have a plastic-wrapped (predator-proof) run to let them into on 'borderline' days (you could leave the door open to the great outdoors on nicer days). Remember also that predators are much more motivated during the winter, and also dusk and dawn are closer together, so there is also the safety consideration.

    I'm also thinking about a roost made from an aluminum pipe with a heat tape and rigid foam insulation over it? Any reason that could be bad?

    Oh, a large number of reasons it's bad [​IMG] First, heat tapes are a major cause of barn fires and it's not a swift idea to use one unless absolutely necessary (which this totally isn't - see previous posts). Second, they are generally designed only for use on water-filled pipes, and may not be *safe* to use on an empty pipe without risking overheating and fire. Third, most of them (not all) are designed ONLY for 'nekkid' use, not covered with anything, see above re: overheating and fire. And finally, the chickens will eat the insulation and die [​IMG] (Plus, as extra bonus reasons, the chickens will rip the insulation to shreds with their claws, making it fall impossible to clean poo off of and then it will fall apart, and there are very good arguments for not heating the coop if power failures might interrupt it)

    Just use a 2x4, wide side up, and they will be fine, honest.

    The biggest thing for helping your chickens gracefully thru the winter is to keep the coop well-ventilated and (therefore) DRY. Chickens deal with dry cold pretty well as long as the air is still and they can sit on their feeties. However, DAMP cold air, which is what happens with poor ventilation, is a recipe for frostbite.

    Also remember that chickens produce a considerable amount of body heat and unless this is an unusually huge coop for your # chickens, or uninsulated, they themselves will raise the temperatures somewhat.

    Good luck and have fun,


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