Regarding cold weather flock maintenance, Jim the farmer says:

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by welsummer4, Nov 17, 2010.

  1. welsummer4

    welsummer4 Out Of The Brooder

    Apr 16, 2010
    My grandparents in Southern WI live across the road from an old farmer named Jim. He's raised chickens, geese, turkeys, goats, cows, etc., for over 50 years. Jim's as down to earth as they come, but he does love his animals, especially chickens. His current flock consists mostly of strays and rescue chickens; birds he keeps as pets now that he's retired and no longer raises livestock for income.

    I was visiting grandma and grandpa this weekend and made my way over to ask Jim how he cares for his chickens during the cold months. We talked all morning over a pot of coffee, and Jim was gracious to answer my many questions. I thought I'd pass his tips on to everyone here, as I know that cold-weather flock maintenance is a popular topic on BYC. What he had to say both confirms and contradicts posts I've read, but I think we at least have to at acknowledge the wisdom he's gained through experience.

    So here are farmer Jim's cold-weather chicken care tips:

    1. Don't heat you coop! I know this is a hotly debated topic on BYC, but Jim matter-of-factly states that this will keep birds from acclimating to the cold. He doesn't understand why people insist on heating an animal that's naturally insulated. "Just like any other bird in the cold," he says, "a chicken stays warm by fluffing up it's feathers and covering it's head with it's wing; if you keep it artificially warm it wont feather out and can't do this."

    2. A broomstick isn't a roost. Jim's chickens roost on old barn slats, and he wouldn't use anything narrower than the broad side of a 2x4. He says chickens need a flat surface to roost on or they can't cover their legs and feet to protect them from the cold.

    3. Send them to bed with a crop full of scratch. Jim feeds his flock corn at sundown to fuel their metabolism over night. He says this is better than any heat lamp.

    4. Make sure they have grit.
    Jim reminded me that chickens need grit provided for them when snow is covering the ground, especially if supplementing their store-bought feed with grain and table scraps.

    5. Predator proof the coop. "Critters are scarce in the winter, so everyone's eyeing up your fat little chickens."

    6. Eyes on the sky! Jim lets his girls free range on a limited basis during the winter, but keeps a keen eye out for hawks since there's no foliage cover.

    7. Give them something to do. Because they have to spend more time in the coop when it's cold, Jim likes to keep his chickens busy. Otherwise, he says, they go crazy with boredom and peck at each other. He covers the run floor with leaves in the fall so they have something to scratch around in throughout the winter (his run is covered so it stays relatively free of snow), and he even hangs cabbages from the rafters for them to peck at.

    8. Limit hen-house humidity. Jim's hen-house is practically open air, there's so much ventilation. Along with gable vents that never close, Jim keeps the windows open until it gets in to the single digits. He also believes that good air exchange is the best way to keep disease and infection from spreading within the flock. However, he qualified this by pointing out that chickens need a draft free place to roost at night, or the wind will blow away the warm air they have trapped beneath their feathers.

    9. Give them pepper to keep their blood flowing. Believe it or not, Jim actually feeds his chickens peppercorns in the winter. He says it's good for their circulation.

    10. Insulate?
    His hen-house isn't insulated, and when I asked him why, he said it had never occurred to him to do so.

    We talked about some other stuff, but these are the points that stick out to me. I've been visiting Jim and his animals since I was a kid, but this is the first time we've ever really had a conversation. Hope you found some of his insights useful as I did!
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2010
  2. welasharon

    welasharon Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 28, 2010
    North Florida
    Sounds sensible. I have to fight the urge to give mine heat and I live in FL. There are feral chickens that live without a coop year round here. I keep reminding myself of that.
  3. SunnyChic

    SunnyChic Keep The Sunny Side Up

    Mar 7, 2009
    Thanks for sharing these great tips![​IMG]
  4. ParadiseFoundFarm

    ParadiseFoundFarm Goddess of Good Things

    Jul 6, 2010
    Joliet, IL
    Bravo to you for going over and getting taught by our leders and double Bravo for sharing with us!
  5. CarolAnn

    CarolAnn Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 23, 2010
    I'm going outside as soon as I post this and turn off the thermostat on the heat lamp we installed. My roosts are the same height as the windows and I've been concerned about that. The windows are tight (no drafts) but I thought about raising the roosts to keep my birds away from the cold window panes.

    Thank you for posting this info. Who uses calf manna during winter. I just read something about that and looked at it in the farm store today. I thought it was something people add to their feed, but it appears to BE feed. I'm giving BOSS for added protein. Another question, can you use sand for grit during the winter months? I am thinking of making a big wooden box for the run for their dust bath. What do you all do to provide a dust bath for your birds in the snowy winter months when the ground dirt isn't available? Mine can/do bath in the litter inside the coop but I thought I could give them something for them outside. Just hinge a cover to the box so it can be covered when they're shut up. Just a few rambling questions I need answers to. Tanks for any/all feedback.
  6. Katy

    Katy Flock Mistress

    Quote:I'm pretty sure it's safe for you to unplug your heat lamp.....I live in Kansas too and in all my years of having chickens have never heated any of my coops.

    I throw out calf manna to them mixed in with their scratch sometimes.

    All I've ever used for grit is sand.
  7. Tdub4chiks

    Tdub4chiks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 8, 2010
    Constantia, NY
    I am new to chickens this summer and have been researching all I can to make sure I take good care of my girls.

    You have just confirmed everything I have read to be true. No heat, draft free, scratch corn at night, keep them busy & happy & their pen is hardware cloth totally. I guess the only difference that I have done, I did insulate the coop with 1/4 in stry. blue board and my roost is a 1" x 3". I am doing the DLM with pine shavings, have a poop board under the roost which I clean off every weekend. I give them treats like flock block, mealworms, oatmeal, scramble eggs, lots of leaves & grass (some what). I just put plastic on 3 sides of the pen, to block off the snow & cold winds. Only the east side is open for ventilation. The coop itself has vents on the north & south upper portion of the coop. Maybe 4" x 8" on each.

    I have the galv. heater base w/2/3 galv water fount. which I haven't even plugged in yet. Everything seems to be very dry at the moment, but will the heater waterer create alot of moisture?

    Roost, Do I need to change the 1x3 to 2 x 4? Is there much difference?

    I live in the snow belt of central/upstate NY. I'm trying to make sure my girls are safe from cold & harm. I really believe they are predator proof, but as far as frostbite, I'm still concerned.
  8. chauqg

    chauqg Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 13, 2009
    Jim is absolutely correct about winter and how animals keep themselves warm. SImple is better and my 25 birds made it through a very snowy (30Inchs) and a very cold "-" single digits with windows open, roof vents all open and they survived well. Never even a sneeze and chickens do sneeze. I would only add 6" DLM is another help to keeping the coop pleasant both by displacing the amonia smell and by creating an ecosystem of its own. THe birds love to roll around it mine lasted 11 months and really did not need changed, but I needed manure for my garden and our garlic beds.

    Big [​IMG] to Jim

    I have used 2 or 1 1/2" roosts the birds seem to like larges irregular roosts, but given the chance they will roost on a limb placed in the coop.

  9. HeritageHens

    HeritageHens Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 9, 2010
    Quote:Which side do they roost on - the 1 inch or 3 inch? A 2x4 is really 1.5 x 3.5 and the 1x3 is .75" x 2.5" so I'm guessing you have the 2 1/2 inch flat side up.

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