Wintering Chickens, Not good for us this year.

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Steakneggs, Jan 24, 2014.

  1. Steakneggs

    Steakneggs New Egg

    Jun 16, 2013
    Fyi, this is my FIRST winter with chickens. Backstory (in case some of you don't remember me!) I posted a LONG time ago about my chickens when they were chicks and raising them. I had 13, and two geese. A few months after my chicks started to look like chickens, I got a couple of roos from my neighbor for free. It was lovely! All of my birds were free range, and put into a coop to roost in the evening. Not a problem (did loose one goose to an owl)

    And in comes old man winter. I moved them all into an old, cleaned out, insulated shack. Plenty of bedding, food and water. No lights, and they all seemed to be doing well. After the first month I found my favorite rather large jersey hen frozen upside down to the coop floor, next to the heated water pail. Month two, and the hens appear to be moving slower and looking rather "attacked" on the back. I removed the roos and put them into the summer coop that I had moved into a fabric shed. Felt that they were probably being a little too rough on my hens.

    Everything seemed to be going OK (have an ongoing battle trying to keep their water from freezing)

    Until This morning. I walked into the coop to find two hens (a leghorn and a Rhodie) dead, appeared to have died in their sleep.
    It broke my heart. I am still very upset about the loss of the two.

    I went to town and bought two 100 gallon poly water tanks, and a couple heated dog dishes. I got home, put the two tanks inside the big garage, put some pine shavings in the bottom, and a dog dish in each tank. I took the goose and put him out in the summer coop with the two roos (we will see how long it lasts, that goose seems to hate chickens) and then put 5 hens in each tank, and set a sheet of plywood over the tops of the tanks to keep them in.
    I really don't know what I am doing right now. I need some help keeping whats left of my flock alive. This winter is taking it's toll on me and I am almost tempted to just let the hens live in my house with me.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for me? I'll take any tips or advice. Please.
  2. Alaskan

    Alaskan The Frosted Flake

    First... No judgements, truly. The first year with chickens is a giant learning curve. :hugs feel free to cry some, then sit back and try to puzzle out why everything went wrong.

    Things to think through:

    Just how cold has it been?

    1- I found that cold temps GREATLY increase how much feed the chickens need. If they have any restriction on feed, they can no longer keep themselves warm enough, and they die.

    2- In the super cold, an unbalanced diet can lead to them not being able to keep warm, and so they die before you notice any problems. I like feeding mostly just a standard layer pellet.

    3- Water is super important too. Any water restriction will stop egg production before it kills them. I have had chickens deprived of all water in cold weather for I think a full day without any death. So, if you brought out water twice a day, even if it then froze up almost immediately, that probably isn't what killed them. Also, they will eat/drink snow if they can find any.

    4. If the chickens have any other problem, like a heavy parasite load or a respiratory infection, the cold can push them over the edge and kill them.

    You can probably keep them the way they are for a week. It might be a good idea, so they have some time in a warmer and more protected environment to build up their strength. But I would use a piece of fence or screen or something to keep the chickens in the tubs. A plywood sheet will give them no ventilation and might cause respiratory infections.
  3. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon
    Where are you located? What type of climate are we dealing with?

    Have the birds been out at all? Or confined only to this shack?
  4. Steakneggs

    Steakneggs New Egg

    Jun 16, 2013
    Thankyou SO much!! I have almost cried a couple of times today. I'm getting sick of winter.

    I'm glad that my decision to put them in tubs isn't a horrible idea. I was waiting for someone to post "ARE YOU NUTS!?"

    Maybe I spend too much time on the horse forum where that happens.

    Anyway. I wasn't planning on making this a permanent thing. Only long enough to sit back and figure out what I can do to keep them alive and get them going again.

    So more food! Check. I have two or three bags of layer pellets. they get half an ice cream pail of feed 2 times a day.

    I have heat lamps, but apparently that's not a good idea? I have a timer I can put them on, so they are only on from 6 am to 7 pm. Just wondering if that may help.

    Their winter coop has floor ventilation. I tried running extension cords to the coop to keep the water heated, but it apparently isn't giving off enough electricity, and the water freezes within an hour or less (depending on the temps).
  5. SD Bird Lady

    SD Bird Lady Chillin' With My Peeps

    I think the problem may be no light. I can't say for certain with birds, but I know many animals need sunlight to process certain vitamins. Try adding full spectrum light or letting them outdoors. Mine run around freely all day even when it's well below freezing. The other day, it was -25F (felt like -40F) and they were out in the trees all seem happy and healthy except one roo who got his wattles wet and then frostbit but it doesn't seem to cause him any discomfort just looks yuck. GOOD LUCK!!
  6. Steakneggs

    Steakneggs New Egg

    Jun 16, 2013
    It is the temps go up to above 0 (really nice at times actually), for a couple days, then we get a NASTY blizzard, and a cold snap (-30 or more with wind chills) that lasts for a couple days. Rinse and Repeat. It's supposed to do this until APRIL.

    They were free range before fall, then slowly confined to that space, where they have been for the last 2 months. We have no run set up for them, and I am not sure if they will go back into their coop at night if I let them out during the day.
  7. SD Bird Lady

    SD Bird Lady Chillin' With My Peeps

    Just feed them only in the coop. Might have to chase them in once or twice but they know where home is. I have a 6x12 shed that my chooks call home. I have 10 Brahma hens, 4 EE's, 4 california whites, 2 Brahma roos and 3 ducks. I use the deep litter method...mostly out of laziness :) Every morning the 4x8 door gets pulled wide open and every one runs & flies out like angry birds then as night comes they slowly meander back to the coop, grab a bite and then hop onto their roost. If there is more than an inch of snow they all sit at the edge and push an shove until someone falls out then they realize they won't die and then go out but same basic concept. They are well equipped for cold, you wouldn't stop walking a husky because it was winter.
    1 person likes this.
  8. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    Without a doubt, good layer food is important, but with endless cold, you need heat making food. I really like a flock block. Which is a grain and fat mixture, it is a hard block, so they can only eat so much at a time. A little fat in the diet might really help.
  9. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Flock Master Premium Member

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    Oh, I hear ya! I'm in Minnesota, too. We'll have to PM and commiserate about the weather. (I have a friend in Soldotna, AK who is complaining about it being too warm "we're all ice and puddles here". I told her I'd happily trade our weather for hers!) OK, back to what's going on with your flock. I keep food out for my birds free choice. I have heated dog dishes for their water. I'm not sure what's up with your electricity that it can't keep the water from freezing. Was that with the water dishes, or were you trying to keep it thawed with a heat lamp? Let's see.... you said you have floor ventilation. I'm not quite sure what that means. Do you have any ventilation higher up? It does seem to work better if the warm, moist air can escape toward the top of the coop. My coop (an 8x16' shed) isn't real tight. Not exactly drafty, but I haven't had frost on the walls so I know that the humidity isn't too high. Heat lamps. The problem with heat lamps is, it keeps your chickens from properly acclimating to the cold. If the lamp burns out, or the power goes out, you will have chickens that can not handle the cold. I also think that heat + water in the coop can cause more humidity. Is there a way for fresh air to come into the coop? That's important. If you keep them in the coop for a few days, a week, a couple of weeks, they are likely to go back into the coop if you let them out during the day. I keep one of the windows tilted open at the top - just an inch or even less when it's so cold. My chickens don't like snow much, but the coop is right alongside the driveway so when DH plows, he makes a path down the driveway for them. They love getting out in the sun! Sunshine and fresh air - as essential to their health and well-being as it is to ours. That's all I can think of for now. As Alaskan said - this first year with chickens is a learning curve. Don't beat yourself up. What's done is done. Pick up the pieces, learn from what happened, and move on. Next year will be better, as will the next year and the next. [​IMG]
    1 person likes this.
  10. Steakneggs

    Steakneggs New Egg

    Jun 16, 2013
    Finally! I'm not alone up here!!

    I can snap a picture of their coop tommorow if I have time before work. Then you will get what I mean by floor ventilation. LOL

    I had a regular heated water bucket for them (like you would find in the livestock section of fleet farm), and that froze even when plugged in.
    Then I had a bucket with a plug in tank de-icer in it, and that wouldn't do anything either.

    So, I just resorted to putting a pan out for them in the morning and then trading it out at night with a not-frozen pan. repeat the next day.

    I will give them a week to regain their strength and then will put them back and start letting them out on a day I have off to see if they will go back into their coop on their own.

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