Thursday, August 28, 2008

What weather changes do for chickens ...

It's taken me a while to get back to this since it's been pretty hard losing Lily, but I started this blog wanting to tell you, and teach you, about raising chickens so you better believe I am going to try and finish it.

So ...

Summer versus Winter and all the days between ...

Since summer is ending here, then I will start with summer conditions and the preparations for winter.

During the summer, as you can imagine, the house that houses chickens, the food and everything else has to be changed, moved around, or otherwise altered. Just like you would do for yourself, the things you do for your chickens - or any other animals mind you - will have to be differed because of the weather.

For summer time the house that the chickens live in, does not need to be that thick, or in other words - insulated. Of course, depending on the weather of your summer, it may be a different option for you. Our summers typically range from anywhere from the upper 80's to sometimes the low 100's. I know. CRAZY!

In the summer you have to worry about heat exhaustion with the chickens as much as with anything else. It is a good idea once the heat starts in to make sure to check that they have adequate water and that they water temperature is cool. Chickens don't like freezing water, but they do like it to be pretty cool. With the way that our setup for the chickens is, is that they always have something over their water and food bowl since we live in WA and we do get a lot of rain. So during the summer, the water bowl will actually stay a little cool because of that shelter from the rain, by keeping the water cool. But, even still, I am fully capable of checking on that water bowl constantly to make sure it's not only clean, but it is an okay level and water temperature.

Chickens have a remarkable way to keep themselves cool. If you were to observe this, you might think something was wrong with them. Nope :) They are doing what is called dustbathing. They dig themselves a hole in the dirt, big enough for themselves to roll around in, while at the same time, they spread out their wings and bury themselves down. They basically look like they have did since they are COMPLETELY spread out. However, they are not. Simply keeping cool.

Another way that chickens keep themselves cool is to pant. Just like a dog does, or even a cat might if they get too hot, the chickens will pant as a way to cool themselves down.

For us, during the winter, I line the chicken coop with crumpled up newspaper. I shove it into the inch-wide gape between the wall of the coop and the wood in front since it's a wood crate. During the summer, I remove all of that paper and remove any other insulation I placed in there to protect the chickens from the cold.

We are now heading into winter, and the winter preparations would begin at this time were I still to have my chickens. The house is the first place that you work to make sure is warm for the chickens. Since the house that we used wasn't that large, I never placed a heater in there, but if it were bigger and I was able to, I would've purchased a space heater from the hardware store and made sure that the chickens couldn't get to it, but it would've kept them warm. Nothing too fancy. Just an extra heat source.

I've heard people place lights inside of the house also in the winter time because they want to keep up egg production. Now, this is all well and good for the person that wants to, but personally, for me, I chose not to. I wanted the chickens to live their lives as normally as they could. That meant that come wintertime egg production would stop. I didn't care about eggs during the winter time.

As I said above I crumple up pieces of newspaper and shoved them into the sides of the wall of the chicken coop and basically where ever I saw open space. I wanted to shrink down the interior size, as well as just give extra width to the walls so that once closed up, the coop would be as warm as possible.

As a side note: Always be careful that they have adequate ventilation. Even in winter I would make sure there was an opening in the top area - so they didn't have to worry about drafts (drafts kill birds), but they would have ventilation.

Not only did I fix the walls, but I also made sure that I would add plastic (the same you insulate inside windows with) to the roof, so that I shrunk it down, yet at the same time, the plastic kept the cold from coming in. I added old linoleum tile to the sides of the roof to hang down over the opening that was there so that when closed, it would cover so that snow and rain couldn't blow inside, but the hole was still there to allow ventilation.

Before I added that plastic to the roof though, I shoved newspaper inside and put a piece of cardboard up there as well. Just more insulation. I figured, the more the better. I tested the temps with a digital thermometer to see how well it worked. Our winters can get down in the 20's sometimes overnight and I didn't want worry about the chickens at night.

Depending on the style of your coop and all that, you may not have to do what I did, or would have to do it different. Of course, everyones ways are different. I'm simply giving you ideas to build on. I learned different methods that worked for my budget and my setup. Yours may be different, but will still work. Always look around for ideas and try different things. The chickens aren't picky ;)

For my chickens, they didn't like snow. I would go out there when it snowed and try to scoop as much out as I could - yes, from the entire coop. That way they wouldn't have to walk in it and freeze their feet, but at the same time, they wouldn't have to just because they didn't like it.

The water has to be kept a close eye on so it's not freezing, or frozen over. There are water bowls for pets that keep the water from freezing and are available for purchase, but again, my budget didn't allow for them, but yours may. I would just go outside a few times a day and place a half cup of hot water in their bowl and that kept it cool, but not too hot, or too cold.

I also made them a hideout so that while they were outside their coop and wandering around they could go inside that cover and the wind, snow, rain, etc., couldn't harm them. They were protected. As I said, they had for their food as well, but the hideout was fully boxed in, except for the front. That way they could stay hidden from the elements. Of course, before they got over their fear of the snow, there were a few nights that it started snowing and I had to climb inside (thank goodness I'm small!) in the dark and actually pull them out so that they could get put into their coop for the night. That was fun. Crawling in the mud in the dark to grab a chicken ... Yeh. Good times...

You just have to really give it some good thought, as you would for any animals you own, or even for people, what you will change and alter for the weather changes. They are in need of that change as much as anything else. It's all about common sense and putting yourself in their shoes. Would you want to have to walk outside in the snow ALL day with nowhere to hide from it? Would you want try to drink an ice cube? Or, burn in the sun because your place has no shade to hide from it? Just consider all the possibilities. Think through everything. Just like anything else, you will have to have to change things once in those moments. I've been out there working on that hideaway while it was - literally - pouring rain down around me and I was drowned by the time I came inside, with the wind blowing everything away I was trying to work with. Other times working while the snow has been falling all over, too thick to see too far, freezing my hands so bad I could barely work, no feeling in the extremities, while just trying to add extra snow protection for them while they hung out in the house.... Oh yeh ... Once again I say ... Fun times ... [laughing]

I would do it all over again though if it meant their happiness and safety because my animals are my life. They are all my babies.

It's all about trial and error :)

And yes, those chickens DO like to help ...

Too much ...