Working outside the home and commuting daily allows a person to notice when the days get longer and shorter. There is a consistent time piece of our daily routine when we walk out the door, get on the highway, catch the commuter bus or train by which we are able to measure our days. We noticed day and night relative to that constant migration daily to work and home again.
I feel like I have been living in constant darkness lately. Each day I left home in the dark of night with the stars overhead heading to town and came home in the same darkness. If I was going to get some sunshine it had to be during my lunch hour. This first week of January we had vicious cold snap of subzero temperatures. One day we got all the way down to -30 at our house, and that was before we factored in the wind. I was down right miserable in the cold and darkness. Yet by the end of the week, even with the nasty freezing temps, I had found hope. I was driving home as the sun was setting. In Montana twilight lasts forever, so suddenly I was driving home in the last vests of daylight. The days were still cold, but the afternoon light was giving me hope and encouragement. The hint of days getting longer has gave me optimism and hope that no matter how cold the days were yet to come and no matter how long the nights, spring though months away is slowing making its way to my neck of the woods.
Winter has arrived in SW Montana with a vengeance. The temperatures we have had are much more like late January rather than November, meaning they have been sub zero. It is now time for me to adopt my annual the winter routine for the chickens. Winter for farm animals is a time where as a owner you need to be especially cognizant of their basic needs: food, water and shelter.
Shelter: Shelter for chickens is the right sized coop space with adequate ventilation to allow the moisture to escape, but not be drafty. It seems like an oxymoron adequate ventilation but no drafts. The best way to explain the draft issue this is to ask you to imagine yourself in a restaurant right under a vent, or to set in a movie theater and feel a cold draft that makes it miserable for you. That is what you want to avoid. Moisture is an issue as well because when any animal exhales there is moisture in their breath. Think of yourself in a car without the defroster on; the windows will steam up. Chickens in the coop are the same thing. Moisture and cold temps is a perfect set up for frostbite on chicken’s combs. They do NOT need heated space, but they do need a space that is the right sized for the number of chickens you have so they can keep themselves warm. Sized right a coop will keep them warm, and the moisture down.
Food: Like all animals that are out into the elements they burn many more calories trying to stay warm. It means you need to be prepared to feed them more, possibly splitting their rations half in the morning and half in the evening Animals need to have good, dry and edible food. I switch to a food with a higher protein content during winter. It is not required, but the switch makes me feel better.
Water: In places where the temperatures get subfreezing it is important that your outdoor animals have access to water. Not snow, drinkable water. I switch over to heated dog dishes for my birds. The drag on all of that is it is harder to keep the water dishes clean. In the summer you dump the dishes and easily refill them with the hose. In the winter, you can’t dump the dishes where the chickens might step into the water. The water dishes are plugged in so the cord is something you need to deal with. Lastly winter is the season where I need to tote water out to the coop. I use washed empty detergent jugs.
No matter what animals you have that live outdoors in the winter, the same rules apply, they need to be able to get shelter, have enough to eat and a drink to wash it all down. It is what you signed up for when you brought your animal home. They are depending on you.