If you’ve been hanging out on Penny Thots, you know I like to write about chickens.
Partly it’s because they’re an excellent resource, including eggs and meat — full of vitamins and lean protein. And since you feed them, you can ensure you’re getting naturally delicious, pesticide-free food for yourself and your family.
They Also Help Pay For Themselves
With our flock (currently 15 chickens), we sell 4- 5 1/2 dozen eggs weekly…more than enough to pay for the chickens’ feed and some of their expenses. We still have plenty of eggs for our own use…and even some to give away. (If you’re curious, you can find out more via Part 2 and Part 3 about our chicken adventures.)
They’re also fun to watch! Whether it’s watching them chase each other around (or the dogs), chickens are a bossy, clucking source of entertainment.
If you’re thinking about raising chickens, doing it three seasons may seem just fine —
But What About Winter?
I would have never guessed this, before we started keeping a chicken flock — but it’s not that big a deal, if you take certain precautions.
First, choose your breeds wisely. Ask specifically which are more cold-hardy. Our Australorps and Rhode Island Reds are well-known for handling chilly temperatures.
Next, build a coop that keeps out the wind and rain. It doesn’t have to be that insulated (though that’s nice), but it does need to be wind-resistant, with a roof that doesn’t leak. Chickens handle the cold well– but they’ll get sick quickly if their feet and feathers stay damp, or get chilled in the wind.
Finally, give them a source of light and warmth. Chickens need at least 12 hours of sunlight to lay the maximum amount of eggs. Since they don’t get this in wintertime, you’ll need to add a low-watt lightbulb inside their coop, as an artificial stimulus. (Some people advocate making do with fewer eggs, and letting the hens ‘rest’ — but in two winters, we haven’t noticed any extra signs of stress.) This light can also help warm the coop — or add a heat lamp, as well.
Use a timer and heat sensor, to keep the lights going only when they’re needed. Note: We recently read an article in the Denver Post that railed against heat lamps — they caused at least three coop fires in the past few months. But, carefully reading, every one of the experts who argued against heat lamps were also using them in their own chicken coops! With care, you can, too.
We did add something new this winter: a bird bath heater. It keeps the chickens’ water ice-free. (We looked at stock tank heaters, instead, but they were far bigger — and much more expensive.) The added heat means some water goes up in steam, so extra buckets must be lugged down to the coop. And it does cost a few pennies a day to operate. It’s worth it, though, when the chickens can get a drink any time they wish. (I also get a kick out of the ‘spa atmosphere’ as they take refreshing sips through the steam.)
When it’s really snowy and overcast, the hens stay in their coop. They’ll snuggle in there, fussing and clucking. (And laying eggs.) When days are sunny, they’ll often spend all day out of doors, scratching in the bare spaces, and exploring their snowy new world. I often give them extra goodies, like greens and fruit, or an extra protein boost of meat scraps or dried worms. (Yes, worms — dried mealworms are available by the package or jar, and provide a tasty treat.)
They have a great time.