Matthew Nelson Poultryman
Fortunately, on the west coast we rarely have negative temps (if you don't count last week). This allows for a wonderful opportunity for the birds to forage the snow and acclimate to their climate post brooder and summer weather. As I sat taking photos today after a couple of toboggan runs, I watched the chickens find bugs and seeds to eat in 8’’ of snow. Thinking about how far we have progressed with birds from far off tropical climates that now are strong enough to go out in all weather. Sometimes it takes a couple of years, others take a decade, and some haven't adapted at all. I remember 2 German breeds we started raising about 10 years ago, one was obviously from Germany, given the smaller comb size and solid as a rock in winter. The other, may have been from a more tropical region located just outside of Berlin......where frost bite is minimal.
We acclimate the majority of our breeds to become stronger and well suited for both the backyard chicken fancier and for life as future breeding stock in the climates we serve. After all, we are farmers and although I appreciate the fancy, I prefer that my birds work as hard as I do.
I think many people go overboard with taking care of chickens. It's not as challenging as some of the people on Facebook chicken groups make it out to be. What they should be telling you on the forum is that it can get rather expensive as you build a flock you are happy with. But it comes down to common sense. Seems to be less and less of that in the world these days. You can't put a disclaimer on everything. If your birds are a year or two old, they are able to handle some winter weather without too much of a fuss.
I suggest having a coop that allows them to go inside at their leisure. It should have good air movement. Freezing dry weather is much better than humid cold air when it comes to housing. For our future breeders, we test for the strongest stock by using polydome calf hutches and face the door away from the prevailing winds and let them adjust to the weather each year until we feel comfortable that we can add them to the flocks that we preserve.
Your chickens will typically know when it's time to go inside. Running and playing in the really cold weather gets the blood pumping through the combs and clears out the lungs. Don't believe me? Go take a lap around your house…. It feels great to run around in the cool winter air. Not only is this enjoyable for chickens, kids and adults should be doing it too.
During winter, we have a lot of sparrows, so we limit feeding to early morning and let the chickens run after they have finished their food. We feed an 18% pellet to the winter pastured birds for added protein. If the wild birds keep coming in, I suggest asking your neighbors to set up a bird feeder or install one yourself away from where you keep your poultry. This will save you some grief and/or money since wild birds such as sparrows are potential disease carriers.
With the lower temps, freezing water can be challenging. I'm not interested in heated waterers and cords all over the field. We water our birds in the morning or make a porridge with their feed to add water content. You will often times see your chickens eating snow if additional hydration is needed. At night we empty the water and start fresh every morning.
These are a few of our Spitzhaubens running the field this winter. Some are 2 years old and others are only a year. Most of the birds on field in winter are backups to the breeders housed in our spacious barns.
All of our birds are allowed to pasture before becoming breeders, we keep our good quality males after they meet our criteria and only after that do they get to live a pampered life indoors. Many of our male breeders at our farm and partner farms range from 1 year to 9 years old. When they retire, we do our best to find homes for them or retire them to the loafing shed where they have lots of room and a small patch of lawn and access to berries in the summer as they grow old. After all they deserve a good life after helping us make a living for so many years.
MATTHEW nELSON POULTRYMAN
Matthew raises some of the finest breeds of poultry and table birds outside of Europe. His knowledge in raising poultry has come from his love of preserving for future generations as well as years studying and refining his methods. His blogs are mostly about raising chickens in the Pacific Northwest. His writings are for both beginner as well as seasoned poultry keeper. He will share a few of his secrets and I assure that you’ll learn something new!