Caring for chickens in alberta-canada
I am playing around with the idea to have my mom get some chickens. My only concerns is what kind of care do they require over the winter months? We could build some individual housing inside, but I cant imagine they can spend their winter months in there.
What should you be doing over the winter months with the cold weather.
Cold tolerant chickens with small combs, insulated housing (in PA we used straw bales lining the walls, heat lamp if the wind is bad. Usually a smaller space with insulation if kept clean is fine as they can warm up an area fast with body heat. North wall and if that isn't the prevailing wind then also the wall with the prevailing wind extra insulated.
You'll find a lot of different opinions on adding a heat lamp, but that's one thing to investigate and make a decision on. Personally, I didn't use one in my first New England winter of keeping chickens, and they made it through (though two of them did have mild frostbite on their combs).
As long as their coop is fairly draft free, their body heat manages to keep them pretty toasty when they huddle up together.
I did find a water heater invaluable to allow them constant access to fresh water. I had a pretty basic model, which is simply a hot pan that the water font sits on; it heats up to something like 35 degrees and cycles on and off so it never gets too hot.
Another thing you can do is use their feed to keep them warm- feeds with corn will help them create body heat as it digests.
Finally, I like to keep my coop floor lined with straw to cut down on drafts (we have a dirt floor in the coop) and give them something to snuggle down into.
As someone else mentioned on another thread, backyardchickens.com is a great resource- you can search breeds there to find cold-hardy options. I have Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Golden Laced Wyandottes, and Golden Comets- all are relatively cold hardy. The Barred Rocks had the most problems with frostbite, as they have the biggest combs in my bunch.
I've only had chickens since last January (my biggest piece of advice is do NOT get chickens in the middle of a January blizzard- baaaaadddd timing!!), but I have completely fallen for them. They're tons of fun.
Much wiser to butcher them in the fall.
My own advice on top of what has been said, is to get slow moving non-flighty types, and good high fencing, with roof netting if necessary.
I'm in Saskatchewan and our winters can get pretty darn cold at times. My coop is insulated with a small south facing window but it has a lot of age on it now so Husband and I are in discussions now as to design and construction of the replacement coop. I have two heat lamps set up in the coop - during sunny warm days, lamps are unplugged and one/two plugged in at night time; on the really cold days one lamp is plugged in during the day and the second one at night time.
I use a heated pet drinking bowl for their water so they always have access to water - you can buy a proper heated chicken waterer but I like the pet one as it is inexpensive to buy and easy to clean. I feed free choice layer ration and wheat along with oyster shells. I use straw for bedding but am toying with the idea of trying shavings for this coming winter to see if it makes a difference in cleaning up.
Normally I collect eggs once a day but on the bitterly cold days I'll check at least a couple of times during the day because the eggs will freeze and crack otherwise.
During the day, the chickens will hang out on the floor eating, drinking and having little squabbles. At night they all roost, sitting beside each other. My chickens will go outside on nice warm days in the winter. They prefer sunny days with little wind for their outings.
As other posters have mentioned, some breeds are more winter hardy than others. If you get the breeds with the large wattles and single combs (like Leghorns) you'll probably end up with frost bite.
Space wise, I think you're meant to allow 2 sq ft per bird. My coop is approx. 6x8 and I've got 12 birds in there now and I like it for size - they've got room to move around but not so much that it's hard to keep warm.
As egrogan said it is fun having chickens. I'm particularly happy watching them roaming around in the yard in the non winter months plus eggs are a very nice bonus.
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