I have a treat for you! Kathi from the Oak Hill Homestead is a guest blogger today. She is a self reliant homesteader. She desires to encourage your dreams of homesteading and simple living. Today, she’s going to tell you how her chickens live off-grid even in the winter.
Perhaps you live off-grid, or maybe your chicken coop – like mine – just doesn’t have electrical power. Mine is too far from the house; if I wanted to run an extension cord to my coop it would have to be really, really long.
So I raise my chickens without power, even in winter. Even if I wanted to provide supplemental lighting, heat, or a water heater in the winter, I couldn’t.
Fortunately, chickens can deal with cold weather better than with too-hot temperatures. They can fluff their feathers up to hold warm air close to their bodies. They huddle down near the floor or on the roost to keep their feet warm. However, creating body heat does require more calories, so I feed my hens more during the winter.
I can’t use heat lamps in the coop to keep my birds warm in the winter, but heat lamps are notorious for falling no matter how well they are secured and catching the bedding below on fire. I prefer not to use them.
Preventing drafts in the coop is more helpful than a heat lamp. Cover any cracks in the walls and around windows, while still allowing ventilation at the top of the shelter. If you insulate your coop, cover it so the chickens can’t access the insulation. They’ll peck at it and eat it.
Chickens slow down or stop laying eggs during the winter when the daylight hours decrease. Some chicken-keepers provide supplemental lighting so their hens will keep laying. I prefer to let my hens rest during the winter. My hens live out their lives here; not lighting my coop in winter helps them live a long life. We simply use fewer eggs in winter.
The hardest part of winter chicken-keeping is freezing water. This is one place where having electricity would be handy to keep their water thawed with a heater of some kind, but I’ve never had power in my coop so I’ve learned how to deal with it.
I use a black rubber feed pan to hold water during the winter, putting the plastic waterers away until spring. When freezing water expands, it quickly breaks those plastic waterers. I carry hot water out to the coop several times a day, and empty the rubber pan of any ice by thonking it on the ground. I can twist and turn the rubber pan to dislodge most of the ice without breaking it. Pouring hot water inside melts any remaining ice.
Changing the water several times a day is the best way to deal with frozen water, but if you’re not home all day, just do it as often as you can. My chickens learn to drink when I bring them water, so I know they’ve had a good drink before the water freezes again.
I’ve compared plastic, metal and rubber buckets in winter weather. Water in metal buckets will freeze first, then plastic, and finally the black rubber dishes.
Locating the water dish in the sunshine will help ice to thaw and the water to stay liquid longer. I keep a dish out in the run in full sun, and another inside the coop in front of the big window where the sun streams in. On bright, sunny days this does make a difference.
It really isn’t much harder to keep chickens comfortable without electricity in the winter. It just takes a little more chicken feed, a little more thought and a few more trips to the coop with hot water.