My husband and I are looking into getting some chickens for the backyard but we are worried about what we would do with them in the winter. Any tips?
Your chickens should be fine through the winter as long as they have somewhere cosy and dry to go, and have access to water that isn't frozen solid. You need to check them every day, so if you get deep snow in your area you'll want to put the henhouse close enough that you don't need to dig a 100-foot-long path to get to them. They will stop laying when the days get short. You can put artificial light in their henhouse if you want year-round eggs. but last winter we didn't bother. We just used fewer eggs for a couple of months, and the eggs we did need we bought from the shops.
When I told people we were thinking about getting chickens they often said "You can't do that. They smell." Well, they don't. Like any animal, if you leave their manure until it builds up six inches deep, the house will smell. So don't do that. I pick up all the bedding from the hen house every couple of weeks, dump it on the compost heap and put down some clean bedding. And every month or two I give the house a more thorough clean with a shovel and stiff brush and a hose. The henhouse is right by our kitchen door, and there is no smell and no flies.
Good point. If you live in a high-rise flat then chickens aren't for you. There are other circumstances where it's just not possible to have them. But I didn't realise just how little space they need. My garden at home is tiny (about 10 yards square) but the hens fit in a little corner of it very happily. Per chicken, allow at least 2 square feet in the henhouse and 4 square feet in the run. That's really not very much space.
Our chickens live in a converted wendy house with checky red curtains. All we did to turn it into a henhouse was:
- nail a long stout dowel about 18" off the floor for them to perch on
- Add a nest box (we use an old washing-bowl filled with hay)
- Add a layer of bedding to the floor (hay or straw or even shredded paper)
You'll also need to provide some water. We bought a plastic chicken drinker a bit like this, and a feeder which is similar. You can top them up once every week or two and then forget about them. I think I paid about £2 each for them.
We originally intended to let our hens run free around the garden but we found two problems with this. One was that they tended to escape and get into neighbours' gardens or out onto the road. We soon get fed up of rounding them up. The other problem was that they did a lot of damage to the flowerbeds, eating plants and digging them up in the search for insects. So we decided to build an enclosed run. We cobbled this together from some timber we had lying around (actually the framing of the stud wall I ripped out of the kitchen), and some chickenwire that was in the garage when we moved here, and some wood preservative left over from another project. It's not a thing of beauty but it keeps the chickens in and so far it has kept the foxes out.
[At this point in the text it should have said "I'll discuss where to get your chickens in tomorrow's article" but since I published the three parts out of order, I already talked about it yesterday]
Links to Part 1 and Part 3