GETTING READY FOR WINTER
Because of all the request on the news group, DOM_BIRD, and on the other boards for information on "winterizing the coop", I'll give up my "secrets" :). However what I do may not work for you as my goals may be different from yours. My main goal is for the birds to come thru the winter in good shape so that once spring gets here I can do my breedings.
Number 1 -- I don't care if the birds lay during the winter, as eggs for family use is not a concern. For about a buck I can buy eggs at the store. Some of my original birds had cost me 25 bucks each. Therefore I do not use lights in the winter for production. ( I do use lights in the spring for brooding baby chicks). I don't want the birds to spend all their energy laying during the winter, when I have no plans on hatching their eggs. ( My main hatch is set to hatch on May 1st.) I will do special matings after the main hatched, but these I generally let a hen hatch and raise the chicks as to not get them confused with chicks from the main hatching.
Number 2 -- I don't free range the birds but confine them to a yard. The exception is when I do my fall cleaning. Therefore about the last week of October not only do I clean the coop, but I also clean out the yard. This date allows me to put the litter on the garden and yard, as all the plants are dead from a frost a month earlier. Also the rains help to wash the nutrients into the soil before it freezes. The odors are fewer at this time of the year, making my neighbors happy. I place about 4-6 inches of fresh fallen leaves in the yard. These will be nicely broken down along with the chicken poop, by next fall, and is used for a side dressing in the yard. And it doesn't stink. I also place about 2-3 inches of fresh wood shaving in the coop. Plastic ( I use clear trash bags) is stapled on the windows. The air vents in the peak are left open for ventilation. Shavings are added as required to the coop, throughout the winter. At times some of the litter has to be removed before fresh shavings can be added, but the coop is not completely cleaned out. This is not done until spring.
Number 3 -- I also change my feed. Instead of feeding only lay bits I also throw some corn on the litter. This keeps the litter "stirred" from them scratching to get the corn. The addition of corn also fattens them up giving them a reserve of energy to produce extra body heat if required due to the cold. This would not work well with a laying flock as fat hens tend to have a problem with laying.
Number 4 -- The water founts are replaced with plastic dog dishes. I have 2 for each coop. When one freezes solid, the empty clean one is filled with warm water and placed in the coop. The one that is frozen is brought into the house to thaw out and is cleaned to replace the one that is now in the coop. Hens that are laying will drink more water than hens that are not laying.
Number 5 -- I close the door to the yard at night or when it is really cold and windy. This prevents the wind from entering the coop. I'm not so worried by cold as I am with drafts. Cold doesn't appear to bother the birds as they can trap air in their feathers to act as insulation. But drafts will blow this insulating layer of air away.
Number 6 -- Depending on my mood, I might enclose the yard on 2 sides with clear plastic. This blocks the wind and snow in the yard. Some years I have, others I didn't. I'm still debating if I will do it this year or not. For 1998 and 1999 I did not.
Number 7 -- I set up my main breeding flocks at this time. As the birds are not breeding there is less fighting to establish a picking order. Birds for select matings will come from the main flock. As the birds are out running around and are confused with all the activity going on, this is a perfect time to add new the young birds to the flock. I just make sure that they all go in the same coop at roosting time.
Frozen combs -- I seldom have a problem with them. But I do try to use a male that didn't freeze his comb as a breeder. In 1999 -2000 I had a few when it dropped down to -30 F.
Deaths -- I do lose a bird or two during the winter, but I have also lost a bird or two during the summer. I look at it as a weakness on the birds part and if it is weak, I really don't want to use it for a breeder anyway. Winter of 1999-2000 I had no loses but did have a Golden Neck spend the winter in the house when one of her feet froze. It warmed up nicely and she did not loose it.
It takes me about a day to get my birds ready for winter, But that also includes, setting up the breeding flocks, cleaning the coops and yards, and fertilizing the yard and garden. But if I just put plastic on the windows and change the water fount, it would take me 15 minutes.
Living in zone 4 it gets really cold here at times. But as long as the birds have food, water and are out of any drafts they will get thru the winter without many problems.