This week, and extending into the next couple, we have been experiencing winter colds that are, on average, colder than they have been in at least four years. That is, it is colder than we have experienced with chickens.
So, how cold hardy are our birds, all of whom we bought with an eye toward the “cold hardy” breed description.
We are in the process of finding out.
In order to protect our birds, we have, in the past, put up heat lamps. Our first year, three years ago, we placed a heat lamp directly in
the a-frame coop, tying it up and leaving it on all night. Our two birds (see “Other Peoples’ Dogs“) made it just fine in the cold, but with the direct light, we inadvertently pushed our hen, Dog, into a premature molt. Judging by the timing of other silver-laced Wyandottes, she shouldn’t have molted until around 18 months–which for Dog should have been the following summer/fall. With the increased light, though, she dropped her feathers in the coldest part of the winter, thus, to us, increasing the need for supplemental heating.
Not wanting to repeat an inadvertent forced molting, the next winter (last winter and number two for us and fowl) we supplemented mainly under the main coop and mainly to help out Melanie the Peking duck. She had lost her duck-mate a few months earlier, and while she seemed to be accepted into the full coop flock of hens and one rooster, she would act cold, pulling her feet up into her feathers and voicing her disapproval at the whole snow idea.
This year we are going without lights, hoping that no inadvertent molting will occur.
This year we are trying WATER!
In the past, the garden pump, placed over a stab-well, is pulled in the late fall at or around the first frost. Since it isn’t our pump, we complied, carrying the necessary water in gallon jugs. With the increased population (yay for success there), this year we are attempting to overwinter with water access at the garden. Thus far, with a few minor set-backs, we continue to have running water, even with overnight temperatures at ZERO degrees Fahrenheit (all temps in Fahrenheit).
I notice a couple of nights ago that the brown-runner drakes (who still have not laid their first egg–D@#! Tractor Supply worker who promised two females) were standing in the running hose water, even with the ambient temperature at zero. The water out of the well, we were told, is about 38–40 degrees, so it is, comparatively, balmy.
So, we set up a hose in Melanie’s area to see if she wants to stand in the running water as well. Bonus, the ground in the run-off area is thawing, opening up a potential access to dirt.
We have also used straw and hay (organic–see “The Dangers of Treated Seeds“) to fill in the cracks in the nesting areas and to bale around the “skirt” area in the bottom portion of the A-frame.
With a forecast of two-to-three weeks at single-digit overnight lows, we shall see if our approach will make it.