Keeping chickens warm and safe during a Bruce Peninsula winter is challenging. This is only our third year, but each year we learn a little more. It helps that our birds are pretty hardy; especially after surviving last winter’s frigid temperatures.
We like to keep our birds outdoors as long as possible into the fall. They are fine in the colder temperatures as long as they can get out of the wind and don’t get wet. We provide a covered area they can hang out in as well as their mobile coop. Yes, it’s an old truck cap. It works.
Things get tricky when the fence battery gets cold and has to be switched out with a warmer, charged one every morning. Man, that thing is heavy. Being off-grid, we are loathe to add any extra power draws during the dark time of the year. Charging a fence battery can use a lot of power we’d rather use elsewhere, like for lights and running water.
Traditionally, we move the chickens into the garage just before Christmas. This allows us the chance to get away for the holidays and have a chicken sitter. We know the birds are secure, and the sitter can easily tend to their needs and collect eggs. Win-win. Mostly.
The garage is quite dark so egg production drops pretty rapidly. We are ok with the hens taking a seasonal break – I know I sure need one at this time of year. But it would be nice to get a little something for all the water hauling and litter flipping required during the winter.
We knew we wanted to grow our flock and the garage pen would not house them as well. After much research, we came up with the idea of a hoop house. Because we were naive about how long it would take to construct, we didn’t exactly get it in place that fall for the birds. Happily, I was able to use the hoop house during the summer to grow heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. You can read about that here. It was put to good use.
Then, there were many details to work out this fall before we moved our chookies into their new digs. The edges of the hoop house needed further critter-proofing, a roost needed constructing, and more wood chips and leaf mulch need to be added. We also wanted to fence off an area where the chickens wouldn’t “do their thing” on our overwintering rosemary plants. So back into the garage they went at Christmas time while we made everything perfect.
It was the end of January. Everything was ready. My daughter and I started catching and carrying the chickens after school one evening. When Peter arrived home, we had moved over half of them but were a little nervous about catching the roosters. They are big; pretty friendly, for roosters but big. He had no trouble with them and we had everyone moved before dark.
The next day I went out to the hoop house to check on everyone. There was a lot of scritch-scratching in the leaves as the chickens got used to their new home. It was quite nice to hear. No squabbles or hen-pecking. They were effectively destroying all of the plants still alive in the structure. They feasted on swiss chard, several types of kale and broccoli plants that I had put into the ground too late to mature. Also they cleaned up lots of grass and weeds that were hiding under the plantings.
During the day there is so much more light and warmth. Night temperatures can be cold as there isn’t a lot of mass to hold the daytime heat. The covered roost seems to be working and they all figured it out the first night.
Now how about some eggs, ladies.