Well, it’s that time of year again. The leaves are turning, and steadily dropping off the trees. Snow is slowly creeping down the mountains, and the mornings have been cold enough it’s time to give up on using the water hose and put it away until spring. Of course, if the hose is freezing, this means your birds water probably is too.
What to do? If you have chickens, you can get a waterer for them that plugs in and keeps it from freezing up to -10 or so. After that, you’ll need to bring it in and defrost it. It’s a bit trickier if you have ducks and geese since they require a lot more water. Generally, I have a blue 5 gallon bucket I bring in and fill up in the bathtub and haul back outside, leaving a trail of little water puddles in my wake. The ducks have an insulated water cooler in their house, and the water in it doesn’t usually start freezing until we hit single digits. After that, I have an aquarium heater I drop in there. Just make sure you don’t have the temperature set to high, making the water too hot, and check it often to make sure the ducks haven’t pulled it out by the cord and set their hay on fire. This time of year, I quit filling their outside water buckets up to the top. It makes it easier to pop out the ice in the morning. I like to take the bucket ice cubes and make little modern art ice sculptures in the duck and goose yard. The birds seem bemused by my lack of artistic talent, but it’s fun.
Another thing to consider this time of year is flock size. With the cooling temperatures, the birds start eating more feed because they are burning more calories to keep warm. If you are planning on eating some of your birds, now is the time to do it, before they eat you out of house and home. The greenery around the yard is starting to taste bitter too, making it less appetizing, so you may want to consider giving your birds peas, cabbage, or any other leafy green vegetables. I also give the ducks and chickens freeze dried worms, and occasionally a warm pot of oatmeal.
This is also the time of year where I make sure I am keeping up with cleaning out of their different houses. I have switched the chicken coop bedding from pine shavings to straw because the straw is a better insulator. After the outside temperatures drop to below freezing, and stay there during the day, the muck in the chicken, duck and goose houses freezes solid. There will be no getting it out until there is a warm up, or spring comes. The only thing to do is pile clean hay on top of the old hay (also known as the deep litter method). The decomposing hay and poop underneath the new hay has the added benefit of producing heat. Come spring, the hay will be very deep, and require most of a day to get everything mucked out.
The nights are also growing longer. I have motion sensor lights around the chicken, duck, and goose sheds so I know if there are moose hanging about, and it allows the birds to have some artificial light until the sun makes its brief appearance. It’s time for me to stock up on flashlight batteries, and headlamps. The shed where everyone’s feed is stored doesn’t have a light, so I like to wear a headlamp when I’m getting the birds their food. This year, I am going to remember to hide them. If I don’t, my kids will take them to wear when they want to stay up late reading.
So, if this is your first winter with poultry, or your 15th, now is the time to make sure you are prepared. Have your water buckets handy, heaters at the ready, and plenty of straw. Make sure your flashlight works, and your kids haven’t stolen your headlamp. If you haven’t changed your chicken feed to a higher protein percentage, now is the time to do so. Thinning the flock? Set the time aside for it, and get ready to enjoy the cooler temperatures with your flock, or flocks.