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Help Chickens Beat the Winter Blues

| 2/27/2020 9:05:00 AM

Hens in winter 

Domesticated chickens are descendants of the Red Junglefowl of India, where, as the name suggests, the climate is tropical and predictable. Over time, chickens have spread around the globe alongside their human caretakers. They can survive in temperate climates, thriving in the warmer months, but limping along in the colder. Indeed, without human care, they would soon succumb to the elements. But, since we value the chicken, we carefully nurture them and tend to their needs throughout the winter months. For chicken-keepers, the cost of time and money to tend the flock through winter is offset by the future promise of eggs!    

The best way to help chickens through the winter is to consider how they behave during the warmer months and do our best to mimic the conditions for their natural behaviours. So, given the perfect conditions, how does a chicken behave? Well, chickens are at their happiest when they can forage for scrumptious insects or delectable greens wherever their hearts’ desire. Picture with me a happy hen strolling through green vegetation, plucking a caterpillar here, scratching at some seeds there, and clucking contentedly as the sun shines down upon her. Later, finding a sandy spot, she settles in and ruffles her feathers for a dust bath. At twilight she makes her way to the roost with her flock mates, munching some supplemental feed and quenching her thirst before retiring for the night from the dependable feeder and waterer. Safely ensconced from nocturnal predators, she sleeps in peace and awaits the dawn to bring a new day of chicken bliss. 

As euphoric as this may sound, there are some basic behaviours that are essential to a healthy chicken: scratching and pecking, foraging and wandering, dust bathing and eating, drinking, and roosting. If we can enable chickens to continue performing their natural behaviours, they will do fine despite the confinement imposed upon them to protect them from inclement winter weather. What follows is a list of behaviours and some suggestions to keep chickens happy through the winter. 

Seeking Shelter

Back in the jungles, the chickens roosted off the ground in vegetation. They were screened from their predators and protected from the rain by the leaves over their heads. Chickens want a safe place to roost and are quick to learn where to roost and faithfully return each night so long as it is a covered, dry spot. If they wander widely during the day, they still come home to roost at night. In winter, however, chickens rarely venture outside if the ground is covered with snow or the wind is howling. If they have a sheltered place to hide that is protected from the snow and the wind, and with their roost easily accessible, then they have their basic need for shelter from the elements fulfilled.

One more behaviour to consider for the chickens spending their winter in the sheltered hide-away is egg laying. All hens want an out-of-the-way, dry spot where they can nestle into to lay in privacy. While confined, most hens will continue to lay, if sporadically, and can be enticed to do so if a darker, dry place is available for them to retreat to. Designating such a place also makes egg collecting easier. 

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