Winter Chickens

The winter solstice has come and gone, marking the slow return of the growing season, and we are starting to get a few more eggs each day. A chicken lays about one egg each day depending on a number of factors like food consumption, temperature, and health. But the most important influence on this process is the number of hours of sunlight each day.  We most definitely have warmer and longer days, but it’s not yet time to put the chickens out to pasture.

During winter we have housed our chickens in a large, warm, hoop house allowing the pasture the time it needs to recover for the next growing season. Keeping them in a hoop house during the coldest months also has some convenient advantages; it’s dry, warm, and safe– everything a chicken could need to feel secure on a snowy day.  I find I get a deep feeling of satisfaction each time I see the chickens enjoying themselves, running, jumping, and scratching around in the hoop house. As it happens, this is a chicken’s favorite activity in summer, scratching around in the soil and crowns of plants looking for bugs or whatever else they can find (they are very curious).But in the late fall every year it becomes necessary to take the chickens off pasture.

The grasses and bugs are no longer flourishing and will start to hibernate as winter sets in.  When we house them during the winter months we manage the chickens with a deep litter system. A deep litter system is an old farming practice that focuses on creating over the length of winter a deep bed of composting grass hay, straw, peanut hulls, wood chips or any carbonic material the farmer has on hand. This bedding mix absorbs all moisture and wastes produced by the chickens. Then we use their natural instincts to our advantage by having them when scratch around in the bedding, injecting oxygen into the composting mixture (think self-turning compost). Once oxygen has been added to the bedding it starts to compost, which creates heat and keeps the chickens warm through the winter.