The Good, Bad and Ugly of Winter Chicken Keeping

Changes in weather bring changes in the way you care for your flock.

by Rachel Hurd Anger
PHOTO: Rachel Hurd Anger

It’s easier to prepare for winter when it’s always the same. In many parts of the country, winter is cold, blustery and frozen through for months without relief. Because I grew up in Michigan, living in Kentucky has been confusing—winter has no consistency here.

In years past, we’ve had legitimate tornado warnings and thunderstorms in January. We’ve also had ice storms—last year’s sealed all the doors my chicken coop with a thick layer of ice, and the one five years prior left us without power for 10 hours. Last week, my flock survived nights reaching 0 degrees F, but next weekend it’s going to be 52 degrees in Louisville. It’s no wonder I have trouble remembering what month it is!

It just occurred to me that because most the country is south of where I live, many readers of this blog might be dealing with the same winter inconsistencies that I am.

This winter, for us, is mud season. (Just ask my dog.) Relief from the bitter temperatures is nice, but mud is a lot cleaner when it’s frozen. So, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly about these warmer, rainy days, and how they’re affecting my flock and my landscape.

The Good

My chickens are outside foraging in January! Foraging satisfies chickens’ natural behaviors, and they’re eating pests that never seem to go dormant in southern winters. That’s a win-win! Warm day make for a happy flock.

And my compost pile is breaking down. That’s a gardening win! The hens and the pullets have been taking turns turning it all morning.

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The Bad

The periodic rain, hazy skies, and temperatures near 40 degrees means nothing dries. The ground is soft and spongy, making the lawn easy for chicken feet to rip and shred the land as they forage. While the chickens don’t track in the mud, my dog sure does.

Also, some water in my backyard hose remains frozen, so the soggy chicken poop on the patio gets to stick around until the hose thaws out completely. Tiptoeing across the patio to the yard to tend to the flock is necessary since I can’t hose off my shoes.

The Ugly

Animals are active. Across the field behind my backyard, birds are dancing though the sky and landing to forage. As pastoral as that sounds, a hawk just landed in a neighbor’s tree. Everyone’s out hunting for a nice meal, and that can get ugly.

Have I mentioned my patio?

Be Flexible

We chicken keepers make many choices to prepare our flocks for survival in the winter, so a warm weather surprise can shake us up a bit. My flock has only seen snow once so far, about two months ago. I’m hoping for some real winter weather soon—but not the dangerous kind or the muddy kind. While I keep my fingers crossed for big fluffy snowflakes landing on my free-ranging chickens, today’s chicken chore is to replace damp bedding with dry bedding.

How do the changes in weather affect how you care for your flock? Do you find that certain weather conditions change the way you maintain the coop? Let me know what you experience through the winter where you live.

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