Homesteading · Urban Homesteading

Homesteading: Letting Chickens Rest Over The Winter

The argument over letting chickens rest in winter goes back to the invention of electricity and lightbulbs. I don’t have a lot of experience with chickens, just a year here and when I was young, I will be up front with this, but I do have a deep belief in paying attention to Mother Nature. I listened to it, and shelved the heat lamps when they were babies. And we did amazing. Even though every expert said I was wrong. I decided to treat my chickens the homesteading way.

When you think about it, people have kept chickens for a very long time, as far back to when mankind started forming villages and domesticating animals (supposedly over 5,000 years ago). So why did chicken keepers start using heat and light in winter months when chickens did just fine before? For a couple of reasons. One is keeping chickens inside walled buildings, such as barns and sheds. They often don’t let the birds outside during winter. That means it is quite dark in their coop. Artificial lighting lets them feel more in tune.

However, the short of it? We do not keep our chickens inside except for at night. And they sleep in minimal coops. They are outside, roaming all days, eating bugs and worms, pecking and turning the ground under them. The coops are for sleeping in.

The chickens go into the coops as the sun sets, or within 30 minutes of it. It’s easy to train them to do it. The first two or three nights you might have to go find them, and toss them in, but after that, they know what to do. As the year ends we have about 8½ hours of light, and the sun sets tonight around 4:30 pm Pacific time.

So yes, they sleep a lot in winter. It isn’t sunrise till 8 am. But in those hours they stay active and are outside. Of our 7 hens that lay, we get most days 2 eggs a day currently. (The 2 dwarf hens may never lay, we just don’t know, and we have one that is too young as well.)

Yes, light in the tiny coop tops would keep them up, but it would also present another issue: Fighting. There are 8 chickens in the big coop, and they sleep across the high bar upstairs. with lights on, they are active and there isn’t enough space for them. Our small coops work because they don’t sit inside all day.

So why no heat?

We don’t use heat because it leaves animals vulnerable to the cold in power outages. Just yesterday we had a good wind storm and multiple trees fell on the roads near us. One took out the power on the loop near us. Chickens can heat themselves just fine if raised naturally, they will keep their feathers clean and fluffed up. And it encourages them to sleep next to each other.

And I am cheap. We do not have electricity routed down to the lower fields.

And then there is the risk of fire. I have known of multiple people who lost sheds, barns and coops to fire, all from using heat lamps. All it takes is a lamp falling and igniting hay or wood chips, and all your chickens will perish painfully.

Thoughts:

Would I get more eggs if I used lights? Maybe, maybe not. Those who use lights will often carry on about how egg laying needs 12 to 16 hours of light a day (anymore than that, chickens do not do well). Yet, wether or not the hens lay more eggs, that comes down to the bird and her mood. So you might drop the money to invest into lights and find it doesn’t pay out. And you could have instead just bought eggs locally grown at the store for $4 to 6 a dozen instead of paying the power company many times more. It is to me the same reasons behind not heating greenhouses, not using grow lights, and getting off of city water.

Listen to Mother Nature: Just like how you need rest in the winter, so do the chickens. Let them sleep more. Let them heal from fall molting. Soon enough, the days will be longer, and they will start laying again. But most of all, let them be outside during the winter days if possible. Just as us humans need to get outside as well.

~Sarah

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