The Winter Poultry Palace

Raising pastured laying hens in Vermont means that at some point in the year, your pastures will inevitably be blanketed in snow and temperatures will drop. So, during the coldest part of the year, my chickens, ducks and geese retire to the "poultry palace". 

chicken coops

The set-up is oriented to best block winter winds. (The black fabric is a windbreak) I don't use heat lamps on the birds in the winter, so I rely on making their area snug but well-ventilated. Damp air is what leads to frostbite in chickens.

Probably the biggest downside to winter, in the chickens' point of view, is living with these guys. The geese are the unchallenged rulers of the poultry hierarchy and like to peck the occasional passing chicken, just to make sure it remains that way.

farm geese

In addition to the wooden coop, where they sleep and lay eggs, the chickens are free to wander through my two greenhouses during the winter. Heated waterers make sure they stay well hydrated and food arrives regularly! Here they are a little crowded in the smaller greenhouse as only a few of them have figured out that there are also tasty treats in the second, larger greenhouse behind it.

laying hens

To supplement what would be quite a boring diet of chicken feed, I give them a variety of vegetables from my garden or from other local organic farms. Here they are pecking through a delicious pile of overgrown, frozen kohlrabi! They are also still working on their stash of pumpkins and squash.

laying hens

Something I love about the Golden Comet (the breed of chicken I raise) is that when you stay still for any length of time, someone has to come to investigate.

curious chicken

I am also quite happy with how productive these hens have remained even as it gets colder and darker. On any given day, about 70% of them lay an egg, not bad for a time of year when we have only about 9 hours of daylight (and days are still getting shorter!) I recently introduced a full spectrum LED light in their coop, to give them some extra daylight in the morning. Otherwise, their egg production may drop quite low.

 


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