Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Buckeye Chickens Thrive Through Coldest WI winter in 35 years

Our Buckeyes performed admirably through the coldest winter in SW Wisconsin in 35 years. Their set-up was a 12x20 structure with 3 walls and a roof and a partially closed off fourth wall. I put their mobile coop (which they use for sleeping and laying) inside on the West edge of the structure behind where the fourth wall was closed off - thus they were out of the wind. We attached our electric poultry netting to either side of the coop giving the birds just over 1/8 acre to roam. They also shared the coop with 7 turkeys and a dozen small wild birds.

I turned on the heat lamp if temps got below -5 F but it wasn't necessary - I did it mainly to keep egg production up. We had a day where the air temp topped out at -11 F and the wind chill was -30 or colder throughout the day and they had no problem with that (though they did look quite cold). I think having a 'coop within a coop' effectively limited wind while still allowing plenty of air to move through their structures - both the larger coop and the mobile coop are always open. Generally speaking, not much snow got in to the coop even though there was a 12 foot opening in the South wall - I think the wind had to be just right to push snow into the building - usually it drifted up about 2-3 feet south of the structure.

Toward the end of the winter (late Feb) we started to have an egg eating problem and one of the sex linked blacks got hen pecked pretty badly (she is missing feathers along her backside). I put this down mainly to stress. We had so much snow that they were pretty cooped up - they had open access but the snow drifts got up to five feet just a couple feet from their coop, effectively limiting their access to just the coop.


  1. 21 chickens and 7 turkeys survive coldest winter in 35 years with little auxiliary heating.
  2. Coop was open on the South side, letting the sun into the coop.
  3. Limiting wind and providing a place with no wind (coop within the coop) was an important element of the success in my opinion.
  4. I used deep litter method - just throwing hay down on top of all the shit and detritus that would build up. I also threw fresh hay down on top of snow on the rare occasion that significant snow got into the coop (I think only once). I used a 3 day thaw in January as an opportunity to clean out the litter and start them on fresh stuff. It would have been impractical to try to clean out the litter more often as it was frozen in place.


  1. Snow drifts caused a big problem - it limited the flocks access to forage and space. I think next winter we might try to either cut down the flock going into winter or put them in a bigger space. Then again it is not likely we have another winter as bad as this one for a while.
  2. Snow drifts and the depth of the snow also made the poultry netting ineffective for the latter half of winter. I tried digging the fence out of the drifts a few times but it became totally impractical to keep up with it, in addition to all the other shoveling I was doing. Luckily, it seems all the predators were deep in sleep during this time. I am currently quite nervous because temps have warmed but the drifts are still over the fence in several places (as of March 11).
  3. Egg eating in the second half of winter. To deal with the egg eating problem, I constructed a nesting box from a five gallon bucket (click link for an example image) and attached it to our mobile coop. I will construct another one once we get some melt - all my other 5 gallon buckets are under several feet of snow still. The idea here is to just get the eggs out of high traffic area - out of sight out of mind - since I believe they are eating the eggs mainly out of boredom.

Other Notes:

  1. All livestock eat a TON during super cold winters - poultry are no exception so we went through a lot of feed. A LOT of feed.
  2. I don't really like the fact that wild birds are in the same structure as our poultry, mainly because of the risk of disease. Not sure what to do about this or how big a risk it really is.

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