Winter chicken keeping can be a little bit daunting for many people. You worry if your birds are getting enough to eat. Is their diet varied? What about frozen water? Predators are hungry and more determined for a meal. Plus, if you live in a snowy area like me, it is cold, cold, cold outside.
One of the things that I have found useful over the years is to not keep chicken feed and water in my coop overnight. Chickens are night blind. This means that they are not equipped to be out hunting at night. They instead find a safe place to hunker down for the night and await dawn’s first light before venturing out to find food and water. Your birds are not going to be rifling the food bowls for a midnight snack any time soon. The night blindness is one of the reasons your chickens will head to the coop as the sun sets. They are hardwired this way from surviving for centuries in the wild as a prey animal.
Feed left overnight in the coop can attract predators and rodents that you do not want poking around at night. A secure coop is always a good thing, but why tempt fate? Chickens are preyed upon by many a hungry animal. Each night, as part of my locking up the coop routine, I remove the feed and water bowls. While a hungry raccoon may still attempt a chicken dinner, I want to lesson the chance. This also helps to eliminate any curious rats and others from looking for a quick easy treat from the chicken feed bowl.
Frozen water. It is the bane of a winter chicken keeper’s existence. To remedy this, I remove water at night as well as use ping pong balls to keep the water from freezing right up once it is set out. Fresh water is key for chicken survival in winter. They need access to fresh, unfrozen water. That being said, they do not need access to water overnight. Once your chickens are roosting for the night, they are not getting back up for water. Instead, I remove the water dish and bring fresh water out in the morning when I am opening up my coop for the day. Throughout the day, I swap the water out for a new bowl of fresh water. This assembly line of water is how I avoid dirty frozen water. To help the water from freezing right away, I place 4 or 5 ping pong balls in the black rubber bowls that I use for water in the winter. The ping pong balls move in the water helping to prolong the time it takes for it to refreeze. The black rubber tubs you can buy at any feed or farm store placed in a sunny location will not freeze over as fast as the galvanized metal waterers. The nights are much longer than the days during winter and this style of chicken watering is not how I water during the rest of the year, but I have found that it makes life easier for me and for the birds when I can swap out water dishes and not worry about breaking up ice outside in the cold.
Today is a blustery 20 degrees with a winter storm watch in effect. My girls are out in the yard scratching a bit before we are nailed with up to 10 inches of snow. Their food and water is out for the day. Tonight, in the snowy storm, I will make the trek to the backyard and close up the coop and remove the food and water dishes. First light, I start my pot of coffee and head back outside bearing gifts of fresh water and food.