by Lori Leigh
Story and photos
Some things never change. People have been keeping chickens for years.
Some things do change, such as the way people keep chickens.
Let’s compare some similarities and changes, shall we…
Back in the day, many farmers had cold-hardy breeds, such as Buff Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and Rhode Island Reds. These are the breeds that were most likely available to them. Many chickens were also used for dual purpose, meaning they were for egg production and/or meat.
Today, there is a wide variety of chickens available. Backyard flocks vary in chicken breeds and egg color, depending on what a person wants. Some still prefer a dual purpose chicken, while others raise chickens as pets. Generally speaking, farmers probably had more chickens than most of us backyard chicken keepers do today.
As with most topics, there are exceptions. Delicate chicken breeds, such as Silkies and Polish may require extra care.
Chicken coops weren’t fancy back in the good ‘ole days. Many chickens probably slept in a barn with other animals. Housing multiple animals together creates a cozy atmosphere. Each one contributes to producing natural heat, helping all to stay warm.
Today, whether using a re-purposed shed or a custom built coop, many chickens have their own housing.
The natural way of keeping warm hasn’t changed for chickens. In general, most chickens tend to be cold hardy. Sometimes we just need to allow it to happen naturally. Chickens can actually handle the cold of winter better than the heat of summer. They have an instinct to fluff their feathers to keep warm. They also have the natural instinct to roost together.
Adding electric heat clearly wasn’t an option before electricity. Many argue that a heated coop is not only a fire hazard, but also not healthy for chickens. Their bodies may not easily adjust to the drastic temperature change inside and outside of the coop.
Also, remember that heating the coop can increase moisture. Too much moisture inside the coop can cause illness or frostbite to your flock.
Chickens require about 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs regularly. They also lay best when temperatures range between 50 to 80 degrees F. For these reasons, it can take a chicken two to three days to produce an egg naturally during the cold, dreary winter months.
Adding artificial light can trick a hen’s body into thinking she is receiving adequate light, thus producing eggs more frequently. This can be taxing on the hen, possibly even causing stress or disease.
The natural way to raise chickens during the winter is to allow their bodies to rest. Adequate rest for a chicken should include at least 8 hours of darkness per day. So, if you choose to use lighting/heat in your coop, set it to a timer.
Just as there are different preferences for chicken breeds, there are also different preferences on how to raise chickens…to each their own.