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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
OK, I decided to try it without a coop, just the covered pen with the door open for my free-range girls. Last night, I had all 8, this morning just before sunrise the temp was down to 23 F. I still have all 8 girls, and as of 8:30 am, have already collected 3 eggs laid this am. As the weather has gotten colder, I have increased their scratch, to give them more carbs to burn for heat, and I have sheltered places all around my backyard, so that no matter which way the wind blows, they can get out of it...and they HAVE found all the shelters. I also had plentiful weeds which went to seed, and they love those. They are enthusiastic over the scratch at first, then go back for the weed seeds without eating even half the scratch. They occassionally go for the crumbles for a few pecks, then back to the weeds. I'm just letting them self-regulate their eating habits, it seems like nature leads them to what they need most. I'm still getting 6-7 eggs a day. There are so much of the crumbles left over in the feeder that I won't be giving them any more tonight. Or I'll just fill it up and let it be for a week or more. It would seem to me that as long as they are protected from the wind and have perches a little above the ground they are doing just fine. Time will tell, with the Dec and Jan cold with nights around 10 degrees colder and a couple of cold spikes down into the single digits, but it seems to me that any weather that pigeons can survive, a well-fed chook should be able to survive.
 

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Koodos to you. :) You are much braver than I. If I tried free-ranging like that, the pack of coyotes that hang out behind my house each night would have a feast. :eek:
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yeah, the girls made it but my fingernails didn't! (nibble, nibble). To be fair, I haven' turned on the heat in my house either. Did you know, if you wear 2 sets of sweats and use 2 blankets, you can stay pretty warm??
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
...and the experiment continues. So far, all is good. Still getting 6 eggs a day. Have had a bit of a warm spell, days up to 50's and 60's, but still frosty at night. Only about 10 hours of of light a day now. (So sad that the grapes are over...) The girls are doing fine, but I worry about my cats, since the chooks are now starting to attack them. The chooks
are looking so big and round, but it is feathers, in the warm part of the days, they go hang out in shady spots. That tells me that they have already acclimated for the cold nights. Just saying...
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Tonight will be the acid test, as they say. It is now 20 F, and expected to be single digit by a.m. Got 4 eggs today. There might be more, will have to make one more trip. Got at least 4 inches of snow last night/this am. So far girls all hanging in. Using a $1 garage-sale heated water dish up by the house. The girls have been using it for a month now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Temp last night 0 F, no coop, greeted today by all 8 girls, collected 4 eggs, the $1 Yard sale heated dog water dish is nicely thawed (WORKING) Wouldn't it be nice if the roost was heated? They are survivng well, but they definitely don't like the cold. 4 amber-whites, 2 australorps and 2 ameraucanas.
 

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Wow!
Without a coop, the only thing I would have left in the morning, would be the memory of 29 chickens. Too many predators around here to even consider it.
 

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Last night was officially winter in CA.

I went out this morning to fill up the waterers and they were frozen over. Not solid, but it had probably melted considerably since it is 60* now.
I hope it snows! I've lived in CA for 13 years and it has NEVER been a white Christmas.
:Wishes and Hopes:
 

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Ok ... Been reading and following this thread from the beginning ... Very interesting!

I live in western Alberta ... -29C tonight ... That is about -17F!!!

We are taking the plunge into chicken ranching in the spring ... But, this winter has really opened my eyes to the extra care needed for animals. Dog and cat in each night ... Water frozen and changed 3-4 times daily ... Bedding frozen hard and stiff ... And on and on ...

We will most surely have a coop and insulate it ... No heat on electric ... Small comb birds that tend to be cold harty ... Folks have been keeping chickens a long time without alot if extra stuff.

Please keep us posted through the heart of the winter as to the progress of your flock and any changes you make or mistakes you will not make again

SD
 

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Hi to kjohnstone and powderhogg, and all the rest of you cold weather folks, we had -19 F last night, high today was 3 F. Girls doing ok, covered run, deep litter, and We did hang a 200 watt bulb in the old brooder reflector lamp over the run for when it goes below zero. They like to hang out under it, and dig into the straw. It hangs from the center beam of the run, securely, about 3 feet above the ground. At night I do shut them in the henhouse and they also have a 40 watt bulb until about 11 pm. Last night I kind of panicked and stuck my microwave heated frisbee things they sell for dog houses. They did just great. The high winds that brought the cold wave in were harder on them, so I added a wind break on the north end, west side is tarped. With the wind block, no snow drifted in.
This afternoon one of the coyotes was sitting in front of the coop like a kid looking in a candy store, but we are secure, top, sides and bottom. Bee, your fermented feed and deep litter suggestions have been a Godsend.
 

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I have failed yet to cover the run, but have something lined up for the weekend to fix that. No heat or lighting, however I will be lighting the coop trying to gain a slight increase in eggs.
Fermented feed is still going strong, the deep litter has froze solid(ping with anything else left out). My waterer has cheap pipe heat wire around it, and freezes at the top but never through.
Did you get that coyote? Rare is the coyote who walks away from my house.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
HI!! I haven't written for a while, just semi-hibernating. Still have all 8 girls, laying everyday. One went broody, more than a month and she is still broody. The Ameraucanas both stopped laying. In fact, through the worst of the cold, the blue-wheaten decided to do a partial molt. (Brrrr, I can't believe it, her neck got sparse and she lost ALL of the major tail feathers. Just call her stumpy. but they are growing out now...) I'm getting four to five brown eggs a day from my 6 brown egg layers (one of whom is the broody). Still. The blue wheaten has darker grey beard and cheek fluff that are truly magnificent. Looks like a cartoon character. We had a couple of days where the highs got into the mid-thirties (fahrenheit) so that where the sun shines on it, the snow finally went away, and the girls are back to foraging. Whatever weed seeds and dormant bugs they can find. I have seen what they do now when they alert to hawks and such. They hug to the sides of the house, under the overhaning eaves, unless they are close enough to get under the old dead pickup. (One of them still lays daily in the bed of the truck.) They have survived nights from double-digit negative lows, currently warmed up to single digits above 0. I'm guessing that as long as they get to ease into the cold naturally and don't run out of food to fire up their little internal furnaces, they are pretty tough (endurance, not meat, they are still pullets after all). So far my experiment with coopless backyard chickens is working out pretty well. I'm still about 8 dozen eggs away from catching up to them, and I eat 4-5 eggs every day. I'm thinking that after a couple of years of chickens in my poor, large, weedy yard may change everything back there. I almost feel like betting that when the dandelions come out of dormancy, they are going to wipe them out. Cool. Wish my front yard was fenced.
 

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Great thread, kjohnston! I am attempting to do something similar (raise chickens without a coop) but here in the south my temperatures are much more moderate than yours. Even, so, having read your posts I was impressed at your reports of how well the chickens adapted to the cold! I wouldn't have thought they would do so well in such extreme temperatures. I particularly found it interesting where it was mentioned that their feathers thickened and filled out during the cold to keep them warm. Natural adaptation at it's finest!

I see that you don't mention having much problems with predators. Other than the hawks you mentioned, do you know of any predators close to where you live that COULD pose a problem (coyotes raccoons, etc)?
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Hi! Let's see, predators known to appear in this area - raccoons, coyotes, mountain lions, bears. Last year my next-door neighbor found raccoon tracks in his back yard, but closer to his other next-door neighbor (who lets his garbage pile up and rot down until the utility trailor (bed of a pickup with plywood extending up) gets full. Stinko! Even though my birds sleep on a roost in the pen, the complete exposure to the air has kept the poo pile from stinking. I have, only once in a year, shoveled that area out, when we got our first prolonged thaw in Feb and the poo thawed enough to do something with. I figured with 8 birds at night-worth all thawing and rotting at once, it would get stinky and perhaps become an attractant for the nasties. Didn't take long, since it was only from night-roosting. Makes sense that a coop, which fills up with poo pretty fast, would draw the predators. I'm older with bad back and joints, and if these chickens were anything like real work, I couldn't do it.

HOWEVER, don't even get me started on dogs....
 
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