Introduction: Keeping Chickens in a Harsh Northern Climate

Picture of Keeping Chickens in a Harsh Northern Climate
Update: I am overjoyed to hear of some Mainers who actually have used my instructable! 

My name is Dainius and i live in Maine where the climate is murderously cold in the winter. I have lost many a chicken in the earlier days until i have learned how to keep them going through the ice and wind storms.

My chickens are free range, but they have a home base chicken coop. I have taught them how to find food on their own (if their food might be frozen or i cannot make it out to the chicken coup.)

The one problem about letting your chickens learn how to hide in, live in, and love their big yard is that they hide their eggs in huge nests in underbrush that are very hard to find. I would look around my yard and sometimes find massive nests with about 25-35 rotten and still good eggs.

One of the ways you can coax them into laying in their coop, is by putting some of their rotten eggs in their nest. And even better, leave a few good eggs in their nest and cycle through them when they lay more. Sometimes, putting an empty egg of theirs or a wooden egg also works.

Here is a video of my chickens in the fall. You can see my dog there, she actually protects them!(Because shes a German shepherd she likes to herd the chickens as if they were sheep. She just makes sure their all in a group, but shes not always on duty doing that)

Step 1: Raising Chickys From Chick-hood.

Picture of Raising Chickys From Chick-hood.

1. Mailman asking questions?: I got a peeping box in the mail that was full of 12 chicks. We had to give them a certain medicine(forgot what it was called) and we had to give them water by an eyedropper. They have to stay under a hot light 24/7 until they get big enough to go outside. The little chicks must have plenty of mushy wet food to eat (it is better for them to swallow it that way) and plenty of water.

Whenever you have a spare minute always run down and check on them. They would always be getting into bits of trouble when i would come down.

1.1 Breeds: It is very important that you choose certain chicken breeds that will survive the cold. They might not look as pretty, but they will survive.

Here is a list of the best breeds of chicken for a cold climate:

E = egg amount

E = poor
EE = okay
EEE = good
EEEE = very good
EEEEE = prolific

B= broodiness

   = non setter
B = mostly a non setter
BB = occasional brooder
BBB = can be broody
BBBB = broody
BBBBB = very broody, protective mother

Ameraucana: EEEE, A+, BBB, friendly
Ancona: EEEE, A+, , restless and wants to escape
Appenzell: EEE, A+ (except crest freezing), BBB, restless in confinement
Australorp: EEEE, A+,BBB, calm and easily handled - this looks like the best one
Buckeye: EEE, A+,BB, calm and friendly
Jersey giant: EEE, A+,BB, calm and adaptable
Orpington: EEE, A+,BBBBB, docile and can be bullied
Plymouth Rock: EEE, A+,B, calm and adaptable
Sussex: EEEE, A+, BBBB, adaptable and easy
Wyandotte: EEE, A+, B, calm and adaptable

2. Pet chickens: Teach them to not fear humans. Hold them in your hands and gently stroke them, but not too long (this may be disputed but it worked for me, they run up to me and climb on my lap whenever i am near. they can turn practically into cats!) Let them eat from your hand and let them see that it is not bad. Do not try to grab and squeeze them because it traumatizes them.

3. Masters of aviation: When they learn how to fly, you must be extra careful and make sure the walls of their pens are tall. They can end up in such places.

4. Flew the coop!!: The choice between flying, and not flying chickens: I like my chickens flying because they can escape from raccoons, stray dogs, and all sorts of bad things. but they do escape from my yard sometimes and i have to round them up.

Not flying is better in a safer environment where they can be safe from other creatures. They will easily stay in any pen and you musn't worry.

Step 2: Weathering Your Birds

Picture of Weathering Your Birds

1.Freerange fowl: Leave the doors to the chicken coup open so they can roam out and learn the wilderness. You must let them go to the edges of your yard, but if they start getting out, you must heard them in in the fashion of an animal. Don't let them see you do it, Do not look like yourself because then they will get scared of you. Walk on all fours or just move somehow different.

2.Lean mean flying machines: Give them plenty of slop of your kitchen table. Don't give them bread because it puffs up in their stomach. My chickens are lean and strong, not fat and fluffy. They eat all their veggies, and sometimes even meat.

3.Nothing but a nice warm bed: Put plenty of local grasses in their chicken coup so they will be comfy and warm at night. We once a year buy a bale of hay from the farm in town and put it in their chicken coup so they will be warm all over. Soft hay means a happy chicken! and remember if its soft for you, its soft for them.

4.Lose a chicken? Get it back!!: If a chicken is gone, FIND IT! Almost every night I check how many birds i have and make sure they are all accounted for. If a chicken is alone, go through any measures to find it. if a few chickens are gone, it is not so bad, they are probably looking for worms and got lost, but still find them.

Old abandoned houses near yours are perfect hiding places for chickens. I once scaled my fence and plopped into the yard of what kids on my street knew as "the haunted house", and found my little chicken huddled in a corner, lonely and scared.

Senior neighbors of mine have reported chickens nuzzling down in their flower boxes and shivering out the night, so listen to them and find the chickens.

Step 3: Getting Through the Winter

Picture of Getting Through the Winter

1.A house without walls?: If your chicken coup has an open front, nail some clear strong plastic to it to block the wind. It can get cold in there.

2. Body heat is better than no heat: When you have a little coup packed with 10 chickens it can get to a sturdy temperature for them. This can work well if you are in a less arctic climate, although in the deep of winter i usually put a hot lamp on an extension cord in their pens so they can stay nice n' toasty.

3.Take to the trees!!: Lately my chickens have taken to living in lilac tree near their coup. They sit in the center so the wind doesn't get to them but it can get cold so it is better for them to be in the coup.

4. Ice for breakfast?:Their food and water can freeze in the cold, so i usually give them boiling water and they can drink it in the stage while its warm before it freezes. So their food doesn't freeze, i usually pack it in under hay and then let them skrat for it(i think the other instructable tells about that). Snow can also prove good at hidrating them in the cold months.

5. Snow up to the windows!!:When the chickens are snowed in, it is good to pack them down a little area in their chicken coup yard so they can go around in it. If you throw food onto the ground near some chickens who see it, they will flock around and probably eat it all before it freezes.

Step 4: Chicken Socalization

Picture of Chicken Socalization

1. Top of the pecking order: Chickens have sofistocated pecking orders that not even I don't understand. All i see is that some chickens don't get as much food as the others when they are all running around in a crowd for the cracked corn i throw down to them. You can also see when their heads start getting red and bloody from bullying. When you see this happening you have to make that chicken feel happy and at home. You must feed it better than others and strengthen it up so it can put up a stand against the bullies.

2. Survival of the fittest: When you throw the hens their food, some get shoved out of the big groups or just can't get in. You must make sure that everyone gets enough. In my order peppy, jeseppi, midnight, and rocky are pretty high on the pecking order. I have to feed all the rest separately.

Please place comments if you have further questions!!! I will happily answer any and all chicken questions. There is a lot more there is to say but it would be way too long to write!

p.s. Please oh please rate and comment!


cra7doc5 (author)2016-08-10

Hi There, I am new to raising chickens but before I start I would like any helpful tips you can offer me to get started. I live in ND so we have harsh cold climate and mild summers (but only 1month of it is hot). I am starting from scratch.

Thank you!

supernoodle2014 (author)2016-04-17

Nice instructable but I gotta warn you about heat lamps. Once I had 8 chickens in small coop during a winter storm. We got 4-6 inches of snow and that morning I found 6 dead chickens in the coop. It appeared the 100w bulb was to much heat for there little coop and they overheated.

I am going to start chickens in a couple of weeks, but I have been reading up on winter and chickens, there are things you can plug in before your lamp that will kick on at 32 degrees and kick off at 50, I think there are other temp ranges as well.

mcaliber.50 (author)2012-06-30

would an electric fence kill a chicken? i have one to keep my dogs in (it was a last resort, we almost had to get rid of them) and i was wondering if it could help keep chickens from digging under the regular fence

Parvat (author)mcaliber.502016-04-18

Hi, mcaliber.50, did you already try to use electric fense? I am just decided to, but still fearful to harm them. I have a big open yard imppossible to be closen and stray dogs in the neighboardhood. Thanks.

DainiusGB (author)mcaliber.502012-07-01

It might not kill them, but i wouldn't advise it. to stop my chickens from getting out i buried the fence a little in the ground and put bricks on either side. If your fence is not already buried, you could pile some bricks or rocks near the bottom, or a plank of wood.

mcaliber.50 (author)DainiusGB2012-07-02

the part of my yard with the electric wouldn't get used for chickens until my dogs are gone anyways, which i have no clue as to when that might be.

PatT9 (author)2015-09-14

Lots of good info! Thank you. I was wondering about the heat lights. When do I need to start running them and only at night?

beandata (author)2014-11-17

Fellow Mainer here. Thanks for the practical info. Its our first winter with a half dozen birds. Just sorting out water and heating. *crosses fingers*

maureen.r.ohara.7 (author)2014-10-10

Love the videos. My only experience with chckens were with Bantams. A fellow co-worker said she was looking for a home for a rooster and two hens. I had a small hobby farm and said sure it can't be all that hard. Well, it was a experience. I didn't have a coop and so they were free range and shared the barn with some cattle. We could not walk up the path past the barn to our house without getting attacked by the rooster. We had to protect ourselves with a pitch fork or whatever was handy or it would fly into our faces talons ready to do damage. We had a big sign on the barn stating Beware of Attack Rooster. Winter came and a barn cat moved into the barn, we fed it cat food but one day I was so frustrated with the darn bird I told the cat to eat them all. After a while I noticed a hen had disappeared then the other and finally the rooster disappeared. So my question is: what are the best chickens to have for a harsh New Brunswick winter that have personality, friendly and are good layers? No Bantams. Thank you will use your great advise to build my coop.

jtollakson (author)2014-09-02

I'm from Wisconsin and we show competitively so we built a Lean to on the side of our garage. That room is used for a breeding room and is better insulated than our house! It stayed 60°F during the Polar Vortex! Wrap the pipes for the watering cups in insulation and you stay safe in case the door is left open

Terri1ND (author)2013-02-09

Chantecler chicken is a Canadian breed that was developed by a monk to survive Canadian winters. I have several in North Dakota.

prou1 (author)2013-02-02

I am ready to try this. I had chicken before, but that was in a warmer climate and didn't get to laying age before I gave them to a farm.
I have a big garden, will they get into that and eat everything? If they do, I will need to keep them in their space.

mcaliber.50 (author)2012-06-30

would silkies do well in the winter? i live in the new bedford (ma) area, it gets down to the single digits sometimes, even the negatives, and there are very harsh winds. they look like they would do wel in the cold with all that fluff

DainiusGB (author)mcaliber.502012-07-01

Actually, the fluff could be a big liability because what happens is water can condense on it and then freeze which would really finish off a chicken, especially with all the fluff around the head. Right now i have black sexlinks and during the winter they fluff themselves up to insulate better, and now come summer they seem to have shedded a bit and are less fluffy and look smaller.

mcaliber.50 (author)DainiusGB2012-07-02

i had no clue, thanks!

c.d.boe (author)2009-12-17

I would love to be able to do this but I live in a city with laws against fowl in city limits, and my backyard is to small for a chicken coup. Are they pretty good at eating all the pests in your garden?

firefly68 (author)c.d.boe2010-04-11

c.d.boe, many communities are changing these laws because people like you show them that allowing poultry and even other livestock is a good thing. If you and some friends go before your Board armed with information you may just change things for the better!

porcupinemamma (author)firefly682010-04-11

Hi :0) could you please elaborate about how it is a"good thing" I've thought about raising chickens, but because i live in town, I'm not allowed to

Hi again firefly 68  :0)  what I'm asking is, can you please tell me which facts I can use to present my case to town council?

your neighbors might appreciate it if you share the eggs every now and then. eggs that are from chickens that are raised right are easily 10X better that ones you get at a store, and you know where they come from.

chickens will eat any bug that they can find, so it might help cut down on pest control. i've seen chickens grab flies and mosquitoes out of the air

i can understand not having a rooster though, they make quite a bit of noise

DainiusGB (author)c.d.boe2010-04-16

 they are pretty good at that, but the problem is that they will eat everything else in your garden too!

rhondalee (author)c.d.boe2010-04-11

I live in Missoula, MT.  It seems like it was just a couple years ago that the  "city dwellers" passed a zoning law allowing residents to have up to 5 chickens in their yard but NO roosters.  I'm not sure how it all came about though.  But I do know the zoning law didn't take long to pass with a majority rule....I live in the county and just recently bought my "first chickens"..They are only a couple weeks old and they are sooooo cute.  I'm hoping they will eat the all my yard and garden pests!!! You can have a pretty small yard and still have chickens.  A coup doesn't have to be huge especially if you only want a couple.   Check out the sites about chicken raising, you'd be surprised what you can use for a coup....Have a good day and hope one day you can enjoy the fun of raising

firefly68 (author)2010-04-11

Medication for chicks is really only needed for factory-farmed birds, i.e. over-crowded in cages where any disease will go through the whole flock like wildfire. Free range birds do NOT need meds unless they get sick or injured. You can buy chicks and feed that have not been medicated; in fact, the meds cost extra. Also there are breeds that handle cold weather better than others, here is a site that gives lots of good info. And this site is a forum where you can ask questions and get good advice.

Chickens and other poultry are lots of fun and will reward you if they're well taken care of. Enjoy!

winterwindarts (author)firefly682011-12-06

There is a difference between medications, vaccines, and antibiotics although a disturbingly large amount of people lump them all together.

Antibiotics are what needs to be avoided and is the one that's really only needed on factory farms.

Vaccines trigger an immune response so that the bird can't get sick of whatever virus the vaccine is for. Even small scale flocks/pets should have certain basic vaccines to prevent getting illnesses passed from wild birds which is very common and otherwise difficult to prevent. No, I don't remember which off the top of my head as I always need to look it up although I think one's for tuberculosis. Vaccines are in general considered safe unless outdated or containing something hazardous such as mercury.

Medications are a gray area-however, I am NOT using the term to refer to any antibiotics. In a number of cases medications are used to treat/prevent various minor issues including those that would be passed from wild birds and prevent the issues from getting to the point where you would need antibiotics...yes, it does sometimes happen even in small flocks. One thing in particular that I've seen debated about is medicated chick feed. Normally this does not contain antibiotics, it is intended to prevent coccidia in chicks which can be very lethal and is very common even among pets. Older chickens can usually deal with it just fine but it will kill chicks. I do agree that medicated food for older birds is ridiculous overkill unless directed by a vet for treatment of an illness that does not warrant euthanasia.

Less is usually more but not using anything at all can backfire spectacularly (an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure). Always remember that chickens can catch pretty much everything a wild bird might carry-it doesn't have to be passed from another chicken. Even just droppings from a flyover can be enough to pass on certain health problems. To be a humane animal keeper sometimes you do have to use something. The trick is to use the minimum necessary which isn't always easy to determine. Using too little can be just as bad (and sometimes worse) than using too much. That being said, unless highly advised otherwise by an avian vet I would personally only use antibiotic-free medicated chick feed (preferably organic...supposedly it does exist) and the vaccinations needed for my region.

Dale mellott (author)2011-02-21

I have used heat tape for frozen pipes and stapled it fast to the bottom of the roost ,hooked it to a timer so when the temp dipped below 32 degrees F it would come on at midnite and go off at 5 am,this way they get off the warm roost and get active in the coop.I have approx 20 layings hens and the hardly ever stopped laying through the winter.

karenbrat1 (author)Dale mellott2011-08-26

Dale, what material are you using for roosts? I use wood, so I can't see how that kind of heating thing would work on the underside.

I'm in northern Idaho where it gets pretty cold too. I do not heat my coops and always have some birds suffer from frozen comb, and occasionally frozen toes. This winter I'll be making them roost on the flat side of 2x4s, so that all their toes will be covered when they snuggle down.

chaydgb (author)2011-04-28

We have found a useful way of getting the chickens back in their coop before dark. As pullets, we trained them to associate the sound of a metal tin full of grain with a treat (and we all know chickens like their food!) as long as you give them a handful of their favourite nibble when they come running, it's a pretty sure fire way of rounding them up.

Black Panther Knex (author)2011-02-28

Your birds look very good and well kept for.I too like to keep my birds lean and not fat.

Herbobuloo (author)2010-07-26

Great instructable. We almost got chickens, but were too busy. Sometime.

TNikolas (author)2010-07-19

Well, nice pics

emmjul (author)2010-07-19

nice pics :-)

Sequimania (author)2010-07-18

Really enjoyed this. It was informative and fun. Thanks!

Annie734 (author)2008-03-25

My mother says they used to have glass eggs that they put in the nests where they wanted the chickens to lay their eggs. I'm not sure where you would get a glass egg though. Great instructable!

s_briles (author)Annie7342010-07-18

One can get wood eggs from most pultry supply places. check on line. Also most art and craft stores have wooden eggs that can be painted for decoration. they appear so be the same as the ones from the poultry supply places.

porcupinemamma (author)Annie7342010-04-11

I wonder if a plastic egg would work? -the ones that come out at Easter in the shops

headache2000 (author)Annie7342008-12-18

do you know anyone with a wood lathe they are easy to turn..

chuckr44 (author)Annie7342008-12-17

Look for glass, wooden, plastic, or ceramic eggs at a hobby store in the US.

DainiusGB (author)Annie7342008-03-25

we would use golfballs and wooden eggs sometimes.

deckerw967 (author)2010-05-19

A great way to get chickens to lay eggs in the nest is to use a fake egg in each nest! You will not have to look around the yard for rotten eggs!

spenfisher12 (author)2010-04-12

was that a polish bantam at 0:9 in the vid

DainiusGB (author)spenfisher122010-04-16

 she was polish crested, but she wasn't a bantam

spenfisher12 (author)DainiusGB2010-04-18

looked like 1 but what ever

gregdonough (author)2009-09-08

Any tips on keeping the water from freezing? w/ 12 volts

DainiusGB (author)gregdonough2010-04-16

 well what i would do is every morning in the winter is bring out a pot of boiling water to them, they could drink some of the day then until it froze

brawns214 (author)2010-04-11

 You've got to write an instructable about teaching your dog to herd chickens. So far, my dog either ignores them or chase after him, depending on his mood. He's a golden lab so he has all these hunting instincts which may not help our case.

DainiusGB (author)brawns2142010-04-16

 Well i dont know how my dog does it, but she only does it when im around so it doesn't matter much anyway. I think its because shes a german shephard and its in her instincts to keep the animals together, for example whenever i would go on walks with my family she would always run from the front of the group to the back of the group and would never just stay in the middle, she would always be first or last. In the beginning my dog also had hunting instincts and she killed all the chickens, but now shes learned to play nice!

spenfisher12 (author)2010-04-12

what if you want chicens that just wander around the yard but with no fence

DainiusGB (author)spenfisher122010-04-16

 thats totally fine if they know that they have to come back to their home base, but the problem with that is they start getting used to going farther and farther away from the coop and unless they want to come back, they wont, and either they will die, or become wild chickens.

spenfisher12 (author)2010-04-12

she blinked just in time fore the pic

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