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.
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
= 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.