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Overwintering poultry in Montana.

Winter is hard on poultry--and poultry raisers--but people who live in Montana know how to cope with it. Here are some ideas from Montana poultry raisers that might help you and your chickens survive the cold wherever you live.

Denise Pennington, Helena, starts preparing for Montana's winter weather by choosing to raise heavier birds, which she thinks lay better in winter. She has a flock of about 30 Black Australorps and Buff Orpingtons. The birds are kept in a 10 x 25-foot insulated coop all winter. The ceiling contains commercial insulation, but the walls are insulated with sawdust. Denise explained that sawmills and lumber industries are common in her area, and sawdust is easy to get.

She adds extra sawdust litter in the winter to help keep the birds warm, building it up to 10-12 inches. She also puts storm windows on the coop's four windows.

Three heat lamps in the house are turned on in cold weather. When the thermometer hits 20 below, she turns on a thermostatically controlled heater that keeps the building at a "comfy" 0[degrees]. Electric water heaters keep the water from freezing.

"It's important to increase the heat and give the birds something to do" when it gets that cold, Denise said. By giving them whey blocks as feed supplements, she keeps them from picking on one another and also diverts their attention from frozen cracked eggs, which can turn to egg-eating. She sets aside the frozen eggs, lets them thaw, and gives them to her cats and dogs.

She also feeds the chickens alfalfa in winter if there is a lot available.

Roy Gustavsen's 20 chickens made it through the first winter storm, and should make it through the rest of the season as well. Roy has only lost a few birds in 46 years of poultry raising.

His mixed breed flock winters in an uninsulated 8 x 12 foot house. He butchers about 35 other birds before winter sets in. The coop is constructed of half-inch plywood, and a heat lamp is burning 24 hours a day.

"You need a heat lamp if you don't want the birds' combs to freeze," Roy said. He has had trouble with his Leghorns' combs freezing, but they would just fall off. He didn't notice any adverse effects on the birds.

Roy keeps drinking water from freezing by putting the waterer up on a cement block, with a 60-watt light bulb beneath it.

Feed is changed from laying mash to corn, wheat and oats in the winter. Roy thinks this ration gets the birds through the cold better. Each hen lays an egg every 3-4 days with this ration, he reported.

Corvallis, Montana, is nestled in a valley in the far western part of the state, and doesn't get extreme temperature variations. This helps Nancy Carter overwinter all 30 of her mixed breeds without many problems.

The birds are housed in a 6 x 8-foot coop in winter, but they have access to a covered pen via a small door in the coop. She leaves the door open except in extremely cold or wet weather.

The coop is partially insulated with sawdust, and the rest is built of double fiberboard. When the birds are shut in the coop their body heat and a heat lamp keep them warm. There is also extra straw and sawdust litter in the winter.

Nancy started using a heat lamp last year, and she thinks it has helped keep egg production up. She keeps the lamp on from 6 Am until 10 PM and all night when it's really cold.

The birds' feed is the same year 'round-laying mash with scratch or ground grain. She changes the water twice daily to keep it from freezing. The only birds Nancy ever lost in water were older ones. She has only had one or two frostbitten combs, but she raises mostly rosecomb varieties that are less susceptible to frostbite.

Gloria Lombardi, Whitehall, has been raising poultry since she was a little girl. She now has a wide variety of hens and Cochin, Rhode Island Red and Brahma roosters. A few guineas join the chickens in winter, and "when it's really bad," the turkeys are also housed there.

She keeps her chickens in a 12 x 20 foot foot coop insulated with sawdust. She feels the softwood sawdust also helps repel mites and lice because of the "turpentine" it contains.

She uses straw litter and a heat lamp. She fills the waterers with warm water, and doesn't have much trouble with freezing. She does increase the flock's ration of barley in winter, though. She feeds only barley, because her birds are allowed to range outside year-around around. If she feels the birds aren't finding enough food, she will also give them alfalfa.

The birds are allowed to range--even in winter--because Gloria feels the wind, not the cold, is their worst enemy. She has noticed that they often don't want to be in the coop during cold, windy weather, but they always want to be out of the wind.

The only losses she ever had were some Cornish-crosses that she said couldn't take the cold and caught pneumonia. She butchered them and has never raised the breed again.

There are similarities in the way these Montanans raise poultry. All but one had insulated coops, and winter confinement was prevalent. All the buildings were wired for electric had heat lamps.

Special attention was paid to the birds' food and water. Birds generally eat more in water to maintain body heat. If enough food is not available, hens will divert some of their feed nutrients from egg production to maintenance of body temperature.

Poultry must have clean water available at all times at temperatures from 50[degrees] to 55[degrees]. If the water approaches freezing, consumption can drop as much 1 as 25 percent. Reduced water consumption decreases feed consumption--and an egg is mostly water.

With these tips in mind, we hope your winter is a good one--for you and your poultry.
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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