1. It's getting cold. What should I do about my hens?
During freezing weather, egg production and hen comfort will be increased if they have plenty of (non-frozen) water to drink. If you don't have piped water to the henhouse, I recommend using 10 qt. galvanized buckets as waterers. Fill them with warm water and take them out to the hens. Take the frozen buckets from last time back indoors with you. Galvanized buckets are good because plastic buckets split when they freeze and poultry founts are hard to open when they're partly frozen. Rubber buckets and pans are also good.
The hens will be warmer during the day if they exercise. They'll be warmer at night if they go to bed with a crop full of grain. The two can be combined by putting a thick layer of loose hay or straw in their pen and scattering a light feeding of grain in the morning and a heavy feeding of grain in the afternoon. Around the turn of the century it was common to have a "scratching shed" attached to the henhouse, which was a substitute for range during the winter. The scratching shed was usually open-fronted (that is, walled on three sides only, with chicken wire on the fourth side), with a thick layer of loose straw on the floor. Grain is fed in the scratching shed, which is where the birds get their fresh air, exercise, and sunshine.
More winter care tips:
Don't try to keep the house warmIn particular, don't restrict ventilation in an attempt to conserve warmth. Attempts to warm henhouses with the hens' body heat usually fail. The hens produce so much moisture in their breath and droppings that restricted ventilation is at least as likely to lead to condensation and frostbite as warmth and comfort. Restricted ventilation also causes ammonia build-up in the air, which is very bad for chickens, which have weak lungs. Not to mention that shut-up houses are darker than they should be. Open-front houses work better.
I live in a very mild climate where it's very rare for daytime highs to be below freezing for more than a few days running. My housing is very open and is highly ventilated. Cold snaps as low as 10°F-20°F reduce egg production but the birds remain healthy and active. My reading indiates that open-front housing is suitable for winter quarters even in New England.
In "Poultry Breeding and Management," Professor Dryden gives these rules of thumb (page 178):
The wide-open front is impracticable in sections where the temperature gets much below zero... In a section where the minimum temperature is zero, one side of the house may be practically all open. In such a climate sufficient ventilation for fifty fowls will be obtained by an opening 3x8 feet or 24 square feet of opening, equal to about one-half square foot per fowl. In colder climates, with a temperature of 20 below zero, the opening may be decreased to a fourth or a fifth the size. A small opening in a cold climate will give better ventilation than a larger opening in a warm climate. In summer the opening should be larger than in the winter.
These recommendations result in vastly more ventilation than people usually give their chickens, but give better results.
2. Do you have other winter chicken-care tips?
Why, yes, I do.