Early this winter, I let the chickens out on a day after a light snow fall. The chickens quickly came out of their door, down the ramp onto the dirt pad, and then stopped. It was clear that to them, the snow was absolutely strange. They were “chicken” to go further when they encountered it! Experiencing snow for the first time would be startling for any creature, and it was interesting to witness the behaviour of my chickens adapting to the reality of life in the winter in Ontario, Canada–that is, we get snow! (As a side note: I wonder where the usage of the word ‘chicken’ comes from, when it connotes someone who is afraid or is holding back in doing something. Any ideas for the origin of that usage? Let me know in the comments!)
Introduction to Snow!
A few things I noticed while watching the chickens during their first encounter with snow:
– Their senses were on high alert with all the stimulus. Snow is cold, slightly crunchy beneath their feet, and affects their sight as it covers all of their familiar environment. It seemed that their first instinct was not to venture further, but to retreat to their comfort zone in the coop. They “chatted” amongst themselves as they experienced the snow for the first time and huddled together as they moved.
– When the chickens did begin moving out of the coop and into the snow, they hugged the side of the coop where the snow was the sparsest. They tasted the snow and seemed surprised by the bland, cold taste.
In order to encourage them to interact with the snow and their new environment, my wife sprinkled grains of rice out in the snow. Once they began to acclimate to the snow, the draw of the rice was nearly overpowering and prompted them to move further from the coop and out into the snow. Chickens have finely-tuned senses and are very intuitive. You can feel free to encourage them to venture out into snow and explore their winter environment, so long as temperatures remain above freezing. Below freezing temperatures specifically with high winds or snow fall could risk hypothermia for your birds.
Don’t let a wintry environment prevent you from having backyard chickens or encouraging the chickens you have to venture out in the snow. When temperatures are above freezing, chickens can spend some time in the snow. When they are below freezing, the chickens are best left in the safety and predictability of their coop. Are you allowing your chickens to roam despite wintry temperatures? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,