Thursday January 02, 2014 | 09:18 AM

According to the Farmers Almanac this winter will be milder than normal across the north with the coldest periods in late January, and late February.  With temperatures forecast to be in the negative realm the next couple nights I thought, as someone who keeps chickens, it might be prudent to share a few tips on keeping chickens during a Northern New England winter. The two most important issues are shelter and keeping the chickens water from freezing.
Shelter – Chickens are pretty hardy so you just need to provide a shelter with a roof and four walls (in my case one of those walls is built out of hay bales in my barn) so they can stay dry and out of the wind. Put down a few layers of bedding (hay, straw, pine shavings…) so they can nestle into it, this provides more warmth than the floor (whether dirt or other) and in the spring will give you a nice addition to the compost. Also provide roosts – chickens will roost together and fluff themselves out to stay warm. Roosts should generally be between two and three feet off the ground. I do not recommend using a heater (a) they don’t need it (b) if you use it and then lose power during a storm chances are the chickens will not have been able to acclimate to the temperatures as they normally would have and will freeze to death (c) with all the hay, straw, etc. there is an opportunity for a coop/barn fire.
Water – I use a few waterers year-round. During the winter I bring one or two of them into the house during the day and switch them out throughout the day (about every 2-3 hours – this is only necessary when it is below 20) with one in the barn. I keep the largest metal waterer on a heated waterer base during the day, so the water is kept above freezing. I do not leave the heated waterer base on at night or when I am not home. At night I empty out a couple of the waterers and in the morning fill them with fresh water replacing the waterers, which have frozen overnight in the barn. I have heard the large black rubber tubs you can buy a Paris Farmers Union, Tractor Farm Supply… keep water warmer longer than the metal ones. I have not tried this, but I can tell you my experience has been the larger the waterer the slower it is to freeze and metal waterers freeze before plastic ones. For more information check out this article on Delicious Musings or this one from Backyard Chickens. 

**UPDATE - Patty Qua of The Beanery in Exeter, Maine suggests putting a bowl of snow in the barn in addition to the waterers. 

State Foresters offer tips for dealing with storm-damaged trees.
After December’s ice storm caused substantial damage the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Forestry created the following tips to help guidance to property owners faced with question about what to do with ice-covered trees, limbs and branches.

Branches and trees on power lines should be dealt with by calling local power companies. Even if a hanging limb is clear of power and utility wires, homeowners should assess the severity of the damage before trying to repair or remove the branch.

Trees covered with ice - Make a potentially dangerous situation even more so. Do not work around limbs that have broken off (or partially broken off) and are hung up in a tree crown. These can break off at any time with devastating force. Contact a licensed and insured arborist (tree-care professional trained to assess and correct storm damaged trees). A list of licensed arborists that can be found here

Advice for trees that do not pose a threat - Wait until the ice has melted to perform tree work. Do not try to remove it by shaking branches free. In most cases the safest course of action is to let nature take its course. Attempting to remove it while it is still covered with ice can cause more damage and breakage than leaving it alone. Ice accumulation is hardest on broad-leaved, deciduous trees, especially ones that had a defect. For more information, call the Maine Forest Service toll-free at: 1-800-367-0223.

Bee Schools Announced 
Master Beekeepers Erin MacGregor Forbes and Jack Hildreth will be teaching Intermediate Bee School starting January 8th at the Portland campus of University of Southern Maine. Apiary Management is geared towards beekeepers with two plus years of experience. The focus of this class is how to effectively manage an apiary under Maine conditions. Cost is $130 per person (includes book)/$180 for 2 enrollees (includes shared book and materials). For more information on this and other honeybee-related classes and workshops and to register go here

Staff Changes at MOFGA
Jim Ahearne has resigned and April Boucher has been promoted to head the 2014 Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA) Common Ground Country Fair. Ahearne oversaw the past six Common Ground Country Fairs. According to MOFGA’s release, he is leaving to pursue other professional interests closer to home. Boucher, a long-time fair coordinator will assume the fair director role immediately. The Common Ground Country Fair is MOFGA's signature event, averaging 60,000 visitors each year. The Fair celebrates MOFGA's mission of helping farmers and gardeners grow and sell organic food, fiber and other crops. The dates for the next fair are September 19, 20 & 21, 2014.

MOFGA Announced the 2014 Common Ground Country Fair Poster
This year's winning design features medicinal herbs. The artist, Kate Seaver, is a MOFGA journeyperson and co-operator of Up-Beet Farm in Porter, a MOFGA certified organic market garden.

Slow Money Gathering
The next Slow Money gathering will take place on Wednesday, January 15 from 1 – 4 p.m. at Viles Arboretum in Augusta. The mission of Slow Money Maine is to build a diverse network of individuals, philanthropists, businesses, nonprofit organizations and government entities who are focused on investing in farms and fisheries, and the ecosystems that sustain them as a means of growing our local food systems, economies and communities statewide. Slow Money Maine is a chapter of Slow Money National.

About this Blog

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog,

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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