When I woke up yesterday it was -18F outside. With the wind chill it may have dipped down close to -30. Not as cold as some places on this great planet, but definitely not Hawaii weather either. It’s so cold that my teeth nearly froze together while out doing chores. In fact, and this is a true story, one of the local ski hills even closed down because of the cold! (Seriously)
The cold means a lot more work too (breaking ice out of water dishes alone adds hours). But there are positives, at least when it comes to hackle.
Feathers are an excellent source of insulation. When our hands are cold you can hold a bird with your fingers underneath their feathers and almost instantly warm your hands. (There are some backyard chicken owners who don’t know any better and feel that they need to wrap their birds in sweaters. In reality, they may actually be doing their birds a disservice.) If chickens are under shelter – out of wind and rain/snow – they are quite hardy. Our feather cockerels are in such a building, with no additional heat source. I’ll go outside at first light and hear the roosters crowing just as loudly as they do in the summer.
Higher Quality Feathers
The cold triggers a hormonal response in the birds, which leads to more feather development. Not only does the chicken produce more feathers but there is even evidence to suggest that the quality of feather improves too, such as greater barb density. This is one reason why chickens raised in hot environments are inferior feather-wise, such as the birds that give us Indian capes. (And even more importantly, they lack the genetic makeup.)
So as I bundle up to face the cold these next few days, I can take “warmth” knowing that the birds will be growing some fantastic hackle.