Backyard chicken owners take different approaches to winter

MANDAN, N.D. — Ashley Eisenbeis sent her chickens from Mandan to Minnesota for the winter.

She grew up on a hobby farm near St. Joseph, Minnesota, where her four hens — Dorothy, Blanche, Brenda and Molly — are spending the season with her parents, who have more chickens. Her hens will come back in April.

“I call them ‘the girls,’” Eisenbeis said of her hens that hatched in March and began laying eggs in September. She’s always liked homegrown or locally sourced food, and tends a garden, too.

Eisenbeis is one of nine permittees for backyard chickens since the Mandan City Commission adopted an ordinance in March 2019 allowing the poultry in city limits after requests from residents who wanted to raise the birds for fresh eggs, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

The ordinance allows up to four hens, but no crowing roosters, and outlines setbacks from property lines and adjacent neighbors. The chickens, coop and run also must not be visible from the street. Permittees must build or buy a coop in compliance with certain specifications. Permits are $100, revocable, good for a year and cost $50 to renew.

Other permittees say their hens have handled the winter’s cold well so far.

Adriane Tschida had already insulated her family’s coop before winter and also installed a heat lamp and a temperature gauge. Her hens — Betty, Agnes, Pearl and Florence — likely get bored in their coop and they don’t like the snow, she said.

“I’m sure they’re ready for spring just like everybody else,” Tschida said. She’s been careful to check at least twice daily for eggs so they don’t freeze in the coop’s box.

Kaylee Krause’s family jumped at the opportunity to raise backyard chickens, both to raise animals and to have fresh eggs.

Krause, 17, is an agricultural student and has a passion for animals but couldn’t keep anything other than a cat or a dog in town before the commission adopted the ordinance.

Now her family has four hens, named Ava, Charlotte, Daisy and Snowball.

To brace against the cold, her family wrapped the hens’ coop in a clear, heavy-duty shower curtain liner and placed straw bales on the coop’s north side to mitigate wind and blowing snow.

Their coop also has extra bedding and curtain insulation and even interior cameras “so when it’s super cold out we can watch them to make sure they’re still doing OK and keeping warm,” Krause said.

Chickens tolerate cold better than heat, said her mother, Heidi Sivertson-Krause. But little sunlight in winter has decreased their egg production, she added. Laying hens’ physiology has a direct relationship with daylight hours.

“We’re excited for a little bit more sunlight so we can get back to our egg production,“ she said.

Andrea Soule said the biggest problem so far this winter has been keeping water thawed for her family’s hens, named Chicken Nugget, Chicken Pot Pie, Lily and Lollipop.

“They’re out every day in the snow and the sun, and they don’t seem to mind the cold at all,” she said.

Mandan City Planner John Van Dyke expects springtime to bring more applications for backyard chicken permits when coops and chicks go on sale.

He’ll be sending reminders in coming months to permittees regarding the permit renewal.

Mandan Police Deputy Chief Lori Flaten said she’s aware of two complaints to police regarding chickens, including one of a chicken running loose and one complaint of people not having a permit. Neither complaint related to anyone with a permit, she said.

Tschida, who had been interested in raising chickens for years, is glad the birds “got momentum finally” in Mandan.

Her hens have been “a great deal of fun,” running around the backyard in summertime, finding bugs and chasing away wild birds.

“They have bigger personalities than I thought they would,” Tschida said. “They’re really fun.”

By Kerry Minor

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