Specific concerns related to keeping chickens through the winter
Greetings! We just recently bought a house that came with chickens and a pretty good size chicken coop that has an indoor enclosure and outside pen attached. There is a small opening separating the two that can be manually closed if necessary. This will be our first winter with the chickens and we want to make sure we are doing whats right and comfortable for the chickens. I've read several websites and books, but they all have conflicting information. Please check out my following questions and answer what you feel comfortable with.
1. We have 3 birds that are extremely elderly (close to 10 years old) that are very tiny. They are mixed in with our RI Reds who are 20 weeks old and very healthy. Do I need to take any precautions when it comes to the old hens? We don't eat chickens so hesitant to get them slaughter, but don't want them to suffer during the extremely cold days when our RI Reds will be fine. Should I use a heat lamp for the old biddies?
2. In regards to winter drafts; Do we keep the door separating the two areas (inside & out) open or closed? If it is closed the chickens won't get a lot of ventilation, but might suffer from the drafts. We do have perches that rest above the doors so perhaps this is sufficient to protect from the drafts.
3. Heated base for waters; The literature that came with them is vague. Do they stay inside or outside the coop? We don't have a roof over the outside enclosure so it would be exposed to the snow/rain. If they can stay inside, won't the chickens get water everywhere and dampen things? We are considering just switching out the water in the am and not using them.
4. We generally use straw as bedding, but have a carpenter in the family that just gave us clean wood shavings (not pressure treated). The wood is a mix coming from different trees. We don't have any chicks so is it safe to use as a thick layer under the straw?
Thanks in advanced and sorry for the length of this post! I was confident in my decisions originally until I saw tons of conflicting information on various websites. Have a good one!