What do you need to do to keep your chickens laying and happy through out the winter?
A couple of things come to mind:
Preparing the coop:
The coop should be draft free, but have plenty of airflow. Make sure that the airflow also keeps predators and rodents out of the coop. Plug up all the holes. :)
Chickens need at least 12-16 hours of light in order to maintain their egg production. The ideal is about 14.5 hours. Many farmers add light to their hen house at the end of August. If you haven't started the light already, your production will go down. The hens will molt, and then they will start up again. But you will lose a few weeks of eggs.
You can add 15 minutes of light each day to maintain the 14.5 hours (if you begin at the end of August) but many of us completely forget about it until September rolls around and we suddenly realize that the days are getting shorter (then there is the dreaded Daylight Saving Time)
Some set their timers at the end of the day and then again at dawn... For example: the timer is set at 5 am and go off at 8 am, and also set it for 5 pm till 9 pm. This gives the hens those extra needed hours of daylight.
I read somewhere that it is best to give light only in the morning. The reasoning behind this is when dusk starts gathering, the hens all begin to find their place in the coop and on their perch.
There is a hierarchy and the oldest most mature hens get the top roost, and the younger ones go for the lower roosts... unless you have hens like mine and the young ones manage to find a foothold on the ceiling beam closest to the wall. For this reason, there is sometimes a little bit of scrabbling to get to the roosts.
If you are adding supplemental light at that time, and the light suddenly goes out due to the time you have set, then the hens may be caught on the floor eating, or walking about and have to find their places in the pitch dark. So, for that reason, I add all the light in the morning and let nature tell the hens when to roost in the evening.
A simple 40 watt bulb will work for a 10x10 coop.
The hens will also start eating more at this time. Our hens are completely free- ranging through out the day... no fences at all, they wander at will gathering the bugs and seeds from plants. But they also know that winter is coming, the temperatures are dropping, so to compensate, we give them a supplemental feed. When snow is on the ground, we feed the chickens a mixture of corn, wheat, oats and sunflower seeds. We also bring out a lot of left-overs from our meals. They love it.
Be sure the chickens have water... warm water will be greatly appreciated. Be sure to check through out the day. Water will freeze very quickly, crack your water bowl and leave the chickens the option to eat snow - not a good idea.
If you have electricity in your coop, you can make your own heated waterer.
I do know that there are some that add heat to their coops. We have never done that. In fact the first year we had chickens we didn't have a coop. They roosted in the trees through out the winter. In the morning the snowy blobs in the trees would move and shake. Snow would come down off the chicken and they would fly down to the ground where we would feed them.
Chickens with rose combs are fine without heat, but chickens with the large single comb will suffer from frost bite. The comb will turn black and eventually fall off. If you are not going to add any heat, be sure that the chickens you have a winter-hardy. Some common winter hardy breeds are: Dominiques, Australorps, Easter Eggers/Ameraucana, Orpingtons, Brahma, Cochin, to name just a few.
If you do feel you would like to add some heat, by way of maybe a heat lamp, be sure that the hens do not have the opportunity to actually sit on the lamp (it is really useless to have it so high that they can't huddle under it anyway). Heat lamps can be very dangerous and will start a fire (we have personally experience with a fire from heat lamps).
Chickens put off a lot of heat, and there are places where the coop is attached to a greenhouse giving the green house supplemental heat. If your coop is well insulated, the chickens will be quite warm from their own body heat. Make sure there is a sufficient amount of litter on the floor.
If you feel you really do need heat, try a radiant heater These can be put on the ceiling. You can find some on the FarmTek site: http://www.farmtek.com/farm/supplies/cat1;ft1_heaters_accessories;ft1_tube_heaters
Finally... be sure to gather your eggs a few times a day, or they will freeze!