It’s barely December and we’ve already had an unseasonably COLD streak for these parts. It sounds like winter is expected to be colder everywhere this year.
So, it’s time to tuck the chickens in for the winter.
At my house the east wind blows hard on us all winter. Its sharp, cold fingers cut through my winter clothing, keeping me chilled to the bone. As I was thinking about my girls and how to help them make it through winter (knowing they don’t like wind much), I decided to wrap their chicken run with thick, clear plastic on the sides hit by the wind. This will create a bit of a barrier for them, and hopefully keep them from staying huddled indoors until spring.
Although many chickens are bred to be hardy in the winter, most of us backyard chicken farmers still want to keep our hens comfortable and safe through the long, cold winter. Many large-scale farmers don’t go to the extra work to pamper their chicks but small-flock farmers need to remember that a handful of chickens produce much less collective body heat than a large flock of 50 or more chickens. (You can tell if your chickens are cold if they fluff their feathers and stand on one foot. They’re trying to stay warm.)
To help your chickens live through the cold winter weather, I’ve put together a list of other ideas that might help:
If you live in extreme climates, adding a heat lamp is a way to keep your chickens warmer. Besides taking the chill off the coop, your chicken’s egg production will increase (as chickens like to have about 14 hours of daylight for optimal egg laying conditions).
However, I need to insert word of caution here. Already this winter two chicken coops in my area caught on fire the same weekend due to heat lamps in their coops. Apparently the temperature for the fixtures of those lights can get as high as 500 degrees. The fire fighter interviewed in the article (who helped put the fires out) said that a 100 watt lightbulb should do the trick for most city coops with small flocks and they aren’t as dangerous as a brooder lamp because they don’t get as hot. (Here’s the article if you’d like to read it.)
A neat little thing you can add to your coop (for less than $20) is a controlled outlet that automatically turns your light on when the temperature dips below 35, and turns it back off when it gets above 45.
Chicken coop insulation can be as easy (and cheap) as sheets of foam or cardboard. I insulated my coop using scraps leftover from other’s cut and carry purchases at a home improvement store. It cost me less than $25 to insulate my entire coop this way. If using insulation, remember to cover it up. Chickens love to peck at anything. Insulation isn’t good for them to eat. But, it does help keep them warm.
Patch up Holes
If your coop is drafty or has lots of open spaces, consider covering them up for the winter. Just don’t cut off all their ventilation because they still need some fresh air.
As I’ve already mentioned, chickens don’t like to be wet or hang out in the wind. Adding plastic (or a tarp or a shower curtain, etc.) to the outside of the chicken run will cut down on those things significantly. I used a roll of 7ml clear plastic and stapled it up on 2 of the 3 walls of the chicken run. They still have one wall uncovered so they can see out and get fresh air. This solution cost me less than $10.
Yes, this is an acronym for doggie poop patrol, but it works for chickens too. Pick Up Poop. Don’t neglect cleaning the coop out in the winter. Chickens tend to stay indoors more when it’s cold, and if you close up the coop more than it is in the summer, all that smell can start to bother your chicken’s lungs. A sanitary chicken environment is a must.
Keep Water Drinkable
If freezing water is a problem where you live, consider getting a heater for the water. They actually make heaters for chicken water containers. Tuck it inside your water container, or sit the container on top (depending on the style you get) and it will keep your chicken’s water from freezing. You can do something similar with a heated dog water dish (which is actually a cheaper option).
Chickens need exercise. In the winter they’ll be more likely to hang out in the coop, so give them incentive to exercise. Throw cracked corn or other grains into the chicken run and let them scratch around for it. Put their food and water containers at opposite ends of the coop so they have to walk from one place to the other to eat and drink.
Giving your chickens something to do will also cut down on them picking on each other out of boredom or grouchiness from being cooped up.
Add Extra Bedding
In the winter months, add extra bedding to the coop and nest boxes. If you live in a cold region, add extra straw. If you live in a warmer region, add extra wood shavings or wood pellets (I use a combination of wood shavings and wood pellets and it seems to work great).
Okay, this last tip for helping your chickens make it through the winter is really just for YOU…
Add Holiday Decorations
Okay, so this idea won’t really keep your chickens safe and warm, but it will make you happier when you have to be outside in the snow, rain and freezing temperatures. And sure, people will say the chickens won’t notice, but I think my girls like them. Look at this picture below…Hattie enjoying the lights through the picture window! ha. You just never know!
Paying attention to some of these details will help ensure your chickens survive the cold weather. As in most things with these easygoing birds, it doesn’t take too much work to keep them healthy and happy. They will appreciate the extra pampering, and may even reward you with some eggs. Even in the cold winter!