Usually when people think of keeping chickens they envision spring, with lots of cute chicks and delicious eggs. But once you get your birds, they’re going to be sticking around all year. This means that you need to make sure you are prepared to care for your flock in the winter. Here are eight tips for winter chicken care that helped my chickens stay comfortable even when it’s cold outside.
8 Tips for Winter Chicken Care
Give Them Fresh Water
The most important and most difficult part of caring for chickens in winter is making sure they have fresh, unfrozen water. You can buy heated waterers or you can carry warm water out to them twice a day.
At first I used ice cream buckets for my hens. Those were nice because I had a few extras. I could fill up one in the house then carry the other back inside with me. The plastic is durable and light enough that you can smack the frozen tub against the side of the coop until the ice slid out.
However, my favorite option is black rubber tubs, which are even more durable and take longer to freeze over. If you put your water in the coop it may stay unfrozen longer. The body heat from the hens helps the water not to freeze so quickly.
Have Draft Free Shelter
Chickens are able to keep their body temperature up pretty well if they are not exposed to a lot of drafts. Make sure to cover or stuff up any cracks or drafts in the hen house. Your birds have to have a space to get out of the wind and snow.
If you have long winters you will need as much floor space per hen as you can spare inside your coop. Because my area has mild winters we have just 3 square feet of floor space per hen.
When it gets cold or snowy use a tarp to cover the top and one side of the run for extra space out of the wind.
Keep Their Feet Warm
If your chickens can keep their feet warm they will be able to regulate their body temperature much more easily. Make sure your coop has wide roosts so that the hens can keep their feet warm while roosting.
You can also add logs, stumps, or branches for them to hop up onto out of the snow in their run.
Give Plenty of Food
Chickens will require more food the colder it gets. Having a full crop helps them stay warm when it’s cold outside. It’s a good idea to increase their feed ration.
You can also add in high energy foods such as cracked corn and black oil sunflower seeds to help keep those crops full. Corn is an energy dense food and while it can make your hens fat during warmer times, they will expend all that extra food energy into body warmth during the winter.
Keep Them Entertained
Cooped up chickens are bored chickens, and bored chickens can start pecking each other. An important part of winter chicken care is making sure there is plenty for them to do.
Spreading scratch grains, or giving your birds treats in this cute hanging treat feeder from Fresh Eggs Daily will help keep them entertained.
Use Deep Litter
Using the deep litter method in the hen house has a few benefits. For one thing, you won’t need to get out in the cold and snow and muck it out. It also provides some entertainment for your birds because they have something to scratch around in.
The best benefit however is that as it breaks down, deep litter gives off extra warmth.
Watch Out For Frostbite
Some breeds may need extra attention in cold weather. My Andalusian was my only hen that needed to have Vaseline put on her comb to protect it from frostbite.
If you have chickens with large combs, they may not fair as well in cold weather. Frostbite occurs when there’s a build up of moisture, so designing your coop with enough ventilation will also help.
Skip The Heat Lamp
I do not consider using a heat lamp part of my standard winter chicken care. There are a few big reasons NOT to use a heat lamp in the coop. First is the possible fire hazard. Heat source + dry straw = not a good idea.
I know of someone who burned their whole house down with a chicken heat lamp. We live in a very wet area, and I do not have electricity in my hen house. I am very uncomfortable running an extension cord through the rain, it just screams disaster all over it to me.
Second, chickens acclimatize to the weather all winter long. If you put a heat lamp in on the coldest nights and there’s an electricity outage, or your bulb burns out your hens are plunged into temperatures they have not had time to adjust to slowly and they can die.
I am a little neurotic about keeping my hens comfortable and I’ve been known to go out to the coop in the middle of the night to check on the hens. Using the tips above kept my ladies comfortable even during the coldest nights without the risks of using a heat lamp.
There are situations where you may need additional heat. If you have only a few hens their body heat may not be able to keep the coop warm enough without a heat lamp.
Silkies also need special attention. They do not have the slick waterproof outer feathers other chickens have and cannot get wet or handle chilly drafts.
If you must add heat to your coop, do NOT use a brooder lamp and instead use some other heat source such as a heater that will automatically turn off if it overheats.
What are your favorite ways of keeping your chickens comfortable no matter the temperatures outside? Share in the comments!
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