Preparing Your Chickens For Winter

Chickens do a pretty good job taking care of themselves, but when it comes to the cold winter months, they’ll need a little extra TLC. We would like to take you through the essentials of keeping chickens in the winter, but be sure to read our complete chicken winter guide here to get you through the cold months. Winterizing your chickens should be a regular part of your annual care plan for your critters. While chickens can remain outdoors during extremely cold temperatures, it’s important to address the following when getting the flock ready for winter:

Take Stock of Your Feed Supply

It goes without saying that you should ensure your chickens have enough feed throughout the winter. But it’s even more important to have a stockpile of feed available. Also, an automatic chicken feeder is always preferable just in case the weather goes south and you don’t want to step out.

Since food converts to energy and chickens use energy to stay warm, they must have access to even more food during the winter months than they did throughout the summer. 

Adding extra protein and carbs to chicken feed will go a long way in adding some extra to their ability to withstand the cold weather. 

Everyone has a different location for their chicken coops. I, for example, have mine about 150 ft away from the house because they are within my fenced animal pasture and they are free ranging chickens. In the winter cold months we can have blistering winds and freeze overs that just make carrying and worrying about feed transportation a pain. So I store the feed in blue water proof food grade bins which keeps everything nice an dry. I usually will fill both to the max with different feed mixes as appropriate. The reason I have two is because I can mix the feed ratios where one can be strictly store feed, another can be treats, corn, grains, etc. But have winter feed stocked is wise.

Tube Chicken Feeder

Be Ready for Frozen Water

Water is the worst! Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why:

Your lovely, clean, easy-to-care-for founts are no match for winter weather. They freeze quickly, crack, and…well, are quite useless during the winter months. Since open containers and bowls only invite mess and bacteria (yes, even during the winter) you’ll have to come up with a plan B.

You really have only two options:

Either you can opt to clean out and chip the ice from the open bowls (watch the eyes when you do this) or you can purchase heated founts. 

If you have access to electricity where you keep your chickens then heated waterers are the way to go.

Some are adamant that heated waterers are fire hazards, so make sure you purchase a waterer that is safe and has great reviews. We have tried a couple and here are our recommendations.

 

WATERER TYPE CAPACITY OUR RATING
All-Seasons Heated Plastic Poultry Fountain Heated Waterer 3 Gallon 5 star rating
See Price
Harris Farms Heated Poultry Drinker Base Bottom Plate N/A 4 star rating
See Price
Farm Innovators Heated Pet Bow Heated Bowl 2 Gallon 4 star rating
See Price
Water Deicer with Guard Deicer N/A 3 star rating
See Price

 

Heat Lamps vs No Heat Lamps for Chickens in Winter

The controversy over heat lamps for chickens during the winter is an age-old argument. There’s a lot of different reasons chicken owners feel one way over the other. So, I’ll give you the two schools of thought and let you decide for yourself. 

1. No Heat Lamps

Chickens can actually handle the freezing temperatures until it gets extremely cold (like sub-zero with a windchill). 

Now, that doesn’t mean they like the cold weather. In fact, some breeds are not suited for cold temperatures due to their feather composition, wattle sizes, and just plain ‘ol genetics. So, know your breeds and what they can probably tolerate. 

All this to say, those who don’t like using heat lamps, don’t like it because it messes with a chicken’s ability to adapt their internal temperatures to the weather naturally. 

For example, let’s say your chickens were living in a red-lit paradise all winter. Suddenly, on the coldest day of the year, the electricity goes out and your chickens are exposed to extreme cold. They won’t survive because their bodies are used to tropical weather all winter.

2. Heat Lamps

If you live somewhere extremely cold, you may feel the need to heat up your chickens’ coop. That’s very kind of you, and if there are sub-zero temps, you may have to consider the fact that if you don’t do something to help your flock out they will go to freezer camp earlier than you planned. 

My advice? 

Only use heat lamps in extreme cold, for short periods of time, and for chickens who don’t weather the weather well. Story time. This past year we had an abnormal cold snap and temperatures hit -30 degrees F. So I am scrambling trying to make sure the coop is deep with straw and not convinced it was enough due to the extreme cold and winds I convinced myself to put a heat lamp. Straw and heat lamps do not mix, but I was sure to secure it extremely well and made periodic checks. I only kept the heat lamp on a timer until the cold snap past and we hit above 0 degrees weather. Sometimes the risk is necessary, I did not want any frostbitten chickens or combs.

I also have some recommendations for heating your coup if you are in cold climate regions.

Types of Chicken Coop Heaters

HEATER TYPE COST EFFECTIVENESS OUR RATING
Cozy Products Safe Chicken Coop Pet Heater Flat Panel Great 5 star rating
See Price
Sweeter Heater Infrared Heater for Chickens Infrared Heater Good 4 star rating
See Price
Pelonis Oil Filled Radiator Heater Oil Radiator Okay 4 star rating
See Price
Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder Brooding Plates Great 5 star rating
See Price

Winterizing the Chicken Coop

If you have an open chicken coop, you’ll need to ensure that your chickens have a place to retreat out of the cold. If you have a chicken coop with a manual door you should also consider an automatic chicken coop door

It should be draft-free, and your chooks should be able to cuddle up next to one another when it’s cold. They’ll do this naturally—and it’s quite cute to see some of your mature hens snuggling under each other’s wings.

That’s also why it’s important to have more than one chicken in your flock. Their body heat will warm the roosting area and each other. 

You can use tarps, hay bales, and lumber to close up your coop for the winter. If you do this, always ensure that there is good ventilation because even in winter, chickens can get sick from moisture in the coop. 

Additionally, if you can insulate your coop, it will retain heat longer and protect your flock from the bitter cold wind.

Prepare for Cracked Eggs

Make a plan for egg collection because if it’s unbearably cold for you, then those beautiful eggs will be popping open before you even get to them. 

You see, when eggs freeze, the contents expand and bust through the shell. These eggs make great barn cat treats (think protein popsicles) but they are useless to you. 

If you can, place your nesting boxes inside, where the hens roost. With any luck, their body heat from the night before will keep your eggs warmer for longer—at least until you can retrieve them in the morning. 

Don’t try to use cracked eggs because once the shell is broken, it can be (and probably has been) exposed to bacteria that can make you and your family sick

Protect Your Chicken’s Combs in The Winter

If you’ve got some roosters, or even hens, with brilliantly large combs, you’ve got to be vigilant about protecting them from frostbite

If a cold snap is coming through, grab some vaseline and make an extra trip to your coop to slather some on those prize-winning combs. 

Frost-bitten combs can cause the chicken to be even colder and uncomfortable in the freezing temps. Plus, a bitten comb will be damaged and most likely fall off after a few months. As a side note, chickens with low combs (rose combs or pea combs) are often better off when it comes to avoiding frostbite, and this is because they are positioned closer to the chicken’s warm head. 

frostbite chicken combFrostbite On Comb

Free-Rangers Become Coop Chickens

If your chickens are mainly free-rangers, start coming up with a plan for them for the winter months. Chickens that don’t know where to go to keep warm will try their best to find a spot. Often that is in neighbors barns, or under bushes that aren’t nearly as warm as they should be. Also, chickens that are use to always free ranging may get a bit bored in the winter so give them something to do

The last thing you want to do is find chicken eggs thawing out in the springtime in places you never expected to find them. 

So do your flock a favor and bring ‘em in for the winter when appropriate.

 

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Comments

  1. Chicken Mama says

    An important aspect of chickens in winter is to keep the wind off of them!Enclose your coop in plastic If you can.This keeps the temperature up inside the coop.It is surprising to feel the temperature difference between inside and outside-Almost like the coop is heated.I enclosed my coop in plastic (The same plastic that is used for covering t he windows in the house) and feel that my chickens are ready for winter,I supplement their ration with a mix of raw oatmeal ,cooked rice a can of crumbles and a can of dogfood.This provides an energy boosting treat that the chickens will love.

    • Clarence D Marshall Jr says

      Exactly! We live at a very high elevation in Colorado, super close to Pikes Peak… When the winds picked up in mid Winter, I did exactly this to ensure the wind did not get to the coop and especially protected the door area. Worked excellent! Just found some 6mm thick plastic roll at the local hardware store and stapled directly around the hardware cloth covered areas of the coop, being careful to not cut off air supply to the enclosed sleeping area.

  2. Maria says

    What do you do with chickens that are in the middle of a molt when winter temps start? One of my hens practically has a bare bottom & butt and some loss under the wings. The new pin feathers are barely 1/4″ long and last night temps were down to 35F. Although not technically freezing, it got pretty cold and we’re at the beginning of Nov.

    • Clarence D Marshall Jr says

      Maria: we’ve had our chickens go into a molt even with temps in the teens. They stopped laying, of course, but had no other ill effects from what we could tell… They made it through last winter just fine. Not all of them molted during the winter, but the ones that did came through fine.

  3. Clarence D Marshall Jr says

    We live in Colorado mountains at about 9,000ft above sea level. Our Winters are frequently below 0 at night and we get lots of snow. Once last winter we had over two feet of accumulated snow inside the pen area, which meant the snow was above even our Pekin Duck’s heads. I had to shovel out paths through the snow for them all to get to their heated water bowls (which worked amazingly well, even at -8 degrees!). We have 7 chickens (all female, two are Leghorns, three Golden Comets, and two ISA Browns).
    We have the Cozy Coop flat panel heaters in the chicken coop and duck coop. Three of four burned out after about one year of use and I could find absolutely no info on the boxes or instructions about a warranty. So, this winter, we have four new ones from Tractor Supply.
    All of our chickens ended up with a little bit of frostbite on the tips of their Combs, even after religiously using copious amounts of Vaseline on their combs and wattles. The frostbit tips eventually fell off and regrew during the summer. Again, it gets bitter cold up here at this elevation. What really amazed us during all of this is that the chickens and the ducks continued to produce eggs every day through the short days and bitter cold, and only stopped long enough for short molts. I assume they did this only because we mix a lot of protein and olive oil into their daily scratch rations. We change what we give them every day with sometimes mealworms, tuna, canned chicken, sardines, cooked ground beef, etc. And always mixed in with premixed scratch from Tractor Supply along with some kind of greens like kale, mustard greens, cucumbers, collard greens, etc. We have never once measured how much greens, protein, corn or whatever that we give them or how much of it is making up their daily intake. They are extremely healthy and with a normal weight rather than fat.

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