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.
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.
|All-Seasons Heated Plastic Poultry Fountain
|Harris Farms Heated Poultry Drinker Base
|Farm Innovators Heated Pet Bow
|Water Deicer with Guard
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.
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
|Cozy Products Safe Chicken Coop Pet Heater
|Sweeter Heater Infrared Heater for Chickens
|Pelonis Oil Filled Radiator Heater
|Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder
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 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 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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