Welcome to the sixth and final chapter of Keeping Chickens in the Winter: The Definitive Guide.
In this chapter we will discuss how to make sure your chickens’ run is ready for the winter.
During the winter you shouldn’t let your chickens free range: they should be kept in the coop/run area, and this is why it’s important that their run is ready for the wintertime.
The most important aspect of the run is to keep them safe from predators, but it should also help keep them warm.
Let’s first look at how to make sure your run is predator proof.
Predator Proof Their Run
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If you’ve kept chickens during the wintertime before, you will know just how desperate predators such as foxes and coyotes can get.
When they are hungry, they will go to just about any length to get themselves one of your chickens.
This is why I don’t let my girls free range during the winter. Even though I have a dog, foxes are still willing to risk their lives to try and catch a chicken.
Instead, I keep the chickens in their run and make sure the run is fox proof using a few simple steps.
Step One: Make sure you bury hardware mesh around the perimeter of your run.
Predators like foxes or coyotes will try to dig under the run, and burying hardware mesh will stop them. You need to dig a 3 inch wide trench around the perimeter of your coop and make sure it is at least 2 feet deep. Bury your hardware cloth in the trench and then cover it back up with soil.
Step Two: Keep the area near your run well trimmed (maintained).
Trim the grass and remove any large bushes or shrubs within a 50 foot radius of your coop.
By removing this cover, the predator will have less places to hide and will feel much more vulnerable.
These are my two favorite tips for predator proofing your run during winter.
Whilst there are many additional things you can do to protect your chickens’ run, I find these two the most effective.
Apart from predators the other big issue during the wintertime is frostbite.
Birds that walk around in the snow and ice can lose toes and feet due to frostbite. Whilst they will walk on snow and ice, they don’t particularly enjoy it!
Using a snow blower to remove snow or even a leaf blower to remove a light snowfall will encourage your flock to get some exercise during these cold, gloomy days.
During heavy snowfalls you probably won’t be able to keep the run clear of snow, however if you have the time make sure you throw down some straw or leaves to help protect their feet from the cold and dampness- they will thank you for it.
Frostbite can also occur on the chickens comb or wattle. Roosters, who tend to have larger combs, are especially susceptible to this.
When they drink their wattle tends to dip into the water, and this increases the chance that they will get frostbite.
Chickens can also get frostbite during the night whilst they are roosting.
Strange shaped roosts which stop the hens roosting correctly will increase their chance of frostbite. You need to make sure your hen can roost properly, and cover her toes when she does so. Regular roosts like the one pictured below will be just fine.
I like to check my girls each morning and evening for frostbite during the harsh winter months.
When your hen has frostbite you will notice they have black spots on their comb/wattle.
If you notice these markings, make sure you apply Vaseline to the frozen area and, if at all possible, relocate your chickens to a warmer location.
Needless to say, some breeds are hardier than others. Rhode Island Reds, Buckeyes and Chanteclers are all cold-hardy breeds.
More Mediterranean breeds such as Minorca, Fayoumi and Andalusian will need more attention to their climate as they originate from warmer countries.
If you are just starting out with chickens, try to keep your climate in mind. If you live in the frigid north, try to stick with a breed that will tolerate long periods of cold and snow. If you live in Florida, you can easily go with some more exotic breeds.
Choose bedding that will keep your chickens’ feet warm throughout the winter. Straw provides an added benefit of insulation, for example.
Some choose to employ the deep litter method for bedding. This type of bedding allows for layers of bedding to build up, and compost underneath fresh bedding that is continuously added to the coop. The warmth from the old bedding as it composts, along with insulation from the frozen ground, can help keep your chickens warm during the cold month.
If you use deep litter methods, ensure that your chickens do not get contract upper respiratory illness due to droppings building up and ammonia. Try to clean the coop occasionally, and add fresh bedding often.
In addition, the winter is the perfect time for lice and mites to attach themselves to your chickens. Because your birds are in close quarters, and huddle together to stay warm, poultry lice find the perfect environment to live, amongst your flock.
So, be sure to monitor your flock for signs of external parasites and treat them accordingly. Loss of feathers, or anemia, is something no chicken keeper wants to deal with during the winter.
Chapter Six Summary
Predators will become desperate during the bleak winter months and they will try and attack your chickens. This is why you shouldn’t let your chickens free range during the winter.
Instead you should keep them in their coop or run area.
Ensure that the hardware mesh doesn’t have any holes and, if possible, bury it around the perimeter of your run; this will stop predators digging under the mesh.
Also, keep the areas surrounding the run well trimmed- this will help prevent predators attacking as they won’t want to risk getting caught.
You also need to pay attention to frostbite during winter. If your hen gets frostbite, they will have small black spots on their comb or wattle.
Try to keep the run clear of snow throughout the winter, and during heavy snow falls try to place leaves over the snow- this will help protect your chickens’ feet.
The Definitive Winter Guide Conclusion
We really hope that you’ve enjoyed our chicken keeping winter guide and that both you and your chickens have a fantastic wintertime!
If you’ve missed any of the chapters please visit the introduction chapter and you can find them all from there.
Remember this resource is always here for you, so feel free to come back to it at anytime!
Please leave a comment below letting us know how you are preparing for the winter months!