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Ch. 6: Winterizing Your Chicken Run

Chapter Six Predator Proofing Your Chickens’ Run

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 run’s most important aspect is keeping 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.

Winterizing A Chicken Run Step 1: 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.

Chicken Coop Buried Chicken Wire

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.

Step 2: Preventing Frostbite

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 tend to have larger combs and are especially susceptible to this.

When they drink, their wattle tends to dip into the water, increasing the chance of frostbite.

Chickens can also get frostbite during the night while they are roosting.

Strange-shaped roosts which stop the hens from 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.

Natural Chicken Coop
A Perfect Natural Chicken Coop

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.

Chicken With Frostbite
Frostbite marked with red arrow

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.

Winterizing A Chicken Run: Conclusion

There you have it! Now you know what winterizing your chicken run is all about!

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!

Chapter 5

19 thoughts on “Ch. 6: Winterizing Your Chicken Run

  1. An easier way to predator proof with hardware cloth than burying it. Take 3 foot hardware cloth and bend up at a 90% 2 to 3 inches from the edge. Staple or nail the 2 inches to the bottom of the coop and extend the rest along the ground and stake it down with tent stakes. Predators cannot figure out to back up 2 or 3 feet and start digging, the predators will only dig right next to the coop and be thwarted by the hardware cloth that extends 3 feet out from the coop. Way easier than digging 2 or 3 feet deep in our New England rocky soil.

    1. Do you really need to go that far out? I was thinking that even foot out would be a great deterrent…but nonetheless, I think the approach is great!

    2. I thank you for a super peace of information , this will help me and my girls live a better winter. THANKS Again

    3. That’s absolutely correct. Been doing this time-saving method for years. Animals are just not THAT smart. Foils ’em every time. Works in garden too

  2. I am new to raising chickens. I only have 1 lonely chicken. Thank you for all the good advice. Will straw in the run help with the scratching they like to do ?

  3. Hi. Now that I’ve read this article. I prefer to give my girls a break on egg laying now that I’ve learned alot from the article..however I’ve already started keeping light on 24/7.. for a heat source also.So now how do I start by ” stopping ” with shutting down lighting so I don’t stress them or force a molt.

    1. Hi Theresa,
      The best way would be to gradually decrease the amount of artificial light over the course of a month or so. As you mentioned if you suddenly stopped it then it would force a molt.

  4. Three bantam chickens adopted us this summer (We think they fell off a truck), so I am new to this. My chickens are recovering from molting,so when the temp got so cold these past two days we put a heal lamp in their coop. The light is red. We inserted it in a metal bucket and placed a cover on it so they would not have access to the light. The bucket is warm, and they have roosted above it. The temp outside was -7-0. The temp in the coop was in the teens-20’s. There is light escaping from the bucket cover. IS leaving this on all night going to force another molt? We have one more bitter cold night before things start to turn around, so planned to leave the light in there another couple nights.

    1. Hi Mary,
      If you’ve already been doing this and it hasn’t forced another molt then I would say for the final night leave it like this.
      The important thing with additional lighting is to make sure there are no sudden large changes as this is what typically triggers the molt.
      Looking ahead though I would definitely look for another heat source and ideally a flat panel heater.
      Hope you’re enjoying your chicken journey 🙂

  5. I was thinking to keep chickens warm running a gutter warming wire under coop? If it melts snow I would think it could keep the birds warm.

  6. I have a large coop that sits on top of a 3ft high enclosed run. The cedar 2x4s along the base of the run sit on top of 6in red brick then sand and river rock 2in deep around the exterior. I’ve lost a lot of birds to predators. I wanted to share this idea for people to use.

  7. I don’t have any chickens yet. maybe next spring. but I have rabbits and my cages are coyote prof. as Richard said did.

  8. Could you tell me, re: burying the wire mesh against predators versus just laying out, above ground, @ a 2 foot strip around the hen house or run, does it matter which is used? A few sites telling how to build a hen house just advise to lay out a strip. Interested in your response.

  9. Great book.
    You’ve put all the important information right there for us beginners.
    Thank you so much for this generous gift.
    Kenny N.
    Mountains of Eastern Oregon

  10. we keep a warming light for the whole winter , last year (our first time with girls) the production where almost the same then summer) they did very well, soonest star getting warm; we cut the warm light, and all been well, our girls are fine and happy waiting for this new winter coming, we keep very clean place, they have space like two rooms and never go out from there,and they look kind of happy, do you have something to tell us?

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