Preparing Your Chicken Coop For Colder Weather
Colder weather is settling here in Iowa! For the past week we've had highs in the mid-60s and 40 degree nights, which has been absolutely lovely. I am so happy for it! That also means that our dear chicken girls will be adjusting themselves to the cold. I know that a lot of you reading this blog are either first time chicken owners or are hoping to get some chicks next season for your own little homesteads. Have I ever told you how amazing I think that is? I really appreciate you guys so much! It's awe-inducing to read when someone messages or comments that they bought chickens this year or started a garden because I did. How cool is that! I wanted to write in a little blog post about transitioning your chickens' coop for colder weather because it was something that I was unsure of how to do!
Do chickens need heat? They don't! It's actually better if you don't give them heat in the winter. Chickens are warm-blooded which means they can make their own body heat. They don't need a heat source in the cold months as it can be a much larger hazard all around than protecting your birds from getting too cold. If you live in a place that has cold winters, you should definitely look into getting cold-hardy breeds of chickens. We have Buff Orpingtons, Plymouth Barred Rocks, and Australorps, which do well in freezing temps and snow. If you are shopping for chicks locally, you'll probably be okay with purchasing the breeds your feed store or hatchery carries. They will be able to help you!
Don't Heat Your Coop
I know - I was skeptical, too! Chickens are susceptible to frost bite on their combs, wattles, and legs, so how could you prevent that from happening without heating the coop? There are many ways that frostbite can be prevented, some I will explain below, but you can put petroleum jelly on their combs and wattles to help keep them sealed! You'll want to make sure that it is a super light layer, just used to the cover and not to be layered up. Apply every night if needed! Another reason to leave the coop unheated is due to the heavy moisture in the air during the winter. More often than not, your birds will want to stay inside the coop during cold weather. They'll be accumulating heat along with the heat coming off of their droppings. That could result in illness among the flock, which is not good! Having a heated can also be a fire hazard over winter.
Deep Clean the Coop
Now is a great time to deep clean your coop! Before it gets too cold, you may want to go through and make some inspections of your chickens' home. I will be letting my girls out to free range for the late afternoon while I take a scrub brush and soapy water to wash down their roosts and nesting box ledges. If you have removable roosts, it's a good idea to wash them and place them out in the sun to dry. I don't have that option, so I'll probably be bringing in a fan! You don't want water left behind on the floor or the roosts as it can invite mold inside. While you are cleaning any poo stains, check for drafts and openings that could allow rodents inside. You'll want to close any larger holes up, but don't over insulate your coop. You still want air to circulate through during the winter to prevent that heavy moisture from settling! Having too high of a humidity in your coop could result in respiratory issues and mold-related illness or even ammonia from their poos being breathed in. Ick! Cover up any drafts but leave some ventilation for proper air circulation, like a small window that can be cracked.
Collect Eggs More Often
Eggs can freeze! I did not realize this, but yes. If you leave eggs out longer than a day during freezing temperatures, your little brown orbs of love may freeze from the inside out. Which is fine, if you can eat them the day that they freeze. If not, then you may end up with some bacterial contamination. Nobody wants that! Go out a couple of times a day, if possible, to collect eggs and bring them inside where it's warm. Eggs may be more susceptible to cracking over winter, too, which isn't good. As a rule of thumb, you just shouldn't eat cracked eggs, no matter the season.
Let Your Girls Outside
Even though it's cold and snowing, you should let your chickens outside! Like we talked about earlier, they can stand the cold and learn to tolerate it. It will be better overall for their health if you do. If the temperature were to drop severely or your heater were to go out overnight, you could find a disaster in your coop. So let them out during the day! They'll go in and out as they please. This also helps in preventing boredom inside the coop, which could lead to pecking at each other. Though they won't be able to pick about for bugs, greens, sunbathe, or dust bathe, letting them out into the fresh air may alleviate some boredom. It's always a good idea to sneak in some fun treats for them as well to help with this issue!
Check Your Birds for Injury/Illness
Though the threat of illness, injury, and disease is just as high in the warmer months, it's a good idea to check your chickens daily for any signs of frostbite, bumble foot, or respiratory issues. I told you before the petroleum jelly works well for helping keep frostbite away! It's also a good idea to keep your coop as clean as possible as it starts to get colder. I am not sure what my plan is for our winter coop, but I may be practicing the deep litter method. This is done by layering up bedding over the top of droppings without removing them until it warms up in spring. This can work, but it requires excessive amounts of bedding. You'll want to keep their bedding a warm and dry place to prevent all of that moisture in the air which can get gross. It's also a good idea to keep nesting boxes clean on a consistent basis and use herbs inside to help keep chickens calm and healthy as well as to deter rodents. They don't like the smell of certain herbs, especially dried calendula!
Stock up On Feed and Treats!
It's something that I wasn't thinking about before, but our girls will probably be going through a lot more feed in the winter than they are now! They won't be foraging as much or eating fresh clippings from the garden. That means more feed for them, and I definitely do not want to be lugging a 50 pound bag of chicken feed through the snow every couple of weeks. It's a good idea to stock up now before the snow hits! You may also want to start saving treats if you can. If you grow your own herbs, you could start putting aside extras to dry for your birds. I'll be collecting seeds and things to sprout, which will be a good boredom prevention treat! My chickens love a good block of sprouts.
How do you prepare your chickens for winter? Does it get rather cold where you live? I'd love to know! I read a great tip the other day about putting some tarp on the windy side of your chicken run to prevent big wind gusts! It'll be a bit ugly, but I think it would probably help a lot since it gets extremely windy here in Iowa! I also need to look into whether I want a heated waterer, or if I will be satisfied with saving the money and just giving them fresh water in the mornings and evenings. What do you do?