What You Can Do for Your Chickens This Winter
Chickens in the winter. It’s a topic that many chicken keepers fear and find themselves worrying about. I was there at one time. I still sometimes feel that way, though I know now that chickens have more to worry about on an extremely hot day than a cold one. Working farm animals can handle the cold if you provide them with the right equipment to live comfortably. Did you know that chickens don’t need a heat source in winter? If you choose cold hardy breeds (you need to if you live somewhere with harsh winter temperatures) then they will be just fine! Though there are some definite precautions to take to ensure they don’t get too cold. You can read all about winterizing your chicken coop in this post.
Get a Heater for Their Water
Or find a different method for keeping your flock’s water from freezing. The easiest is to buy a heating pad or heated waterer from the feed store those these can be expensive, usually around $50-$80. We use a double sided metal waterer and place it on a heating pad specially made for that product. I enjoy it! A few other ways that you can keep water from freezing is by using a black rubber tub. Place it outside in the sun. Because it is not metal and there’s more surface area, the water will remain unfrozen for longer than other options. You can also place ping pong balls in an open water dish. They will make waves in the water keeping a layer of ice from forming.
Use Straw Instead of Pine Shavings
In case you didn’t already know, straw is the best bedding option that you can use for chickens. No, this isn’t a rant on why pine shavings don’t work! It’s scientifically proven that straw is better. Why? It breaks down faster in the compost pile, giving you compost sooner. Shavings also welcome in dust and chickens are prone to eating it or developing respiratory problems. The reason you might want to try it for winter is that it is hollow. This means that it traps warm air and can help to insulate your coop during cold weather. It also works better to control humidity as well, which can become an issue for respiratory illness.
Warm and Dry
One of the biggest issues with chicken coops in winter is that the rising heat and moisture from their droppings causes humidity, which in turn causes respiratory issues in your birds. That poo is usually right underneath them all night while they are roosting! The best way to keep your coop warm and dry is to insulate it (though it may be too late for that if you have one that’s already built). If your coop is not insulated there are some things you can do to help keep the girls warm without putting a space heater inside - you really should not do this. Read why here.
Keep their feed and water outside in the run. This ensures they get fresh air and sunlight as well as keeps moisture down. Make sure that there is some ventilation in the coop. You want some air movement inside even when it is freezing out. All windows and vents at roost level need to be shut (this is how chickens get frostbite) but you can place vents at the eaves of your coop to keep air flowing without a draft. Fans are good, too, kept high. If you notice moisture gathering inside of any windows, you need more ventilation. If you do have windows, try placing a blanket or towel over them at night to keep heat in.
Feed Them Cold Weather Treats
Chickens need different types of treats to keep their bodies warm in the winter. Scratch grains and suet are great for maintaining body heat as well as preventing boredom around the coop. There’s not much foraging happening in the winter, so chickens can get bored and begin to pick on each other! You can try growing sprouts for your chickens as well, which will keep their nutrition up and provide them with fresh foods to eat. Don’t forget that you can freeze plenty of vegetables or even vegetable scraps from the garden for your girls to munch on later in the year.
All in all, just remember that chickens will have less sunlight at this time of year and will most likely lay less eggs. The girls need time to rest, too. Some chicken owners leave the light of their coop on during the day to keep the flock laying. We sometimes leave the light on if it is a super dark day so that the girls and ourselves can see, but I usually do not try to make them lay any eggs during the cold months. All of our bodies need rest after a long summer! Make sure that they are fed nutritious food and are comfortable in their home. Whether you choose to use the deep litter method or not, keeping everyone clean and healthy is so important.