A few weeks ago a friend of mine called me to ask, “how am I going to keep chickens in winter?” Good news! Chickens are surprisingly hardy and with a few simple strategies, you should have no problems keeping them alive through cold weather.
Before you start, consider how cold it gets in your area and what type of chickens you own. I live in southern Michigan which is well known for its sub-freezing temperatures and heavy snow. With this in mind, I think about insulation for my coop and keeping water from freezing. If you live in warmer areas and have a small flock, you might not need to insulate at all. If you have smaller, delicate breeds you will want to insulate as well.
- Bulk up your chickens. Bulk them up for winter in the fall by feeding them cracked corn, and give them access to their feed at all times. This will help them gain weight and better retain their own temperature for winter.
- Check and moisturize their wattles & combs. You know that reddish skin around their heads? This is an important temperature regulator for chickens and is prone to frostbite in winter. A simple solution is to put some coconut or olive oil on them. We use olive oil infused with calendula for its antibacterial, anti-imflammitory properties. I find this easiest done inside the coop.
- Check for proper ventilation, clean and patch the coop. One of the biggest mistakes that chickens owners make is closing up the coop completely for winter. Chickens produce a lot of ammonia in their feces and need ventilation to prevent respiratory problems. Leave ventilation holes in your coop open through winter and chickens will thrive. Cross ventilation at the top of the coop works well for us. But also make sure your coop is free from large drafts and patch up any holes before deep winter hits. Fall is also great time to deep clean the coop and stock up on your supply of fresh bedding. I like to use a mix of woodchips and straw in winter.
- Insulate the coop. A simple trick is to stack up straw bales around the walls of your coop which you can also use as bedding. If you want to get fancy, you can even put insulation in the walls of the coop, but make sure you cover it with plywood or chickens will peck and eat it. They love foam! Since I have a large flock and hardier full grown breeds, I do not use a heat lamp in the coop.
- Don’t let water freeze. Chickens loose a lot of moisture through respiration and need access to clean fresh water at all time. Don’t let the water freeze over. There are several ways to do this. You can check the water everyday and break holes through ice or you can invest in a heated chicken waterer.