Despite the fact that it’s suppose to be near 70 degrees next week, the snow that we had yesterday morning got me thinking about winter. It’s never too early to start preparing your flock for the upcoming cold, snowy winter months. Here, in the Upper Midwest, we usually have several days and nights when temperatures plummet well below zero, along with several inches (sometimes feet) of snow on the ground at any given time. Depending on where you live, your winter may be more severe, or less harsh than ours is.
Preparing chickens for winter:
- Birds MUST have access to FRESH drinking water- If your coop is near an electricity source, use an electric chicken waterer or place a de-icing heating element in the chicken’s’ water containers to keep water available to them constantly. If you don’t have the means to plug in an electric waterer, simply keep a spare waterer in the house and switch it out with the frozen one as often as needed.
- Consider offering your chickens a high-density vitamin filled feed, or enhancing your current feed with vitamins and food supplements- Late autumn is a common time for chickens to go through their annual molt, which is when shedding and growth of new feathers occurs.
- Consider adding scratch to your birds’ diet- Although regular layer feed is all a mature flock probably needs year-round, some chicken keepers choose to add scratch to their birds’ diet during the winter. Scratch includes whole grains that help produce more body heat during digestion, providing a little more warmth as chickens roost overnight. NOTE: Scratch should be used sparingly and provided only when it is very cold.
- Prevent frostbite- Frostbite is always a threat to chickens’ fleshy parts, such as combs, wattles on roosters, or feet. If you notice signs of frostbite- tips of exposed flesh are blackened- apply petroleum jelly to those specific parts.
Most importantly, monitor your chicken’s behavior. If they are moving about and acting normally, they are fine!
Keep a healthy winter chicken coop:
When temperatures plummet in winter, it’s imperative to provide your flock with sufficient shelter from the weather. Even with cold temperatures, a henhouse must provide adequate ventilation.
People commonly make the mistake of insulating the coop to a point that limits air circulation. With no air movement, humidity builds up inside the coop, which can lead to frostbite on chickens’ fleshy parts- combs, wattles, or even feet. If you notice that their toes are frostbitten, that’s a sign that your roost is too small, because chickens normally lower their bodies onto their feet, protecting their talons their feathers.
Lack of proper ventilation can also create a buildup of ammonia gas from their droppings, which can damage your chickens’ lungs.
Even though you must avoid drafts from passing through the coops in the winter, you need to allow for enough airflow to provide your chickens with fresh air. The overhang of your chicken coop, where the walls meet the roof, is a great place for a screened window to increase ventilation.
Anytime you are altering your coop, it is wise to ensure that the roof and floor are still waterproof, because one of the keys to staying warm is to stay dry. Wet living conditions for chickens can bring upon disease and death within a few days.
If your birds are particularly susceptible to the cold or if you have extremely chilly winters, you may want to install a heat-producing bulb because the coop temperature needs to be only slightly above freezing to keep chickens comfortable and prevent frostbite. An overly warm will interfere with the birds’ ability to tolerate cold temperatures.
Happy chicken keeping! 🙂