Contrary to popular belief, chickens are very hardy animals that handle cold weather very well. Chickens tend to be more comfortable in colder weather (40-65°) but can fair well in even colder temperatures. Here are some tips for keeping chickens warm and comfortable during the winter.
Heating Your Chicken Coop
Chickens do not need a heater. A chicken’s body temperature is naturally at an average of 105°F to about 107°F, so they are well adept at dealing with cold temperatures themselves. Chickens stay warm by fluffing their feathers up, which creates a barrier of warm air, protecting their skin.
Heating a coop is dangerous. Heat lamps could possibly malfunction and cause a fire. In order to prevent a fire that could burn your coop and kill your chickens, it is best to let your chickens gradually get used to the cold on their own. If you must use a heater, use a flat panel heater, but it is not recommended because they will be very uncomfortable if the heater goes out.
Benefits of Small Chicken Coops In Winter
Your coop should be comfortably-sized, usually 8’ by 10’. When ten chickens are congregated together, they create around the same amount of heat as one normal light bulb. If your chicken coop is too large, there will be a lot of dead space, which requires more of your chickens’ energy to warm up. Having a smaller coop will reduce that dead space and keep it warmer.
How To Insulate Your Chicken Coop
Start off by shutting off the larger areas containing doors to reduce dead space. There should be a small sleeping area insulated with wool blankets and all windows should be closed off with wool blankets or some similar, thick fabric. Your coop’s flooring and bedding should be made of straw. Since straw is hollow, it has a large insulating factor. A thick layer of straw on your coop’s floor will help trap heat, making it warmer for your chickens. After the straw has been used and soiled, rake it out and reuse the dirty straw as mulch. Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen and make a good fertilizer for your plants.
Your chickens still need to be outside for a good portion of the day. It is beneficial for them to enjoy some fresh air and sunlight. If there is snow on the ground outside of the coop, create a path of straw for your chickens to walk on, so their feet don’t get too cold. You can also put a clear tarp around the run in order to block wind and allow sunlight to come into the coop.
Raising Chicks in the Winter
Winter is not the best time to raise chicks. You should aim to do this in the spring. However, if you do raise chicks in the wintertime, raise them indoors in a warmer area, preferably with a brooder or a tote.
Chicken Coop Ventilation
Properly ventilating your coop is very important. Ventilation reduces moisture in the coop, and moisture is the greatest factor in frostbite. Chickens can have frostbite on their combs, toes, and feet, so their feet have to constantly be dry. If there are black marks on a chicken’s wattle, toes, or combs, it may be frostbite, and you should treat it with an antiseptic salve. Frostbite is not dangerous unless it becomes infected and is painful for the chicken.
Opening your coop for a good amount of the day allows the chickens to go outside and get some fresh air. When they are out of the coop, you should take that opportunity to clean and air the coop out.
Winter Chicken Nutrition and Care
Feed your chickens scratch grains like cracked corn and oats, and nuts like sunflower seeds and peanuts. Peanuts are a treat for chickens, and they are high in fat and energy, more so than cracked corn.
Chickens will eat during the day, store some food in their crop, and then digest it later in the day or at night to keep warm. Do not leave food or water in the coop. Food in the coop year-round will attract pests and rodents and keeps moisture inside of the coop. If their water is freezing, you can use an electric dog water bowl. These bowls use electricity to keep the water from freezing so your chickens can enjoy water all day long.
Egg Laying During the Winter
Chickens do not lay eggs every day, and they usually save their energy up during the wintertime. Shorter days will give you fewer eggs because there isn’t enough sunlight to stimulate a hen’s ovaries during the winter. If you need your chickens to lay eggs during the winter, you can use lights to keep egg production going.
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About the Author:
Lisa Steele is an author, 5th generation chicken keeper and Master Gardener who tends to her flocks and gardens on a small farm in Maine. The founder of Fresh Eggs Daily (www.fresheggsdaily.com) she shares natural chicken keeping and gardening tips as well as recipes using eggs fresh from her coop and produce fresh from the garden on her website.