Chickens are hardy birds. The truth is, excessive heat is more life-threatening to chickens than cold weather. But if they are not kept warm enough, hens may stop producing eggs, while some may become sick and find it hard to recover in the cold weather. Weaker members of the flock may cause other chickens to weaken, too.
While some farmers use lamps to keep their coops warm, it brings the risk of starting fires if they malfunction or aren’t properly maintained.
Here are some chicken care tips you may need to keep them happy and healthy in the cold winter weather:
If your coop allows air to flow inside through cracks, holes, and slats, you need to seal them up before winter comes. Wind chills can increase the rate of heat loss from your coop and can quickly chill the chickens inside. If your coop is more than five years old, chances are parts of it have already started to rot and will need to be repaired.
The easiest and the cheapest way to repair holes is to screw a piece of plywood over the hole. Or you can use durable plastic sheeting to wrap the coop. A proper chicken coop must have a waterproof roof, but if it doesn’t, you must seal the coop too. As long as your vent is working alright, the other gaps in your coop must be covered to prevent the temperature from dropping too quickly.
Maintain good ventilation in your coop.
As much as you want to seal up the holes to prevent cold drafts, you’d also want to prevent having stagnant moist air inside the coop. Stale air may cause serious problems, like ammonia build-up, moldy beddings, respiratory infections, and frostbite on their combs and wattles. Ensure good ventilation and low humidity in your coop.
Vents must be placed towards the roof of the coop where cold air won’t be able to flow directly into your birds. Open vents covered with hardware cloth under the coop eaves can help keep air circulating but prevent drafts. By venting out the moisture-laden air and replacing it with drier air, you can keep the humidity down, allow hot air to rise and escape, and prevent molds from growing in your chicken’s beddings.
Ideally, your mesh vent must have a hatch that can be opened and closed. This way, you can properly vent the coop during the day and close it up in the evening when it’s cold or when there are heavy rains.
Add additional insulation.
There are many materials typically used for bedding in chicken coops, but straw is generally the best in providing warmth in cold winter areas. It’s because the hollow straw stems can hold warm air from the day and emit heat throughout the night.
On the floor of your coop, add thick layers of bedding material such as straw. If your coop is big enough, you can also add bales of hay inside, around the outside, or under the coop for additional insulation.
You may also want to follow the deep litter method during the winter. Rather than regularly cleaning out the coop, add more fresh bedding on top of soiled bedding. The deep litter method is not just a sustainable way of managing the litter in your chicken coop, but it can also help insulate your flock. Instead of cleaning out or replacing the waste that your chickens accumulate, all you need to do is to stir it up with a light rake and allow the natural movement of your flock to do the rest.
When appropriately made and when regularly topped with fresh straw or pine shavings, the litter will form a compost layer that allows the good microbes to consume the healthy bacteria in the chickens’ waste. Not only does this help insulate the coop, but it can also help prevent infestations of lice and mites. Not to mention being an easier way to manage chicken waste.
Once spring arrives, remove all the litter, clean up the coop, and repeat the deep litter process.
Also, make sure your using sunlight to capture heat during the day and help the coop stay warmer for longer. You can do this by using well-insulated windows, which is especially helpful if you have a dirt or dark slab floor or if you use the deep litter method.
Provide proper roosts.
This may be a no-brainer for a chicken keeper, but ensure that your coop is equipped with roosts so they can comfortably sleep and stay warm. Chickens naturally roost together and fluff up their feathers to keep themselves snug.
As a general rule, the roosts must not be built at least two feet off the ground. Having access to a roost that’s above the floor can make them feel secure, and it can keep them out of the cold ground.
For a more comfortable roost, using a 2×4” board is suggested instead of round or skinnier roosts.
Protect against frostbite.
In the winter months, chicken breeds with large combs and wattles may be more susceptible to frostbite. Single-comb roosters are especially at risk, as well as chickens living in damp, cold conditions. This is why it’s important to keep your chickens well-ventilated in the coop.
Watch out for black tips at the comb, as it may succumb to frostbite first. Some blisters and yellowish-white colors may appear. To give them additional protection from frostbite, lube up their combs and wattles using petroleum jelly or coconut oil, or Vaseline.
Provide their essentials indoors.
When it’s so cold outside, your poor chickens may simply choose to stay inside their coop. But always ensure that they will enjoy and stay healthy inside. If it seems your chickens won’t be coming outside as much as they usually do, make sure their essentials like food and water are inside the coop. If you have space, consider adding additional entertainment like more roosts, cabbage tetherball, hanging treat baskets, or other toys and treats to keep them busy.
Surprisingly, chickens eat more feed in the winter than they do during spring or summer. Free-ranging chickens will be foraging less in the winter and getting fewer calories from essential food sources like plants and insects. Therefore, they will need a little more feed to compensate.
Hens usually take a break from laying eggs during the winter, as their body shifts from demanding a protein-rich diet to one with more carbs to provide basic energy and stay warm.
Warm their food and water.
Treat your chickens to a special warm breakfast on freezing mornings to help them heat up and kick start their metabolism. Warm grits, oatmeal, cooked rice, or cooked corn will be well-appreciated. You might want to dampen or heat up their usual layer feed on the stovetop or oven.
Also, make sure that their water doesn’t freeze. Keep their water container inside the coop during the winter, which helps the water be several degrees warmer than the outside. Perhaps this can be enough to keep the water from freezing. You can bring our freshwater every morning or potentially a couple of times a day. Be sure to have excess chicken bowls, waterers, or other containers available so you can simply swap the frozen one for a fresh one. You may try to use a heated pet bowl, a heated poultry waterer, or a heated base to keep their water warm.