We’re often asked how to raise chickens in winter, when the temps drop and the snow starts to fly. The truth is that raising chickens in the winter is very easy, they only need a few accommodations to be healthy and happy in the cold winter months.
We’ve learned that chickens natural physiology combined with several strategies on our part are all it takes to keep our chickens happy and healthy through the bitter cold winter.
We don’t heat the chicken coop in winter, instead follow these six steps to safely and inexpensively keep the birds warm.
1. Get the right chickens for your climate:
The very best thing you can do to ensure your birds will be fine in winter is to start off with cold hardy chicken breeds. Cold hardy breeds have very small combs and wattles, making them less susceptible to frostbite. They also tend to be built a little on the hefty side, which keeps them warmer when the temperature drops.
The best cold-hardy chicken breeds:
- Buff Orpington
- New Hampshire
- Plymouth Rock
- Rhode Island Red
- Speckled Sussex
2. Insulate the coop:
It’s so important to insulate the coop as best you can before winter sets in. You can do this in many ways. If you have the money, you can use foam or fiberglass insulation in the walls of the coop then cover them with plywood. Just make absolutely sure the insulation is completely covered, because chickens will pick it at. Always remember that insulation doesn’t mean make the coop air-tight. Every coop needs proper ventilation, for polluted air and moisture to escape and fresh air to get in.
3. Close off a portion of the coop
The coop interior gets warm on cold winter nights from the chickens body heat releasing into the air. If the amount of space inside the coop is smaller, there’s less airspace for the chickens bodies to warm up. If your chicken coop is on the larger side, it will pay to make the usable space a little smaller in the winter.
This can be done by hanging plastic sheeting from floor to ceiling, or putting up a temporary wall.
4. Provide quality feed and water
Chickens eat more feed in the winter to regulate their body temperature and put on some insulating fat. Make sure that the feed your chickens are getting is quality feed and give them a bit extra this time of year. We also like to toss chicken scratch on the floor of the coop to give the birds something to keep them busy and add a little winter fat to help keep them warm. Feed your chickens a little extra when it starts to get cold, and more importantly, provide them with fresh water at all times.
Drinking water helps with digestion, which helps with temperature regulation. If your chicken’s water source is frozen for even an hour during the day it will affect their ability to stay warm. If you can’t check on the founts several times a day, consider using a heated water bowl or a Water Heater Base for your fount in the winter.
5. Provide quality roosts
Roosting helps keep chickens warm by getting them up off the floor and allowing them to huddle together to keep warm. Roosts need to be big enough to accommodate all of your chickens, if you see chickens on the floors or nesting boxes at night, more roosts are in order.
The roost surface should be big enough so that a chicken can completely cover their feet while sitting on it. If the chickens can’t wrap their toes all the way around the roost, they are likely to get frostbite on toes that they can’t cover.
6. Use the deep litter method
The deep litter method works wonders for keeping the coop warm in winter. Stacking six inches (or more) of litter on the floor of the coop helps to insulate it. Deep litter also produces its own heat.
Deep litter that’s started in spring is like a compost pile on the floor of your coop. The decomposing waste and litter create heat which help to warm the coop.
If you live in a very Northern climate that sees temperatures frequently fall well below -10 degrees, and you feel your chickens are truly suffering from the cold, there are some options.
- Hire an electrician to wire the coop for heat would be safer than hanging a heat lamp inside
- Purchase a flat panel heater to install inside the coop.
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