If you’re new to raising chickens and dreading the harshness of winter, this one’s for you! Everyone makes mistakes, but making these winter chicken keeping mistakes could be the difference between a thriving flock, and a miserable one.
It’s up to you to provide a happy and healthy environment for your birds during the cold and snowy winter, and with these tips you can’t go wrong!
There are several factors that will easily help you to keep your chickens warm and healthy this winter. From winterizing the chicken coop, to choosing the right feed and keeping the water founts from freezing, these tips are going to ensure your chickens are living their best life, even during the toughest season!
The Top 12 Winter Chicken Keeping Mistakes
1. Raising the wrong breeds for cold climates
If you live in a cold climate and are considering raising chickens, you’re going to need to get cold hardy chicken breeds to ensure the success of your flock. Many chicken breeds are bred specifically for their ability to withstand and even thrive in cold temperatures.
The best cold hardy chicken breeds are those with small combs and wattles and plenty of meat on their bones. These larger chickens are more likely to acclimate to cold temperatures than svelt and skinny birds as they have more fat and muscle to protect them from the cold.
Chickens are susceptible to getting frostbite on their exposed skin in the winter. Chickens with a large comb and wattles are more likely to get frostbite because their body has a hard time regulating the temperature. For this reason, our recommended cold hardy chicken breeds have small comb and wattles.
Our favorite cold hardy chicken breeds:
- Easter Egger
- New Hampshire Red
- Speckled Sussex
2. Using a heat lamp in the chicken coop
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. You don’t need a heat lamp in the chicken coop. Heat lamps are extremely dangerous and unpredictable. If you can avoid the use of a heat lamp you’ll be much better off, but if you must, take steps to do it as safely as possible.
The clamps that come on heat lamps are known to fail, putting your whole flock at risk if you’re not careful. Don’t make the mistake of trusting the heat lamp all on its own, secure it at least three ways, using extra clamps and ties to be sure it won’t fall if it’s bumped.
In my early chicken keeping days I provided heat in the chicken coop in the winter (completely unnecessary) and several times found the heat lamp dangling inches above the coop floor as it had been knocked down by flying chickens. You never think it will happen to you, until it does. We were extremely lucky that the cord managed to catch the lamp before it hit the pine shavings on the floor and combusted, but many other chicken keepers have not been so lucky.
Coop fires are no joke, do everything in your power to avoid them! If you feel you must provide heat in the chicken coop, please hire a professional to install heat, or get a flat panel heater to keep your chickens warm.
3. Putting sweaters on your chickens
Chicken sweaters are super cute, we all know it, we can all admit it. Even so, chicken sweaters are a big mistake. When it comes to keeping chickens warm, chicken sweaters are a big winter no-no.
The way that chickens warm up in winter is by fluffing up their feathers to create a warm pocket of air between their skin and feathers. Putting a sweater on your birds doesn’t allow them to do this, which can give them a chill and cause them some serious misery.
4. Setting up the roost or nesting box near a drafty window or door
Drafts in the winter can be deadly for your flock. A constantly blowing draft is like setting up a fan in the chicken coop and pointing it directly at your flock. Take the time to close up gaps, windows, and doors near the roosts, nesting boxes, and along the floor of the coop. Eliminating drafts can be the difference between misery and happiness for your flock this year.
5. Not providing ventilation in the coop
Many chicken keepers mistakenly think their winter chicken coop needs to be airtight for their flock to be comfortable. While it is important to eliminate drafts blowing on your chickens, it’s even more important to make sure there’s constant air flow in the chicken coop. Drilling holes or cutting windows in the walls at the top of the coop will allow dusty and moist air to leave the coop and allow fresh clean air to flow in.
6. Having no plan to deal with frozen water
When the temperature drops below freezing, water founts can turn to ice in as little as an hour. It’s so important to have a good plan for dealing with frozen water before winter hits. Chickens that go without water for even a few hours will suffer, as water helps them to regulate their temperature and stay healthy.
If you’re lucky enough to have electricity in your chicken coop, investing in a base heater for your water fount will be a huge help to you this winter. Base heaters draw very little electricity and keep the water in a liquid state for your hens to stay hydrated.
If you’re like us and have a rustic chicken coop sans electricity, you’ll need to make a plan to rotate frozen founts. We keep two water founts full at all times in the winter, and on cold days we rotate them between the house and the coop. One fount is always in the house thawing, while one is in the coop in use. This is a more labor intensive process, but it’s inexpensive and it works!
7. Not stocking up on extra feed and bedding
Winter is a time for unexpected blizzards, ice storms, and cold snaps. Don’t get caught in bad weather without a solid plan for your chickens! We like to keep at least two weeks worth of chicken feed and straw available in the winter, just in case we get snowed in and can’t get out to the store. This saves us a lot of extra stress during storms.
We also keep several 5 gallon Aqua-Tainers in our basement as emergency chicken water in case our pipes freeze or the water service is interrupted in winter. We almost never need to use these preps, but having them saves us a lot of stress and worry when the power goes out.
8. Not giving the chickens outdoors time in the winter
Every creature needs fresh air and sunshine, and as much of it as possible. We’re big believers in free ranging our chicken flock, but we also have a chicken run for them to enjoy when we’re not home or can’t sit outside with them.
The chicken run is attached to the coop, and the door to the run is open all day long for the chickens to head outside whenever they like. One of the biggest mistakes we see chicken keepers make is not providing any time outside for their flock. Your chickens truly need outdoors time in order to thrive and truly be happy, even in the dead of winter.
You might think your chickens don’t want to go out in the cold, and you may be right, but at least give them the option. I’m always surprised to see our ladies wandering around in their chicken run on even the coldest, snowiest days. Allowing them outside in winter can help to quell boredom, give them some fresh air, and get some exercise.
9. Failing to collect eggs frequently
When them temperature starts dropping, water isn’t the only thing to freeze in the coop, your precious eggs will freeze as well! On super cold days, make sure to collect the eggs every few hours so they don’t have a chance to freeze.
If you do discover frozen eggs, don’t despair! This post from our friends at Fresh Eggs Daily shows you exactly what to do with frozen eggs.
10. Moving chicks to the coop too early
There’s a good reason that chicks are usually available for purchase in the spring… they don’t do well in the cold! Getting chicks in the fall means that you need a solid plan to deal with them in the winter. While chicks can normally move out to the chicken coop and be without heat lamps at 8 weeks old, in the winter it’s a totally different story. Even 8 week old fully feathered birds can suffer in the winter cold as they haven’t put on enough body fat and grown accustomed to the winters yet.
Solve this mistake by either waiting until spring to get new chicks, or provide them with heat until they get out of their awkward teenage years and grow into fully fledged chickens.
11. Not cleaning the coop frequently
As we said before, moisture in the chicken coop is extremely dangerous in the winter, as it can lead to frostbite. You can avoid moisture buildup by cleaning the coop at least once a week and replacing wet bedding with clean and dry stuff. To make winter cleaning easier, we stack old litter/bedding in a big pile outside of the coop and wait until spring to deal with it. Using wheelbarrows is impossible in our snowy winters, and this method ensures that the coop will stay clean for our birds.
12. Failing to winterize the chicken coop
Taking steps to winterize the chicken coop before winter hits, or even in early winter, will dramatically improve your chickens happiness this winter. Insulating the coop, sealing up drafty gaps, and providing ventilation will go a long way to make the coop comfortable.
Providing extra things like a hanging treat ball, a flock block, and a base heater for the water fount will make winter even more enjoyable for your birds.
Raising chickens in winter can certainly be a hassle, but if you can avoid these chicken keeping mistakes, you’ll be golden. Make sure your chickens are happy and healthy this winter and they’ll thank you a thousand times over with fresh eggs and chicken cuddles!