Raising chickens in cold climates can be scary for new chicken owners. Egg production slows down, and new issues arise as your chickens are introduced to colder temperatures. Be sure to winterize your coop to make sure your flock stays warm, happy, and healthy.
How to Winterize Your Coop
In colder climates and during the winter months, it is important to take the time to winterize your chicken coop. This will give your birds a place to retreat to when they start to get too cold.
For tips on what coop is best for you and your birds, check out our blog on chicken coops.
Drafts and moisture are two major things you want to fix when you winterize a coop. Chickens with large combs are more vulnerable to frostbite, especially in damp environments, so you need to be sure that holes are covered and windows and doors are fitting properly.
Patch up holes by screwing a piece of plywood over the hole. Simply measure the space you need to fill and cut the plywood to fit. This will not only winterize your coop, but it will protect your chickens from predators as well.
You don’t want your chicken coop to be full of holes, but you also don’t want it to be airtight, as this can cause an ammonia build up.
Having at least two small air vents is recommended for most coop sizes, but very small coops can get by with one. Just make sure that the cold air isn’t blowing directly on your chickens. Most coops are built with vents near the top of the coop, directed away from northern winds.
If your coop doesn’t already have any ventilation slots, you can cut out a small section of your coop and replace it with galvanized mesh. If you want, you can fit a hatch over the mesh to have more control over the airflow.
Just like your home, your chicken coop needs insulation to make sure it stays warm. You can easily winterize and insulate your chicken coop by fitting sheets of insulation or cardboard to the inside of the coop.
The folks at Murano Chicken Farm insulated their chicken coop with reflective foil insulation, and they even left some tips on their blog, so you can too.
Make sure to cover your insulation materials as best as you can, or your birds will be snacking on it!
Add a bit of extra warmth to your chicken coop with a safe chicken coop heater. These heaters are chicken safe, perfect to winterize your coop, and they don’t run the risk of starting a fire.
In cooler climates, moisture is a real problem when it comes to bedding. Using pine shavings to cover the bottom of your coop is the best way to keep moisture down. Check the bedding frequently to make sure it doesn’t get damp and moldy or this will cause respiratory issues.
To winterize your bedding, add a larger quantity of shavings (or other bedding) to keep the temperature up. You will want to replace bedding about once a week, or more if you start to see moisture build up.
If cleaning once a week or more sounds like a hassle, some chicken experts have chosen to use the “deep litter method”. While this method allows you to replace bedding less often, it requires careful attention to make sure that your coop doesn’t become an unruly mess.
Frostbite is one of the biggest issues with having chickens in cold climates. Chickens will get frostbite on their feet, their comb, and their wattle.
- Remove light snowfall within your run using a snow or leaf blower, if you have one.
- Put down leaves or straw to help protect your chicken’s feet from the cold and dampness.
- Make sure your chickens are roosting properly (covering their toes). Awkward roosts can cause chickens to stand more when they roost, causing frostbite.
You can spot frostbite very easily by looking at the combs and wattles. If the tips and edges have turned gray or black (most common colors), they have frostbite. A frostbitten comb will feel brittle, like it’s ready to break.
Egg Laying in Cold Environments
Throughout the winter months, chickens naturally slow down or stop laying eggs. Some chicken owners choose to allow their birds to stop producing eggs during this time, but if you decide to have year-round egg layers, follow these steps from The Happy Chicken Coop:
- Chickens need twelve to fourteen hours of daylight to keep egg production going strong so you will need to use a 40W light bulb (not fluorescent) that provides enough light for a 10×10 coop.
- Set a timer for your light, and add the extra daylight to the beginning of the day. This way your chickens won’t have such a sudden night change. 4am-8am is recommended.
- Check the bulb often to make sure that it remains on when it needs to, and keep a generator on hand in case of power outages.
What to Feed Your Flock During Cold Seasons
Chickens will eat about 1.5 times more in cold climates so they can keep warm. For egg laying, chickens need lots of protein, but as the temperature drops, they need more carbs to keep them warm.
- Keep your hens on a diet of layer pellets, which will provide all key nutrients to your flock.
- During the final hour of daylight, feed them some cracked corn. This will not only keep your chickens warm, but it will also keep them busy pecking in the morning before you let them out of the coop.
- When the ground is frozen, your chickens will need a supplement for the grit they can’t get from foraging. You can either give them commercials feed or scatter crushed oyster shells in their run once every 2 weeks for a small flock.
Keep Your Chickens’ Water From Freezing
Having a constant supply of water for your chickens can be difficult in cold temperatures. Make sure your birds always have access to water.
- Your chickens’ water should be no older than 24-hours to keep it fresh.
- Prevent the water from freezing by having a heated bowl or container. This will also prevent your chickens’ wattles from getting cold and frostbitten from the drinking water.
- Check on your birds’ water supply throughout the day to make sure it’s not freezing.
As long as you follow the steps to winterize your chicken coop, run, and food supply, any breed should fare well in cold climates.
If you raise chickens, what steps do you take to get your chickens ready for colder weather? Tell us about your flock experience in the comments!