Much of what you read on the internet will tell you that most chickens will survive just fine in colder weather. While that may be true in some winter environments, people who raise chickens in brutally cold winter regions need to take certain precautions to keep chickens warm in winter.
Keeping your chickens warm during the harsh winter months doesn’t need to be daunting. There are several simple coop changes you can make that will help winterize your flock.
In this article, we’ll show you ten key ways to keep chickens warm in winter, with or without electricity.
Do You Need to Winterize?
How many winters have you gone through with your chickens? If this isn’t the first year, you know that some winters can be much harsher on your chickens than others. Nobody is an absolute expert on how harsh each winter might turn out to be, so the key to winterizing your chickens is to plan for the worst, but hope for the best.
If you live in a region that could see winter temperatures drop below zero for extended periods of time, you’ll definitely want to spend some time winterizing the coop to keep chickens warm in winter. Here are the changes you need to make.
Protect the Coop From Harsh Winter Winds
A lot of chicken coops are highly vulnerable to the cold, harsh winds of the winter season. The coops get very drafty when the temperatures begin to drop. If your coop isn’t insulated well or has a lot of holes that allow wind to whip right through it, you’ll need to get this taken care of. It won’t keep chickens warm in winter.
Drafty, unprotected coops can easily result in chickens that are frostbitten or, in the worst cases, some chickens could die from the cold.
Of course, proper ventilation of your coop is important to the health of your chickens. But excess winter winds can be harmful or deadly. The last thing you want is to walk into the coop and find chickens that have literally frozen to death.
Spend some time insulating areas of the coop that the chickens can hide in when the winds get harsh. Patch up obvious holes to keep the wind from penetrating the walls. This simple step will save you a lot of grief when the wind chills start to drop below zero.
It will keep chickens warm in winter.
Choose the Right Location
Coop location will definitely impact how easily your chickens will be able to keep warm during the winter.
If you have a chicken coop that’s mobile, find a protected area of your property that can house the coop during the winter. A location with a lot of trees or buildings around it is best to keep chickens warm in winter. This keeps the cold winter air from slicing through the coop and into your chickens.
Another key way to keep chickens warm in winter is by making sure they have loose, deep litter in the coop. Loose litters are better insulation for chickens than compact litters and keep them much warmer.
Begin with a three- to 4-inch clean layer or litter. For the litter you can use:
- Grass clippings
- Wood shavings
Add a fresh layer of litter to the coop every week throughout the winter. Also, throw in a bit of scratch grain every day. This will cause the chickens to peck and scratch around in the litter, helping it properly decompose.
When spring arrives and the temperatures start to rise, clean most of the litter out of the coop and use it for fertilizer in a garden.
Shrink the Coop Size
This is an important step to take if you’re trying to keep chickens warm in winter without the aid of electricity.
The first thing to do when winter begins to set in is to make your coop smaller. Close off parts of the coop with boards.
Most people know that heat rises. Because of this, make sure to position your roosting bars within about two feet of the coop’s ceiling. When you keep roosting bars as close to the ceiling as possible, it helps the roosting chickens get more heat.
Chickens are also known to roost together in order to remain warm. Make sure you have plenty of roosting bars near the ceiling in the smaller winter space.
Check All Roosting Bars
Did you know that chickens need to keep their feet covered with their bodies in the winter to prevent frostbite? This is a key part of how you keep chickens warm in winter.
Because of this, it’s important that you make sure all of your roosting bars are plenty wide. For proper winter roosting bars, two-by-four boards work best. This will allow your chickens to sleep in a flat-footed position, while covering their feet from the elements.
When you place the roosting bars, ensure that the four-inch side of the board is facing up.
Cozy Nest Boxes
To make nesting boxes cozier and warmer for your chickens, hang some curtains in front of each one. They help a lot in keeping warm air inside the boxes. These warmer boxes keep the chickens warmer and keep their eggs from getting frozen.
Remember to fill each box with a bit of additional bedding material as well. It can only help keep chickens warm in winter.
Keep the Coop Insulated
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to have a ventilated, yet insulated coop to keep chickens warm in winter. Here, we’ll get into more detail on how to do that.
After you’ve made the coop smaller by closing off a portion of it for winter, cover the outside of the boards with things like tarps, moving blankets and additional insulation from foam boards you might have on hand.
If you’re lacking in the blanket and tarp category, consider heading down to Goodwill or another second-hand store where you can buy some inexpensively. When you put them on, make sure that some fresh air can still get into the coop. This is very important for the health of your chickens.
You can also use insulators such as:
- Spray foam
- Thick plastic
- Emptied feed bags
- Extra foam insulation
If the temperatures continue to drop, add some straw insulation around the outside of the coop for more protection. It’s one more barrier between your chickens and the brutal winter winds looking to penetrate the coop.
Using Electricity If You Have It
A lot of chicken owners try to heat their coop without the use of electricity. But if you have access to electricity in the coop, it might be a smart idea to use it to keep chickens warm in winter.
Even if your coop is properly insulated and isn’t drafty or damp, your chickens can still get cold. You’ll notice how they begin to change their behavior when the cold really starts to set in. And no animal should be left to freeze if there are additional measures you can take to help them.
When temperatures start to drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chills get below zero (or colder), turn on an electric heater for your chickens. Just be careful that a heating bulb doesn’t shatter and cause a fire in the coop.
It’s best to use a coop heater that’s made just for chickens, or one that uses infrared bulbs instead of glass heating lamps. This is a great way to keep chickens warm in winter.
Feeding Chickens in the Winter
It’s important that you change how you feed your chickens during the winter compared to how you do it in the summer months.
Free-range chickens are great at finding their own food during warm months. However, they’re going to require a little extra help with their food when all their warm-weather sources are gone or frozen.
Feed chickens high-quality food two or three times each day, with one extra feeding at dusk. This helps them increase body heat during long, cold nights. Cracked corn can be a good supplement to use in the winter to boost energy, but it’s not a complete nutrition source.
If you really want to pamper your chickens in the winter, bring them out some warm mush to dine on. This will stimulate your chickens’ appetites if they aren’t already eating as much as they should.
Watering in the Winter
It’s just as important to keep chickens hydrated in the winter as it is in the warm summer months. Chickens can easily become dehydrated in the winter as their water sources freeze.
If you don’t have a heated waterer for your chickens that keeps water from freezing, bring your chickens out some warm water twice every day. They are likely to be the thirstiest at dawn and dusk.
The cold winter months don’t need to be torture for your beloved chickens. Even in the coldest environments, you can keep chickens warm in winter.
These ten simple steps are the best way to help your winter-raised chickens stay healthy and alive.