How to Deal with Winter and Your Laying Flock

Winter in the northern part of the country can be quite cold. Your laying flock may need a little help from you to thrive during the deepest, coldest winter months. Let’s talk about which breeds are better suited to living in colder climates and discuss some things to watch out for during sub-zero temperatures and ways to support your flock.

Generally speaking, breeds of chickens that have large floppy combs and a lighter body weight tend to not do at well in the colder climates. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. With a little knowledge and preparedness, you can keep some of the Mediterranean breeds in the colder climates, but it requires some effort. Some of the breeds to steer away from would be the White Leghorn, Blue Andaulsian, Dorking, and Campine. The Swedish Flower Hen is also one that may or may not do well in the cold because of its comb, but the comb on this breed can vary from bird to bird, so I put it in the “maybe” category. The Cream Legbar and Frost White Legbar males may have issues with their large combs in freezing temperatures, but the females have much smaller combs and can do better.

Large spiked or floppy combs and wattles can be injured by frostbite in freezing temperatures.

Breeds that have smaller combs and heavier bodies will generally do better in colder climates than the lighter weight breeds. Some good choices for cold climates are just about any of our brown egg layer breeds with the slight exception of perhaps some of the Marans, as their combs tend to get a little larger.  The Easter Egger and the Blue Ameraucana will also do very well in cold weather.
So, what do you do if you have a large combed breed and live in an area with freezing temperatures in wintertime? Remember two V’s: ventilation and Vaseline. First, make sure that your coop is well ventilated. Frostbite on large combs becomes more of an issue if the coop is not well ventilated and humidity is allowed to build up inside of the coop. It sounds counterintuitive, but allowing an open window or keeping an exhaust fan running during extreme cold will actually help prevent frostbite damage from occurring. Another thing you can do is apply a light coating of petroleum jelly to the comb and wattles of large-combed birds to help “seal” the skin, thus preventing injury.
Toes are also subject to frostbite damage. To prevent toe injury, use the flat side of 2 by 4 lumber as roosts so that your flock and cover their toes with feathers as they sleep.

Frostbite injury on a rooster’s toe. Notice the missing toenail on the right foot.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to provide a heat source during winter in your coop. Heat lamps can be dangerous if they fall and catch bedding on fire. As long as the flock can huddle together, are well fed and have a dry, clean and well-ventilated coop, they should be fine in winter. However, you do need to provide access to fresh, unfrozen water at all times, and the winter months can be challenging. Check out our Cold Weather Supplies in our online store for great products for helping you keep your flock nice and cozy in the cold weather. We hope these suggestions will help you choose the right breeds for your flock and help you manage your flock this winter.

 Happy chickening!

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