Winter Chicken Keeping Tips
When the weather outside is frightful, but you want your hens to be happy and delightful. When they have no other place to go, we must make their coop safe, comfortable while it continues to snow.
If you are like me, I start to worry about my girls when the calendar signifies the upcoming return of winter. As part of the remote team here at Meyer Hatchery, I live in Michigan. The very fact that my state is in the shape of a winter glove is a glaring reminder to me that I need to do a few things to help my flock get through winter.
Give Them Heat?
When it comes to winter chicken keeping, customers frequently ask if their coop needs a heat source during the winter. The answer is no. The important thing is to keep the drafts down on your girls while protecting them from the winds and precipitation. They need to be kept dry and have access to fresh water and feed.
Straight from the “mitten state,” here are a few things to get your coop and flock ready for the cold, the snow, and also those long hours between dusk ’til dawn.
No Wind, Rain or Snow
When looking at your chicken coop, you will want to look it over for areas where wind and snow will penetrate the walls. Does your flock have the ability to escape from the snow? Do they have a dry place to put their feet? Is their roost made of a material that will not get as cold? I would love to help you avoid making some of the same mistakes that I have. For example, during my first winter, I made the mistake of giving my chickens conduit PVC for their roosts. It got frigid during the winter, and they ended up with a lot of frostbite damage on their feet. Eek!
First things first, you will want to make sure that their feed and water sources are protected from the elements of winter. Snow is not sufficient to keep them adequately hydrated, though they will enjoy a few bits here and there. During awful weather, they will not want to venture out even at the risk of starving, providing a path of straw/hay may help convince them otherwise.
Next, you need to secure their coop. Feed bags and plastic tarps can help to keep out drafts and blowing snow. One would not necessarily think they would help, but I have done this before when the snow is already blowing and noticed my coop become a few degrees warmer within a short time because that cold air wasn’t able to enter as freely. When adding materials to the coop, keep in mind that ventilation and air circulation are essential for the health of your flock. Do not overwrap it. Ventilation can prevent issues such as ammonia build-up, which can cause damage to your chicken’s lungs.
Rubber mats or vinyl with vertical slits, stapled over the entrances to allow the chicken to enter/exit, can also be an excellent way to avoid cold drafts. Depending on the thickness of the material, you will want the flaps to be about 3-4 inches apart. Be sure the material is not too heavy, or your birds may not want to use it.
Now, it’s time to clean all built-up manure. One time I slacked on this until after it was freezing outside. I couldn’t clean it up again until spring, and by then, it was quite a mess. Put down dry absorbent material like straw or pine shavings. As long as you keep these materials refreshed every so often, it will keep their pen clean and reduce potential biosecurity issues. My experience is that straw makes it a little better for them as it gives them hours each day of scratching through the straw to look for whatever nuggets of goodness that they can find and therefore reduces boredom.
Be sure to check your coop regularly for eggs. If it gets super cold, your eggs can freeze. Frozen eggs will then become potential targets for chickens to eat, which can create new problems.
For my girls, one thing I always do for them in the winter is to give them extra snacks. I will take a feed bowl and fill it with oatmeal, and I also toss in a few eggs for added protein. I like to add a little cayenne pepper and even some raw apple cider vinegar. If I have to clean out my fridge, this is where my scraps will also go. If there is only a little milk left in the jug, I will also add it to this bowl of goop. Lastly, I will add hot water and let the oatmeal soak up the moisture. My girls love me when I make this for them. The warm oatmeal mush helps them by filling their crops with nice warm food.
I hope these tips have helped prepare you to get your coop ready for winter. Feel free to share your favorite winter chicken keeping tips in the comment section below.
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