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Chickens are often one of the first animals new homesteaders turn to when they are getting started. Chickens are fairly easy to raise, productive, and pretty forgiving if you make a mistake. They’re just hardy animals, and fun to have pecking and scratching around your yard. However, even the hardiest animal needs a little extra care and consideration when the cold winter winds begin to blow. Check out our list below to learn more about keeping chickens in winter happy, healthy, and even still productive.
Caring for Chickens in Winter
Care for the Coop
Clean the Coop
Clean your chicken coop out thoroughly before the cold weather really starts to set in. You probably won’t get a chance to really scrub it down again until spring comes back around. You want to be sure it’s free of parasites and any potential diseases, especially those that can be transmitted between hens or affect egg production. Chances are your chickens in winter will spend a lot of time in the coop.
Check Coop Security
Take the time to double-check that your coop is safe and secure. In the wintertime, when food is scarce, you will find that predators start to become more of a problem. If they can get into your coop and grab an easy dinner, they absolutely will. And remember, not all predators are big fat raccoons, foxes, or coyotes. They can be weasels and other small carnivorous mammals.
One year we discovered we had a rat problem because we woke up to find that the top layer of skin had been chewed off a hen during the night. She recovered, but was never quite the same after that!
If your coop doesn’t normally have a place for your hens to roost, winter is the time to add it. Part of caring for chickens in winter is making sure that they don’t get frostbite. An easy way to avoid it is to get them up off the ground. If nothing else, fill their roosting boxes with lots of hay and other litter to keep them warm.
Keep the Air Moving
Yes, you want your hens to stay warm over the winter, but you have to make sure there is enough ventilation to circulate the air. You want enough ventilation that the air is moving but is not drafty.
Make the Coop an Option
Don’t force your chickens in winter to coop just because it’s snowing. Chickens are generally fairly cold hardy, and they don’t mind cold. Generally, they will coop up themselves when uncomfortable. HOWEVER, do not let them out if temperatures are too far below zero or if it is actively storming!
How to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter
Don’t Use Heaters to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter
Chickens generate a lot of heat at night when they’re huddled together. You want to avoid heaters because of this. Most chickens will happily pop outside again in the morning as they’re fairly cold-hardy. However, if they’ve been sitting in a warm 75-degree coop and jump out into just above freezing, they may very well go into shock and die from the sudden change!
Water Heaters are Okay
Your chickens still need to drink fresh water. Make sure that your chicken waterers are either heated so they don’t freeze over, or make sure to provide them with regularly changed, fresh water.
Add extra bedding to help with warmth and to reduce how often you have to clean out the coop. This is a double-duty trick when working on how to keep chickens warm in winter.
Feed scratch with cracked corn at night to your chickens in winter. This helps increase digestion overnight which causes them to generate more heat. In turn, this helps them stay warmer.
Continue Egg Production
Chickens need a minimum number of hours of light every day to produce their eggs regularly. Add light if you want eggs. However, be aware that encouraging them to lay regularly during the winter causes stress and can lower their lifespan.
Collect Eggs Often
You’ll need to collect eggs more often because freezing temperatures will cause them to crack. The whites will expand as they freeze and break the shells from the inside.
Caring for Other Chicken Needs in Winter
Keep Chickens in Winter Busy
Chickens will become self-destructive if they’re allowed to get too bored. Make them games to play by hanging treats to play with. One of the most common is to hang a head of cabbage and allow them to jump or stretch and peck it apart! You can also toss in live mealworms or even old spaghetti!
Give Sunlight Access
Create a sunroom where they can stay protected but still get filtered light when the temperature is just too cold for them to go outside. You can even put a container with some sand for them to bathe in.
Protect from Frostbite
Chickens are mostly safe from frostbite, but their combs and wattles are very susceptible to it as these areas are very blood heavy and completely featherless. Put petroleum jelly on combs and wattles to help insulate and prevent frostbite when caring for your chickens in winter.