I’m often asked about caring for chickens in winter time, especially when the weather becomes very cold. Here are some tips to keep your hens happy and healthy in the colder winter months.
1. Chickens do not need a heater in the coop
Adult chickens are very well insulated by their feathers and do not need a heater in the coop. With all of the dry material it is a fire risk to put almost any type of heather in the the chicken coop. In winter time chickens will huddle up more closely together on the roosting bars and this will give them the additional warmth that they need within the chicken coop.
2. Chicken coop ventilation is very important
Ventilation in the chicken coop is very important at all times of year, including the colder winter months. It helps to prevent moisture build up and aid good air circulation. It will also help prevent respiratory issues within your chickens. Don’t close ventilation holes in winter time for this very reason.
3. Chickens in winter should be fed a little differently
Whole grains are a heating food for chickens. Whole oats or whole wheat are both perfect whole grains to feed chickens. Feed whole grains as a scratch food a couple of hours before dark and it will be like giving the hen a duvet to keep them warm through the night. This fills their crop with hard grains which the chickens system grinds down throughout the cold winter nights, generating heat in the process. Cosy!
4. Chickens combs and wattles need protection
A chickens comb and wattles can be prone to frostbite. The most effective way to prevent this is to liberally apply petroleum jelly to the combs and wattles. It is the outer parts of the comb or wattles that are likely to suffer frost bite so make sure to cover them well. This may need to be done about once a week and pay particular attention to chickens with bigger combs, such as roosters.
5. Chickens do not like snow
Chickens hate snow! Their feet are not as well insulated as the rest of their body so their feet can get cold if they walk on snow. If it snows, chickens may not venture outside of the coop. Make sure they have access to food and water close to or in the chicken coop. You can also make a small area for them to walk on by walking on the snow and covering it with straw or bedding.
6. Chicken Coop winter preparation
Add some extra bedding to the coop and nest boxes. Chopped straw or wood savings is perfect for this. The use of roosting bars for the hens to sleep on is also important because this allows them to cosy up to each other.
7. Chickens may not lay eggs without extra light
We don’t add an extra light in to the coop here at Farm Fowl, but its worth noting that chickens do need a certain minimum amount of light to lay really well. This is normally a minimum of 14 hours per day. That is not to say they won;t lay if the light is less, they will, but maybe a few less eggs per week. This is not really a big deal for garden chickens.
8. Water drinkers can freeze
Water drinkers can freeze, especially during the night when temperatures fall. We recommend to bring them inside with you when you are closing the coop door for the night. Bring them back to the chicken coop with slightly warm water the next morning.
9. Chickens need greens in winter too
If the ground is frozen or covered in snow chickens will not have ready access to greens. Provide them with some fresh cabbage leaves a few times a week. Hanging a full cabbage up is even better as this acts as a great
10. Overall flock health
Ensuring you have a healthy flock in the first place, regardless of cold weather is really important. Poorly chickens can feel the effect of the cold a lot more than healthy chickens. Check them especially for mites, lice and worms regularly.