There's a lot to think about and prepare come winter for your flock & I hope you find this information helpful.
Me and my family moved to a little rural town 5 years ago and instantly started our homestead on our 1 acre lot of land. I bet you could guess what the first thing we did was... we got chickens! We started out with 4 and a rental coop. When we realized how fitting it was for our family, our little rental coop turned into a larger permanent one, built by my husband and I. And those 4 chickens turned into, turkeys, meat birds, ducks and well... more chickens. That's chicken math right?!
With more birds came more to learn, but I've enjoyed every second.
I hope my experience will help you winterize your flock.
A few do NOTS
Do not keep food and water inside the coop
Do not put heat lamps in the coop
Do not tightly insulate your coop
Don't keep your chickens locked up
Don't let your water freeze
Lets dive into it!
Winter Chicken Care: Common Questions and Answers
Do I need to heat my chicken coop? It gets below zero where I live!
Chicken owners who live in very cold climates often worry about their flock when the temps drop below zero. I'm here to put your mind at ease and tell you you don't need to add heat to your chicken coop! Even in those freezing temperatures.
Chickens are hardier than you might think and can live comfortably in temperatures below zero.
Chickens don't show signs of suffering in cold weather until -20 degrees. This is dependent on which breed you have. I cover breeds best for winter below, so keep reading.
What are Your Reasons For Not Using a Heat Lamp in Cold Temperatures?
Using a heat lamp is one of the most dangerous chicken coop mistakes you can make.
The number one reason against using a heat lamp? Heat lamps cause many coop fires every year, killing entire flocks and sometimes even worse.
A few ways a heat lamp can be dangerous.
An unsecure heat lamp can get bumped, knocked over causing a fire.
The birds could fly into the heat lamp causing serious injury.
Debris such as feathers can float up into and get caught in the lamp, causing a fire.
An electrical problem/shortage can occur.
All of these can lead to fires not only of the coop but could also spread to your yard, house or neighbors.
A few heat source fire facts.
326 barn fires killed at least 2,763,924 farm animals in the United States.
Chickens represented 95 percent of all farm animals who died in barn fires.
The main cause (or suspected cause) of barn fires was malfunctioning or misused heating devices, accounting for nearly half of all barn fires.
The majority of barn fires occurred in colder weather, with nearly three times as many fires occurring during winter compared to summer (34.7 percent of the total occurring in winter vs. 13.5 percent in summer).
Barn fires happened most often in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. The five states with the highest number of barn fires were New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Barn fires can devastate any size farm - from the smallest backyard operation to the largest industrial complex. The deadliest fire during the report period occurred last year in Indiana, when 1 million chickens died at Hi-Grade Egg Producers.
No one thinks it will happen to them, until it does.
What is the deep litter method?
The deep litter method is the main way we help keep our chickens warm in the winter months. It is essentially a compost in your coop by layering pine shavings right on top of their waste. Keep doing this through out the winter. By spring, it will be a few inches thick.
This method consists of starting with a few inches of litter on the chicken coop floor. As the chickens deposit their waste into it, the litter is stirred up and more pine shavings are added on top. The litter is naturally turned by the chickens rooting through it.
10 Other Great Reasons to Try The Deep Litter Method:
It helps to insulate the coop making it warmer in the winter
It saves time
The deep litter method is much less work
You will get amazing compost for the garden
Scratching through it gives the chickens something to do when they’re contained
The microbes in deep litter prevent parasites and illnesses
It’s completely natural
How Do Chickens Survive Cold Winter?
Like I said above, chickens are a lot hardier than you think. There is a good reason why they are hardy.
Chickens fluff up their feathers, creating an air pocket between the feathers and skin keeping them nice and toasty. This holds the warm air radiating from the chicken’s body and keeps them comfortable even on the coldest nights.
Friendly reminder to not put sweaters on your chickens. Because they can keep themselves warm, sweaters will do more harm than good due to them restricting their ability to fluff their feathers making them colder than they would be without the sweater.
How do I ensure my coop has no drafts?
You want to eliminate drafts to winterize your chicken coop, but you don’t want to seal them off completely. Ventilation is still critical for healthy birds. Eliminating drafts will cause your coop to retain moisture which can lead to frostbite. I suggest putting a tarp over your coop, leaving one side completely off, preferably the front. I also always make sure to lay a fresh layer of pine shavings when I know it's going to get below freezing.
How Do I Prevent My Chickens from Getting Frostbite?
Frostbite is caused by cold combined with moisture. If the coop is just cold, frostbite won’t form.
Moisture builds up in the coop from the chickens breathing, their waste, and water getting spilled from waterers. This is why on my DO NOT list is having water or food in the coop. Moisture is inevitable, but if your coop is airtight, the moisture can’t escape, and combined with the cold, makes for the perfect environment for frostbite. This is why the drafts paragraph above is important to read.
What Breeds of Chickens are best for cold winters?
Combs are the first that get frost bite. So, the smaller the comb the better.
Here are a few breeds that do well in the cold:
Buff Orpington Chicken
New Hampshire Red
Rhode Island Red
How do I keep their water from freezing?
Just like humans, water is essential for chickens to always have fresh water available.
I highly recommend getting a heated waterer. I run an extension cord from my house to the coop run and fill it daily. I've also seen people float ping pong balls on smaller troughs to break the surface tension and float bottles of salted water on larger troughs to prevent rapid freezing. I've not tried either of these but if you can not run an extension cord, these are options.
Why do chickens stop laying in the winter?
Less sunlight is what triggers your chickens to take a break and slow down or stop egg production.
They focus their energy on molting and staying warm in the winter. In order to focus on those important parts of their lives, their bodies naturally need to take a break. Many chickens owners supplement lighting in the winter to keep their flock laying all year round.
We do not do this or recommend this because we believe in order to have healthy birds and healthy eggs their little bodies need that break.
A few ways you can Winterize your Chicken Coop?
Try using the deep litter method to provide a little extra warmth to your flock
Stack hay bales or straw bales against the walls of the coop to help insulate the hen house
Put a thick layer of wood shavings on the floor of the coop
Keep all doors and windows tightly shut on very cold days, this will preserve the heat that’s already in the coop from the chicken’s body temps.