Chickens and Cold Weather: Caring for Chickens in Winter
How to Prepare Your Chickens for Winter and Cold Weather
Caring for chickens in cold weather requires a little planning and a few special considerations in order to keep your flock happy and healthy throughout a blustery New England winter. Chickens are naturally very hardy and their thick layers of insulating feathers help them to withstand winter's cold temperatures. However, chickens are susceptible to chilling winds and icy rain, and they require suitable shelter and protection from the elements.
Keeping a small backyard flock of chickens is a fun and rewarding hobby, and a happy flock of hens provides a ready supply of fresh eggs. However, caring for chickens in winter during the long, cold months requires proper housing for protection against the weather and additional attention to feed and drinking water to maintain a healthy flock. Here are a few tips on caring for chickens in cold weather.
With their feathered insulation, chickens are well suited for cold temperatures. Our urban chicken coop includes a small hen house with a fully protected run that allows them to wander outside wherever they want. Except for very windiest of days or during storms, the chickens spend most of their time scratching around in the outdoor run. They often roost at night on one of the outdoor perches, positioned high in the run and in an area that is usually blocked from the wind. It is quite comical to see them lined up, wing-to-wing and snuggled in for the night, even on a cold winter night in New England.
Chickens are very tolerant of cold temperatures, but they are very susceptible to drafts. Position the chicken coop out of the prevailing winds, and insulate the interior of the chicken coop to reduce chilling drafts. Our coop is insulated to help block drafts, but it is not heated. When the chickens do decide to come inside and use the coop to roost, their body heat is trapped by the insulation and helps to raise the temperature within the hen house.
Adding a thick layer of pine shavings or straw to the floor of the chicken coop will protect the chickens further from the cold. We purchase bales of shavings from the local feed and grain store for less than $8.00 per bale, and spread a thick layer of shavings over the floor and into the nesting boxes. Then, the chickens rearrange the shavings to their liking. The shavings are easy to clean, and it takes only a few minutes to shovel out the hen house and replace with a fresh layer of shavings; the old shavings go right into the compost heap.
Put a Roof Over the Run
The run is a fenced and secure outdoor enclosure attached to the chicken coop, and provides the chickens with access to the outdoors while protecting them from predators such as hawks, foxes and dogs. Our runs are fully enclosed on all sides by two layers of plastic-coated wire, including over the top and buried under the bottom of the run.
Even during the coldest weather, chickens enjoy being outdoors to scratch in the dirt. Protect the flock from snow and rain by covering the top outdoor run with corrugated plastic sheathing, which is inexpensive, transparent and available at home centers. If the run is very large, cover a section near the entrance to the hen house.
Provide a Wind Block
Use a tarp or plastic sheeting to cover the sides of the run, providing the chickens with additional protection from the wind and wind-driven snow and rain. During the coldest months of our New England winter, we wrap the northeast corner of the run with a large canvas tarp.
Be sure to fasten the tarp securely. If the tarp flaps in the wind, the flapping motion seems to spook the chickens. The tarp we use has metal grommets inserted along the edges, and this makes it easy to hang the tarp from a few well-positioned screws. We then use plastic zip ties to firmly secure the tarp and prevent it from flapping in the wind.
Do not fully enclose the run, which reduces ventilation. Instead, use the tarp or plastic sheeting on one or two sides of the run to help block the prevailing winds. Attach a couple of perches, as high as possible in the run, for chickens to roost and see the world around them. Your chickens may even use the perches to roost at night during all but the coldest weather.
Fill Up the Feed Bin
Chickens burn extra calories in the winter as they warm themselves against the cold weather, and they tend to eat more prepared feed to fuel their bodies and produce internal heat. This is especially true for chickens who free range in the backyard and burn extra calories as they move about in search of anything edible.
During warm weather, they feed on seeds and bugs as they pick through the grasses and garden mulch. In winter, the chickens need rely on the feed bin so keep it full. Scatter grain or a cracked corn treat around the run to give the chicken a little extra scratching and pecking activity.
Collect the Eggs Every Day
Fresh eggs are one of the key benefits to keeping a small backyard flock of chickens. But when the temperature drops, eggs left in the chicken coop will freeze quickly, cracking the shells and spoiling the eggs. Each time the water dish is checked and cleared of ice, check the nest box for fresh eggs.
Egg production usually decreases as the temperature drops and the days get shorter, but the number of eggs will pick up again as Spring approaches and the days begin to get longer again.
Some backyard chicken farmers install lights in their coops to increase the hours of light for the chickens, hoping to increase egg production during winter's shorter days. Our urban chicken coop and hen house is not lit and though egg production drops off in the winter, our hens still supply us with enough eggs for our use. And we often have extras to give away!
Don't Let the Water Freeze!
Drinking water freezes quickly in cold weather. Electric Water Heaters are safe, energy-efficient and keep the water from turning to ice.
Chickens need clean, fresh water every day. When the temperature drops below the freezing point, the chicken's water bowls quickly become tiny frozen ponds. In very cold weather, it may be necessary to check the water bowls twice each day, first in the morning and then again in the early afternoon.
Rubber feed bowls offer an easy, low tech approach to dealing with the ice. These bowls are flexible, making it easy to remove the ice whenever the water bowl freezes. After a cold night, the water bowl may be covered in ice or even frozen solid. A strong tap on the frozen ground or against a tree or rock is enough to break away the ice, and the rubber feed bowl is ready for a refill of clean water.
Specially designed for poultry and livestock are inexpensive and work well, but require electricity and maintenance. After using the rubber bowls for several winters and breaking away lots of ice, we decided to run an electrical circuit out to the chicken coop and purchase a couple of heated water bowls. The consistent supply of drinking water was worth the bit of effort and cost. The bowls stay free from ice all winter, and we never have to worry about our animals going thirsty. water heaters
Chickens in the Snow
Do you have a backyard flock of chickens?
The Rumor is True!
Cute Baby Chicks Grow Up to Become Chickens!
Since moving to "the country," we always wanted to have a small flock of backyard chickens. One of our friendly neighbors has a small flock, and she showed her chicken coop and run. We then purchased several chicken care books (highly recommended) and researched more information online.
We started our little flock with six little fluffy chicks as a surprise for our kids on Easter morning. Snuggled together in the corner of their indoor pen, it was hard to picture that these cute, adorable little guys (well, actually gals) would quickly grow up to become awkward teenage polts before blooming into beautifully plumaged and full grown hens. But we enjoyed every stage of their growth, and we add more chicks each year to our growing flock of backyard chickens.
As the flock continues to grow, we had to expand the chicken coop and increase the size of the protected run!
Resources on Backyard Chickens
- The Coop
The Coop is dedicated to all the folks around the world that raise, breed or show poultry, waterfowl, gamebirds and related species. Our purpose is to share information, provide resources, create connections, and share our fascination in aviculture w
- FeatherSite - The Poultry Page
An on-line zoological garden of domestic poultry, including photos, video and information about various breeds of fowl, such as chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, peafowl, pigeons, and turkeys. Various wildfowl are also included.
- Murry McMurry Hatchery
For over 95 years, Murray McMurray Hatchery has been supplying the small farmer, rural egg producer and chicken enthusiast with a wide variety of day-old baby chicks, pullets, ducklings and much more. If you have been thinking that it might be fun to
- Poultry One
Raising Backyard Chickens: the online guide to raising chickens
- Poultry Breeds
This page is sponsored by the Department of Animal Science - Oklahoma State University
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© 2011 Anthony Altorenna