Keeping backyard chickens is a great way to get fresh eggs, learn about animal husbandry, and enjoy the company of these friendly, silly birds. However, before you get started, it is important to do your research. You will also need to provide your chickens with a safe and comfortable coop, as well as a fenced-in run where they can exercise and forage. Caring for your chickens through spring, summer and fall is pretty simple. Then comes winter.
Learn how to care for your flock during the cold winter months.
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Here are some tips on how to care for chickens in winter:
Chickens are quite surprisingly winter hardy. They grow a down layer of feathers that helps insulate them during the cold winter months but there are a few things to do before winter sets in to keep your flock draft free and dry all winter long.
- Make sure your coop is well-insulated. You can use straw, hay, or even insulation batting to insulate the walls, floor, and ceiling of your coop.
- Make sure your coop has cross ventilation. You want ventilation to always be above the chickens. Ventilation allows air flow keeping the humidity and ammonia down during winter. Any extra moisture during the winter is a recipe for frost bite.
- Provide plenty of bedding. Chickens will fluff up their feathers and burrow into the bedding to stay warm. Use a deep litter of straw, pine shavings, hemp or wood chips in the coop. 6-12 Inches of bedding should be deep enough.
- Move the coop to a sheltered location. If your coop is exposed to the wind and rain, it will be much colder inside. Move the coop to a sheltered location, such as under a tree or against a building. This will help protect it from extreme weather.
- Add a heat. If you live in an extremely cold climate, you may need to add a heat plate to your coop. Added heat should only be used in extreme cold for non hardy breeds.
- Reduce drafts. Drafts can make the coop very cold, so it is important to seal up any cracks or gaps in the walls and doors. You can use caulk or weather stripping to seal up these areas. You may also wrap your coop in plastic or hay bales to keep out the cold.
- Make sure your chickens have access to fresh water. Chickens need to stay hydrated, especially in the winter. Make sure their waterer is full and that the water is not frozen. Heated waterers come in handy during the winter months.
- Check on your chickens daily. Make sure they are all staying warm and healthy. If you see any signs of distress, such as shivering or huddled together, take action to warm them up.
New to Chickens and need a coop recommendation? Read this post!
- Make sure your chickens have a draft-free roosting area. Chickens will roost together to stay warm, so it is important to provide them with a roost that is high off the ground and away from drafts.
- Monitor the weather. If the weather is very cold, you may need to take additional steps to keep your chickens warm, such as bringing them indoors or covering their coop with a tarp.
- Be patient. It may take some time for your chickens to adjust to the cold weather. Be patient and make sure they have everything they need to stay warm and healthy.
- Be aware of the signs of frostbite. Frostbite can be a serious problem for chickens in the winter. Signs of frostbite include pale skin, blackened tips of the comb and wattles, and difficulty walking. If you see any of these signs, take your chickens to the vet immediately.
- Consider bringing your chickens indoors if you live in a very cold climate. This is especially important for young chickens and chicks that are not laying eggs.
Chickens need a balanced diet that provides them with the nutrients they need to stay warm and healthy in the winter. While you don’t have to change your feed in the winter, it is important to make sure your flock is getting a good balance of food vs snacks.
Here are some things to feed your chickens in winter:
- High-quality chicken feed: Chicken feed that is specifically formulated for winter will contain more protein and fat than regular chicken feed. This will help them stay warm and maintain their weight.
- Scratch grains: Scratch grains are a good source of energy for chickens. You can add a handful of scratch grains to their feed or scatter them in the coop for them to peck at.
- Fruits and vegetables: Chickens love fruits and vegetables. You can offer them a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as apples, carrots, and broccoli.
- Yeast: Yeast is a good source of protein and B vitamins. You can add a teaspoon of yeast to their feed or water.
- Supplements: You may need to add supplements to your chickens’ diet in the winter, such as a vitamin supplement or a calcium supplement.
Not all chickens will eat the same things. Some chickens may prefer scratch grains, while others may prefer fruits and vegetables and others neither. Experiment and find what your chickens like to eat.
- Make sure their water is not frozen. Providing fresh water throughout the day or using a heated waterer will help keep your chickens hydrated in winter.
- Monitor their weight. Chickens may lose weight in the winter, so it is important to monitor their weight and make sure they are not losing too much.
- Check for signs of illness. Chickens may be more susceptible to illness in the winter, so it is important to check them for signs of illness regularly.
Winterizing your chicken run:
Just like the chicken coop your chicken run needs to be protected from winter conditions. In nearly the same way as the coop you will repeat the same steps.
- Insulate the run. This will help to keep the chickens warm on cold days. You can use straw, hay, plastic or even insulation batting to insulate the walls, floor, and ceiling of the run.
- Provide plenty of bedding. Use a deep litter of straw, pine shavings, wood chips or fallen leaves. Having a layer on top of the ground helps keep your chickens feet dry.
- Move the run to a sheltered location with the coop. If your run is exposed to the wind and rain, it will be much colder inside.
- Do not add heat. Make sure you have insulated your coop well and your flock should be ok.
- Reduce drafts. Drafts can make the run very cold, so it is important to seal up any cracks or gaps in the walls and doors. We use thick plastic to cover and wrap our run. We leave space open for ventilation at the top of the run. Remember even though its winter your chickens still need air flow.
- Make sure your chickens have access to fresh water. Keep your waterer in the run and not the coop.
Now that you know how to winterize your chicken coop and run here’s a list of the top winter hardy chicken breeds.
- Rhode Island Red. Rhode Island Reds are known for their cold hardiness and their ability to lay a lot of eggs. They are also relatively easy to care for.
- Buff Orpington. Buff Orpingtons are another cold hardy breed that is known for their gentle temperament and their fluffy feathers. They are not as prolific layers as Rhode Island Reds, but they are still a good choice for cold climates.
- Australorp. Australorps are a black chicken breed that is known for their cold hardiness and their egg-laying abilities. They are also relatively easy to care for.
- Wyandotte. Wyandottes are a hardy breed that is known for their variety of colors and their ability to lay a lot of eggs. They are also relatively easy to care for.
- New Hampshire Red. New Hampshire Reds are a cold hardy breed that is known for their egg-laying abilities. They are not as fluffy as some other breeds, but they are still able to withstand cold weather.
- Barred Rock. Barred Rocks are a cold hardy breed that is known for their gentle temperament and their ability to lay a lot of eggs. They are also relatively easy to care for.
- Dominique. Dominiques are a cold hardy breed that is known for their dark feathers and their ability to forage. They are not as prolific layers as some other breeds, but they are still a good choice for cold climates.
- Ameraucana. Ameraucanas are a cold hardy breed that is known for their blue eggs. They are not as prolific layers as some other breeds, but they are still a popular choice for cold climates because of their unique egg color.
- Olive Egger. Olive Eggers are a cross between an Ameraucana and a Maran. They are cold hardy and lay blue or olive green eggs. They are not as prolific layers as some other breeds, but they are still a popular choice for cold climates because of their unique egg color.
These are just a few of the many cold hardy chicken breeds available. When choosing a breed for your flock, it is important to consider your climate and your needs. If you live in a cold climate, you will want to choose a breed that is known for its cold hardiness. You will also want to consider how many eggs you want your chickens to lay. Some breeds are better layers than others and some breeds are friendlier than others.
Chickens are a relatively easy pet to care for on a homestead. Once you get them all set up they pretty much take care of themselves and are pretty content mostly happy little creatures.