Source: Jessica Lane, 104Homestead.com
We’re grateful that Texas winters are historically quite mild. Our chickens – who refuse to coop up at night, even in winter – are not in any serious danger of frostbite or exposure, but we do take a few measures to keep them comfortable in the winter months.
Tips for Chicken Keeping in Winter:
Clean your coop before the cold sets in.
Let’s be honest, you’re unlikely to do much coop cleaning during the coldest months and by spring… Pee-yoo! The smell will be rough. Take this opportunity to give your coop a deep clean before you close things up for the winter. (Tip: We like to use apple cider vinegar when cleaning our coop and run).
Ensure that your waterers don’t freeze.
There are many great instructions online to do this, but please remember that just about all of these heated waterers pose a risk for fire. I’ve seen pictures of the aftermath of a fire in a chicken coop and I just… I don’t think the benefit outweighs the risk in our specific situation and our location here in Texas. Instead, on the colder days, we will make sure to keep a fresh waterer inside the house and one out in the coop. Throughout the day (I work from home) I will simply go out to the coop and swap the inside one for the outside one.
Image: Erica Nygaard, LivingLifeinRuralIowa.com
Insulate the run.
I’ve already mentioned that our girls are not big fans of the coop. The only times they go in there are when it’s really pouring with rain (sometimes), or when they lay. They always lay in the coop. They are very active, and enjoy the outside run area immensely. Again, in Texas it doesn’t really get super cold and we rarely have much of a freeze in our area, but we do experience some pretty chilly winds. We’ve found two great inexpensive ways to protect the girls from the wind, while still allowing for maximum sunlight and fresh air. Last year we purchased a few of those cheap, clear vinyl shower curtains from the Dollar Store. We loved that they were clear enough for us to always have eyes on the girls, even while the wind was being blocked and the price was pretty good too. BUT, being cheap, the curtains tear pretty quickly in the wind and by the time winter was over our coop looked a total mess of shredded plastic. This year we’re using plastic painters drop cloth from Walmart – not as see-through as the shower curtain, but much much thicker quality – price is only slightly higher, I think we paid about $5 for a GIANT roll.
IMPORTANT! Always make sure that there is plenty of airflow into the run area. Yes, it’s important that they’re warm, but it’s even more important that they have fresh air. Be sure to leave at least one section uncovered and air free-flowing.
Source: Jessica Lane, 104Homestead.com
To heat or not to heat?
Again, there are two camps when it comes to heating the coop. We don’t need to, but some of you may need to improve the warmth in there. Some people use a heating device – again, a big risk of fire and we’re just not willing to take that chance. I’ve seen great projects where chicken keepers lined the coop walls with hay bales, while others swear by deep litter method (i.e. not cleaning the litter floor during winter. The poop naturally warms up and heats the coop). Please consider giving these natural options a try before going straight to the heater. Chickens are hardier than you think!
Some like it hot!
On cold mornings my girls love a big bowl of warm oatmeal with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper on top. As an extra treat, if they’re looking a little “low” I may also drizzle a tiny bit of molasses as a pick-me-up. Cayenne?? Yes. Chickens don’t have taste buds for the “spicy” flavors. They don’t taste anything different, but the capsaicin in the cayenne pepper elevates their body temps slightly and keeps them more comfortable.
Rough around the edges.
Before winter hits, go out and buy yourself a giant tub of Vaseline. Smear a little on your chickens comb and wattles. This prevents frost bite.
Artificial light sources.
This is a controversial topic in the chicken keeping world. Egg production drops significantly in the dark, short days of winter – in some cases it stops all together. There are some people who advocate adding an artificial light source to the coop to trick them into thinking the day is longer, and thereby increasing egg production. Others feel that this is an artificial manipulation of the chicken’s natural rest cycle and potentially damaging to the chicken. We don’t add light sources. We have tried it in the past with little success and this year we are prepared for the shortage by preserving and stock piling eggs for this “dry season”.
You may also enjoy these posts about fun ways to keep your chickens entertained during the winter months:
There you have it!
7 9 quick tips for chicken keeping in winter. A special thank you to my northern friends for the use of your beautiful pictures of your chickens in the snow.
Image: Lesa Wilke, BetterHensandGardens.com
Did I miss something? What do you do to ensure your girls are happy and comfortable in the colder months? Share with us in the comments below.