Many people who start trying to produce some of their own food start with chickens. Normally they get chicks in the spring and enjoy a glorious summer, learning about their chickens as they grow. Fall may be alright, but then winter comes and with it much concern for their birds. What does one need to do in order to have happy, healthy chickens in the winter? Here are a couple of points to keep in mind.
Chickens do not need to be kept warm.
They actually do very well below freezing, even as low as -30 F. Do not put a heater in your chicken coop! There is far more potential danger in doing this than any real help for the birds.
What does one do to have healthy chickens in the winter?
Five Requirements for Keeping Chickens in the Winter
- Chickens need protection from wind and rain. They need a decent roof over their heads and a windbreak of some kind. They can handle cold, but constant wet and wind can finish them off. Some of our chickens will sleep outside, even when the weather is nasty, but they always have access to shelter. Probably the most important factor for keeping healthy chickens in the winter is to keep them dry at night.
- Chickens need protection from predators. This is true all year ’round, but it is especially true in the winter when most predators are especially hungry. Whatever one uses for a coop must be able to be secured from predators. In most cases, this means that it is of tight construction and is closed up tightly at night. Remember, if you can push a ping pong ball through any opening into the coop, your birds will not be safe from predators. We use livestock guardian dogs to protect our chickens. They are a tremendous help. Homesteading Edu will soon have a course dedicated to livestock guardian dogs.
- To keep chickens in the winter, one needs to feed them well. Not only do they need enough food, it needs to be good food. Even if allowed to free range, chickens need to be fed. They need to be fed in the summer and even more so in the winter. When the weather is especially damp and cold I will sometimes give our birds a couple of scoops of whole kernel corn, in addition to their regular feed. Breaking this high fat food down, in their digestive system generates extra calories. It’s like throwing an extra log on the fire.
- To keep chickens in the winter, one needs to supply them with a steady source of liquid water. When it’s really cold waterers may freeze, thus preventing them from getting the hydration they need. If necessary, I break ice and refill water pans both morning and evening (before dark). Your local feed store should sell black, rubberized water/feed pans. These are great, as their black color utilizes solar energy to keep water a little warmer and, when they do freeze, they are easy to free from the ice.