We all know that winter can be a particularly challenging time for chickens.
What with the snow, howling cold winds and hungry predators, winter can be a pretty rotten time. Whilst you can’t change the weather, there are several things you can do to make your chickens’ lives easier.
Step One: Keep Their Coop Warm
The first thing you need to do to keep your chickens warm is to make sure you eliminate any drafts inside the coop. This is the number one thing you can do to keep your chickens warm. Imagine the scenario: your chickens are all huddled together and producing barely enough heat to keep the flock warm and then there is a chilling breeze blowing through the coop and taking with it their heat!
It isn’t just obvious things like large visible holes in the coop; small cracks in-between the panels near the roosts can do just as much damage. You should visually inspect the coop and use a sealant to fill any holes/cracks in the coop.
Step Two: Add Heat
Once you have made sure that your coop can retain the warmth, you can consider adding heat to your coop.
Welcome to one of the most contentious issues with backyard chicken keepers. You will find people on both sides of this argument with some people preferring to add no heat to their coop and others adding heaters to their coop.
I would say here that there is no right or wrong approach, just whatever works for your chickens and coop. As people’s coops and flock vary hugely, there isn’t a one size fits all rule here. Generally, old-timers agree that chickens can huddle together and their body heat alone with keeping them warm; this is generally the case.
However, if their coop is drafty, you live in an exceptionally cold area, or you have exotic breeds that don’t tolerate the cold, you will likely need to add a heater to the coop. At a bare minimum, your chickens should not be suffering from chill or being put at risk of frostbite. You can learn all about chicken coop heaters here.
Step Three: Individual Chicken Care
Even after you’ve tackled the coop heating problem, there are still several things you need to consider during the winter to keep your chickens healthy. One of the largest problems is chickens getting frostbite whilst they are roaming outside away from the warmth of the coop.
As hens tend to have much smaller combs you don’t need to worry about them as much, but roosters can have problems. You will need to apply petroleum gel to their combs; this will help prevent water from staying on their comb and freezing.
Step Four: Feeding Them Warm
A lot of people don’t consider the role of diet when trying to keep chickens warm. But did you know you can literally feed your chickens warm if you give them the right food?
I like to give them scratch in the evening (just before they go inside to roost). This scratch takes time for their body to digest and as it goes through their body, it switches on their digestive system and produces warmth.
I hope these four tips help to keep your chickens warm during the winter. Remember if any of your chickens get sick because of the cold, bring them inside and gradually warm them up. You don’t want to shock their bodies by moving them from the bitter cold to the warmth too quickly!