Having a coop full of chickens can be great. Some people breed chickens as a hobby, while others have chickens for fresh eggs and fresh meat. Whatever your reasons are for having a coop, you need to keep them warm and safe during the cold, winter months. Chickens are very strong birds. As long as they have food, water, and a solid structure for shelter, they can make it through the winter.
If you want to keep your chickens happy, healthy, and laying eggs, you would need to know how to winterize your coop to prepare it for the cold, wind, and snow. This will provide your chickens a warm, draft-free, and clean environment for the chickens.
1. Clean the Coop
The first thing that you want to do is clean out your chicken coop before the winter. You should remove any dishes, removable nest boxes, perches, and any other accessories that you have in the coop.
Next, use scrubbers and scrapers to clean all of the droppings off the inside of the coop and on the accessories. You should clean everything with an industrial-strength cleaner or you can create your own vinegar and water solution. While you are cleaning, you should inspect all of your accessories. If your dishes are cracked or if your perches are worn, it is a good time to replace them. After you have cleaned everything, you should put it in the sun to let it dry.
2. Inspect Your Coop
After you have removed all of your accessories from the coop, it is a good time to inspect it to be sure that it is prepared for the winter. You want to find the perfect balance of airflow during the winter. If there is too much of a draft, the birds will be cold. If you don’t have enough airflow or if there are any entry points for water in the coop, the humidity can rise. This can create a breeding ground for parasites and disease in the coop. This is very dangerous for your birds.
You want to make sure that there is a 40 to 60 percent humidity level in the coop all year long. The cold air and the snow are not the only things that you need to worry about during the winter. When the weather gets cold, there are cold, hungry predators lurking around hoping to find their next meal. When resources start to dwindle as the winter wears on, they may try to find food inside your coop.
To make sure that your coop is safe, there are several things that you should check.
- The entry points to the coop are essential in protecting your birds. You should make sure that the doors, hatches, and any other openings are properly hinged and that they can close tightly and stay closed.
- Inspect the coop for any signs of leaking water. Your coop’s roof needs to be watertight. If any sections of the roofing need to be replaced, you should replace it immediately.
- Check around the whole coop for any cracks, holes, or any other areas that could let the cold air in. If necessary, seal up some of the hatches and vents for the winter.
- Check around the coop for signs of predators in the area. Look for tracks, feces, and partially eaten foliage. If you notice anything, reinforce any weak areas so that they cannot get inside.
- If you have any electricity that runs to your coop, you should inspect it. Make sure that the outlets, wires, and hardware are all in good shape and that the cords are not frayed. If there are any problems, contact an electrician to have the electrical equipment repaired.
- Inspect the bedding in the coop. Check to make sure that there are no mice or other rodents or their feces in the bedding. If the bedding is not clean enough to be top-dressed, you should replace all of the bedding.
3. Bedding Options for Chickens
Some people will replace the bedding in their coop every fall, while others don’t find it to be necessary. Some bird owners leave the bedding in for the winter because the decomposing bedding and the manure can create heat inside the coop. If you absolutely must change the bedding, you shouldn’t worry. It won’t take much time for enough manure to build up after the cleanout to keep the coop warm. When it comes to bedding, you don’t need a specific type just for the winter.
There are a few types of bedding that are great for the coop all year long.
- Straw. Straw bedding is very easy to get your hands on. You can use strictly straw or you can mix it with other types of bedding.
- Wood shavings. Shavings made of pine and aspen are very popular. As long as the shavings are chicken friendly, they provide insulation, they can control the odor in the coop and they can keep the bugs away.
- Shredded paper. Shredded newspaper is not the best choice for bedding because it decomposes and compresses very quickly. It does, however, make a great lining for nest boxes or to provide additional insulation.
4. Heaters for Chicken Coops
If you live in a climate where the temperature drops in the winter to the single digits or below 0, you should provide a heat source to keep your chickens warm. Even the best insulation and the most finely constructed coop won’t protect the chickens from that kind of weather. The best way to provide additional heat is to use radiant heaters or heat lamps. If you made sure that your coop is completely insulated, you shouldn’t need more than a 100-watt bulb.
You should make sure that the heaters are off in the corner so that the chickens can get out of the heat if they need to. If there is an unseasonably warm day, the heat could be too much for the chickens.
5. Poultry Nutrition
It is important that your chickens are always well-fed, especially during the winter. It takes a lot of energy to stay warm during the winter. Your chickens need 10 percent more calories during the winter than they do in the summer. During the cold weather, the chickens can get stressed which can make it difficult for them to lay eggs. To keep them feeling better, you should give them corn or pecking foods, such as forage cakes. If your birds need to bulk up a bit to prepare them for the winter, give them oatmeal.
If you really want to give your chickens a treat and keep them happy, feed them lettuce, alfalfa, or wheatgrass. This will keep them happy when they cannot forage on their own.
Your chickens need a constant source of fresh water all year long. During the winter, when the temperature drops below freezing, the water in the coop can freeze over. If you don’t want to go out to the coop first thing in the morning to break the ice, you should consider purchasing a water heater. The birds actually like the warm water during the winter and you can be sure that there will always be fresh drinkable water in the dish. Just make sure that the wires are out of the chickens’ reach and that they are not damaged.
Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading. Read all of Jennifer’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.