It’s that time of the year again. I am starting to receive photos of chickens in sweaters, and people saying, “Kim, you need to make this for your chickens!”
I agree they are adorable and I would certainly make them for a photo session, but chickens are naturally dressed for the colder weather and don’t need sweaters. I think chickens prefer cooler days to the hot days of summer.
Have you ever looked at your chickens on a cold day and thought…WOW! Has Henrietta packed the weight on? Don’t worry she is just “fluffing her feathers,” or piloerection – when chickens use their downy feathers to trap air close to her body and stay warm. The warm air stays close to their skin, blocking any cold air from touching them. Amazing! So, sweaters may be adorable, they are likely to do harm to your chickens.
I myself find it hard not to worry about their little legs and feet in the winter. Especially if I go outside and cuddle them and notice they are cold. Then I must remind myself if they were freezing they would be doing a “Pelican Stance;” if you are new to chicken keeping, this is when your chickens are standing on one leg. The reason is they are warming the other in their feathers.
In the colder months especially, I would suggest feeding them an extra treat in the evening that is high in fat. I love to treat my flock to warm oatmeal. You can add fresh fruit, molasses, I have even added worms. Another favorite is cottage cheese! Chickens love pumpkins. and it’s very good for them. So, toss out a pumpkin or two while they are in season and watch how quickly they eat the inside.
I like to think of chickens’ combs like humans’ heads. You can lose a lot of heat from your head, that is why we wear a knitted cap in the winter to stay warm. In the summer they say protect your head from the sunlight by wearing a sun hat, or if you get too hot put a cool dishcloth on your head to bring your temperature down. Chickens will tuck their heads under their wing to keep it warm and help hold their body temperature. Also in the winter, I would suggest going into the coop at night and applying Vaseline to all their combs and wattles to protect them from frostbite.
One question everyone asks is, do you heat the coop? They seemed shocked when I tell them we do not. Our coop doesn’t even have a light in it for us to see. I chose it to be this way for a few reasons. First, heating a coop with a light is dangerous! I had a chick in our nursery who jumped up and knocked the light off and it started a fire, sadly she was killed. Thankfully no one else was injured. Chickens roost closely together and since their natural body temperature is between 105-107, they can generate enough heat to keep themselves warm. Just make sure you have a coop that is ventilated well. We want our hens to be on their natural cycle and if that means fewer eggs in the winter, that’s okay. I think it’s better for them.
Everyone is different in their opinions, and that’s okay. What works best for my family may not be the best way for yours. I hope this blog gives you a few ideas. I also love learning an odd thing about chickens. So here is a new fun fact that I have just learned. I love watching old movies and I noticed that when a lady passed out, they would light a chicken feather, blow it out then wave it back and forth from her nose. I researched this, and it was used the same way we would use ammonia tabs today. The smell of the feathers is so pungent and helps bring them back to a conscious state.
I hope all your fluffy, feathery friends stay warm and safe this winter!