As the seasons begin to change, it is important to recognize that chicken care and requirements can change as the colder weather ushers in. This year the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a harsh winter. Most often chicken keepers don’t really begin to prepare until the first snow fall arrives. It’s important to be prepared. Here are some useful tips to get you started or at least thinking about winter chicken keeping.
1. Most chickens have finished their molting by the time the cold weather arrives. This is a good thing. They have a brand new set of feathers, including downy ones underneath to help them keep warm through the winter.
2. Chicken roosts should be made of wood or plastic not metal. Metal will conduct the cold and predispose chicken feet to frostbite. The roosts should be approximately two inches wide so that the chickens can perch upon their feet and keep them warm under their feathers.
3. Moisture is often the number one problem chicken keepers face during the winter. It is important to make sure the coop is well ventilated and draft-free. Rafters with a vent or a functioning cupola work wonders in the winter.
4. Chickens are birds not mammals, so they do not require heat in the winter. Their bodies interpret the cold much differently than you. If you live in a snowy place, your cold hardy breeds will do just fine. Think of the birds that stick around at your bird feeders throughout the entire winter. They did not need to migrate to warmer climates nor do your chickens. Chickens’ metabolisms are much more rapid than ours and their normal body temperature hovers around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the late afternoon, try giving your flock a handful of scratch to help keep their bodies metabolizing and producing heat. This can also help to keep up egg production. Did you know that hens typically make their eggs as they sleep?
5. Consider purchasing a water heater to prevent the water from freezing. Many varieities have thermostats that kick on the heater prior to the water freezing. This is a huge benefit and makes things much easier.
6. Keep a shovel handy and have a plan for snowstorms and or power outages. It’s always a good idea to not only stock up on food for the humans in the house prior to a storm but also the flock as well.
7. Add boredom busters. Free-ranging chickens in the winter have less goodies to discover. Sometimes, with heavy snow, free-ranging is not possible.
8. Repair the coop and run for the weather and predators. Remember predators have less food out there too, a chicken dinner is always on the menu.
9. Consider temporarily covering the run with plastic or tarp. This helps to keep snow out of the run and provides more space for the chickens.
About the author: Melissa Caughey is a backyard chicken keeper, beekeeper, gardener, and cook who pens the award winning blog, Tilly’s Nest. She lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with her family of four and her Miniature Schnauzer. She regularly writes for HGTV Gardens, Community Chickens, Grit magazine, and contributes to Country Living Magazine. Her blog was recently named one of Better Homes and Gardens Top 10 Gardening Blogs. Melissa’s first book, A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, will arrive on shelves in March 2015.