As winter approaches, you may wonder what you need to do to prepare your flock for winter and the best ways to care for them.
Preparing Your Chicken Coop
Chicken coops greatly affect how comfortable your chickens are during the winter. There are important steps to take when preparing your coop for cold weather.
Ventilation is crucial in keeping your flock dry and warm. Without proper ventilation in your chicken coop, the natural moisture chickens create will freeze and make them colder than air circulation would. Lack of ventilation can also increase the risk of frostbite on combs and wattles, moldy bedding, and respiratory infections.
Prevent Cold Drafts
While it is important to have ventilation, a chicken coop should not allow large amounts of airflow through any openings in the coop. If there are holes or cracks in your chicken coop, seal these up before winter. Do not seal ventilation vents or openings.
Adult chickens have an internal temperature between 105℉ and 107℉. Chickens can generate a lot of heat and will huddle together inside the coop for warmth. Adding additional insulation to the coop can also keep some of their body heat inside. There are a few ways to add additional insulation to a chicken coop.
One of the popular methods is the deep litter method. Start with a 3-4 inch layer of litter, and once a week, add a new layer of litter on top of the old litter. You can turn the litter yourself or add some scratch to have your chickens do it for you. The decomposing bedding will generate heat for the coop, and at the end of the winter, you will have 8-12 inches of odorless compost for your garden.
Your flock may not want to leave the chicken coop on super cold days. Providing them with food, water, and entertainment, such as hanging cabbages, ladders, mirrors, etc., is important. Read our winter boredom hacks for chickens for more ways to entertain your chickens during winter.
Preparing Your Chicken Run
Not only is it important to prep your chicken coop for winter, but it is also important to prep your chicken run or outdoor space that your chickens use. Using materials like tarps to cover the run will help keep weather elements out of the run, such as rain, wind, and snow.
Keeping the run comfortable for your chickens during winter is essential for encouraging them to have an area to get sunshine and fresh air.
Caring For Your Chickens
One of the biggest factors to watch out for during cold weather is frostbite. Frostbite occurs when extremely cold, windy, and damp weather conditions cause blood flow to redirect to the vital organs to keep them warm. As a result, the extremities receive less blood flow, and the fluid beneath the skin becomes more vulnerable to freeze. This results in cell damage and an eventual darkening of the affected area as tissue death occurs. Luckily, frostbite develops in stages, and knowing what to look for can help you better protect your flock.
Combs and wattles are the most susceptible to frostbite. Especially if your chickens have large combs like carnation, single, or buttercup combs.
There are a few ways to prevent frostbite, including:
- Ventilating and insulating the coop
- Keeping the coop and bedding dry and clean
During the winter months, chickens will not lay as many eggs, if any at all. When chickens lay eggs, they generally need a diet with lots of protein. Because chickens are not laying eggs during winter, their diet will change to a diet with lots of carbs. Carbohydrates will actually increase the body temperature of your chickens. So feeding them warm treats and treats with high carbs is a great way to warm your chickens up. These treats include:
- Cracked or cooked corn
- Cooked rice
- Chicken scratch
In addition to their treats with high carbs, layer feed should still be given to them for nutritional purposes.
Make sure your chicken's water does not freeze. Fresh, clean water should be available to your chickens at all times. There are a few options for preventing your chicken's water from freezing. You can keep their waterer inside of the winterized chicken coop or place a deicer inside of the waterer.
How to Make a Dust Bath for Chickens in Winter
Since there are limited dry areas during the winter for a dust bath, creating a specific area for your chickens to dust bathe is very important. Dust bathing is a way for chickens to clean themselves, prevents parasites, and helps exfoliate a chicken's skin.
Some popular DIY methods for creating dust baths include cat litter pans, kiddie pools, or plastic bins. From there, you can add the elements to the dust bath. Sand, Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth, herbs like lavender, basil, and more. For additional tips on creating a dust bath for chickens, check out our blog post, Create A Dust Bathing Box for Healthy Chickens.
Have additional tips for caring for chickens in the winter? Let us know in the comments!