Raising chickens in winter can bring on feelings of dismay because the warmer season is coming to a close.
However if you approach the winter chores as simply yearly maintenance then the outlook can change dramatically.
Some of those pesky to do things can be added to your yearly maintenance schedule and then you do not have to look upon them as winter oriented so much as safety and security oriented.
Your flock relies on you especially during the winter months for food, shelter and safety. It really is not hard to do and if you can break it down into bite sized chunks it will go smoothly.
Winter is an important time for your hens.
They will use this time to re-gather the strength and vitality for the next laying season. There are things that can be done now while the weather is warm and sunny that will make the transition to winter easier on them and you.
We have prepared a list of things for you to check through ready for the glum days of winter…
Contents and Quick Navigation
- Tips For Raising Chickens In Winter
- 1. Winter Roosts
- 2. Corn At Bedtime
- 3. Extra Grit
- 4. Increase Their Food Allowance
- 5. Deep Litter Method
- 6. Fall Clean Up
- 7. Treats To Encourage Activity
- 8. Extra Insulation
- 9. Windows and Predators
- 10. Straw for Snow
- 11. Build a Sunroom
- 12. Water
- 13. Start Early
- 14. Provide Petroleum Jelly
- 15. Winter Eggs
- 16. Adding Heat
Tips For Raising Chickens In Winter
1. Winter Roosts
Chickens can lose nails, toes and even parts of their leg from frostbite. When they roost at night they are particularly vulnerable.
Because of this they need wide sturdy roosts to help protect their feet and legs during winter.
A 2×4 set on the flat wide side will accommodate just about every breed I can think of.
If you have have feathered leg breeds then you should make sure their feet are free from ice balls and are not soaking wet when they come to roost at night because this can cause frostbite.
2. Corn At Bedtime
Did you know that giving chickens a snack before bedtime helps to raise their metabolism. This in turns raises the temperature of the chicken itself.
Hens have been measured at radiating the equivalent of a 10watt light bulb. Although it does not sound impressive, multiply that by the number of hens in the coop and you can get some serious heat going.
So you should stock up on your cracked corn to get ready for those night-time snacks.
3. Extra Grit
When the ground is frozen they cannot get access to grit to help digest their food.
You can remedy this by offering them grit in a separate container. Doing this will help prevent Sour Crop.
4. Increase Their Food Allowance
During the winter chickens will eat more food.
Food is fuel and in cold climates they need more fuel to get going and keep you going.
Animals and birds are better at conserving energy when they need to, but giving them an increased allowance of good quality feed will help too.
If you have to monitor some of your flock because they are prone to sitting by the feeder and constantly dipping in then perhaps you can have an extra supervised feeding session to give those smaller hens a bit of a boost.
5. Deep Litter Method
You can use the deep litter method to save time during the winter.
If you have not used this method before then read up on it first. When done properly, this method helps to keep the coop warm and the chickens themselves will help to turn over the bedding for you. However if you do this wrong it can turn into a foul-smelling mess.
The main drawback of this method is mucking out at the end of winter.
6. Fall Clean Up
When you are doing your annual Fall deep clean, you should check for any holes or signs of chewing or entry.
If you find rodent access holes then put wire mesh over them and secure the mesh in place.
Rodents will steal food, contaminate food by peeing and pooping in it and rats may actually attack the chickens themselves. So you should also check all your locks, bolts and other hardware to make sure they are still working properly.
7. Treats To Encourage Activity
Over the wintertime your hens tend to sit around more and eat more.
To encourage them to be more active you can provide healthy snacks such as cabbage, pumpkin or squash.
Make them work for it by playing cabbage tetherball! This is good exercise for them and provides a fresh green snack. By hanging up things like leafy greens just above their heads, they will have to jump up to get at the goodies – jumping jacks!
This activity will help them burn a few extra calories too.
8. Extra Insulation
During the winter you want the coop to stay just above or near the freezing mark.
Your chickens will generate a bit of heat themselves and when combined with the deep litter method, they should be plenty warm.
However if you coop got a little chilly last year then perhaps you need to add a little insulation. Stacking hay bales around the outside of the coop can help, so too can wrapping the outside in polythene to add another layer of draft proofing.
Some people like to stack hay bales inside the coop but I would caution against this. Moisture can build up on the straw which causes the growth of toxic mold spores and this can make your chickens ill.
By all means though add more straw on the floor.
9. Windows and Predators
You should make sure that your coop windows are predator proof.
This will mean covering openings with mesh and repairing any rotten wood. Many animals can chew through rotting wood easily enough.
Insects such as carpenter ants and termites can also be destructive in small structures like a coop. If you need to spray for bug infestation then make sure your chickens are not around. Ideally keep them somewhere else for a night until the fumes dissipate.
10. Straw for Snow
Although most hens won’t go out in the snow there are always one or two that are adventurous and will insist on walking in the snow.
So make sure to always keep some straw so you can throw it down on areas where they like to walk.
Putting down a layer of straw will actually encourage them to go out a bit more and exercise over the winter.
Without straw there is a real risk of frostbite.
11. Build a Sunroom
If your chickens have a run then you simply wrap it in plastic to retain some heat from the sun.
This extra heat can really make a big difference in the depths of winter.
Without a doubt my best investment was heated chicken waterers.
I have four coops so carting buckets of water three or four times a day got old very quickly!
If you can then get yourself a heated waterer and save yourself time and grief through those dark months.
This little investments will pay you big rewards!
13. Start Early
You should start preparing for the wintertime early.
Do not wait for the cold weather to arrive before you do these chores. Things like repairs to the coop and fencing are easier and more pleasant to do when the weather is warm and comfortable.
Trying to do repairs when your hands are cold is challenging to say the least and between the wind, rain and snow it can be downright inhospitable.
Not only will it be warmer in the autumn but you will also have more daylight too which makes a good deal of sense.
Check around the coop fencing and building for signs of digging, chewing or rot and fix these problems as you find them. Now would also be a good time to check that your ventilation is enough and working.
14. Provide Petroleum Jelly
You will need to stock up on petroleum jelly.
Each evening you should cover the larger wattles and combs in petroleum jelly. It is helpful in helping to prevent frostbite.
It works by providing a layer that moisture cannot stick to – this helps to prevents the moisture from freezing and causing damage.
15. Winter Eggs
If you want eggs over the winter then you are going to have to provide extra light in the coop.
Chickens need a minimum of 14-16 hours of light before their hormones kick in to start laying again.
You will need to add the light in the early hours of the morning and not the evening hours. It is important for them to experience a natural decline in light at the end of the day.
I prefer to leave my ladies to rest over the winter and treat eggs as a seasonal produce. I usually have a couple of pullets that will come into lay during this time so some eggs are provided.
16. Adding Heat
There are definitely two sides to this subject!
Chickens are much hardier than we give them credit for.
Generally speaking most chickens will not need a heater unless they are special breeds like Sultans or Seramas or some other bantams. Read cold hardy chickens for more.
Your winter prep here is going to be making sure your heat unit is running and that your back-up power source is functioning and ready to go. Maintenance of all your electrical or mechanical equipment should be done at least yearly (regardless of how much usage it has had). Mice and other critters do enjoy electrical wiring as a snack item.
Read 5 Best Chicken Coop Heaters The Complete Buyer’s Guide if you need more help.
All of the things we do for winter is designed to keep our flock safe, healthy and busy during those long months.
Many of these chores can be integrated throughout the year so that winter chores do not become onerous.
Probably the hardest thing for humans during the winter is realizing that the hens are far more resilient to cold conditions than we are!
One of the overlooked aspects of winter is that chicken predators are hungry and food is scarce, so they become bolder.
Be on the lookout for unusual tracks around the coop and check frequently for any signs of attempted entry.
Let us know your tips for raising chickens in winter in the comments section below…
Thanks for the article, Chris! This will be our first winter with our chickens, so your tips are helpful. One question about the petroleum jelly on the combs and waddles — would something like coconut oil or ghee work as well? Trying to keep it organic. 🙂
I have never tried with coconut oil before sorry!
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