Chickens in the Winter: Caring for Your Coop

Chickens can be a fun pet or livestock to raise. Their funny mannerisms and personalities alone make for great entertainment. Chickens in the winter, though, require special care. Raising chickens in Minnesota has given us a great appreciation for keeping our feathered friends happy and warm during winter. Great feed, a dry coop, and run and available water are just the beginning. Whether it’s winter or summer, we offer great holistic products for your livestock animals. Find out more about our holistic commitment to animal nutrition.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Free range French blue copper Maran hen walking in the yard during a snow storm.

When the weather turns cold, the best place for your flock is a dry, well ventilated, and warm coop. Insulating your coop for winter should be addressed after cleaning out your cage thoroughly in Autumn. One natural and safe way to protect your chickens in the winter is the “Deep Litter Method.” That is, using composted chicken droppings to gain warmth without harmful materials. Here’s how:
  1. During the year, collect the droppings that fall into the bottom of your chicken coop.
  2. Keep in a composting barrel so that they break down over time.
  3. Line clean coop with organic materials such as wood chips or sand.
  4. Layer in composted droppings.
This method will release heat, is natural, and does not smell bad. The chickens scratching on the layer of droppings will also release antibodies that are healthy for them. Deep litter is a terrific self-sustaining method that does not require a lot of upkeep once it is implemented. Some “don’ts” for this method are:
  1. Cedar chips: they are toxic to chickens.
  2. Straw or hay, as they hold in moisture and will mildew.
  3. Layering in fresh droppings is a no as well. All droppings that are kept for this should be thoroughly composted.
It should be stated that litter should not be left in the pin all winter. Chickens should be allowed to walk about their run from time to time. It is also recommended to clean out your coop periodically and freshen the litter and avoid ammonia build up. Cleaning up also prevents any bedding or layering from growing moisture and mold, which is harmful to your flock. Cleaning your coop completely out before winter sets in is highly recommended. Cleaning up gives a clean and dry place to layer your bedding and composted droppings. Seasonal cleaning before winter is also excellent hygiene for the flock.

Take a Breath

Chickens in the winter. A warmly-dressed little boy holds a hen on a farm. Although we want to keep cold air out of the coop, it is paramount that your chickens have proper ventilation. Without it, ammonia from droppings can build over time, causing danger to your flock. Let’s face it; the smell inside the coop is kept down with excellent ventilation. Addressing ventilation may seem counter-intuitive. However, it’s important to keep the air fresh, especially since chickens in the winter will be in the coop more. Vents are usually covered with chicken wire to keep the flock in a pen and safe from elements and predators. Any ventilation openings should be kept above their nests. This keeps cold wind from blowing on them and will not significantly affect the temperature of their home. In fact, this will keep your egg layers happy and healthy all winter. Draft panels placed over ventilation screens will also offer protection from gusts of cold air. Some farmers have also used clear tarping around their coop and run to break wind gusts. These panels are easy to find online or at any feed store. Something just as important as ventilation is insulation. While chickens do huddle for warmth and have a high internal temperature, insulation is still important. This insulation does not have to be fancy and can be created with natural and recycled materials. Safe options are:
  1. Scrap wood on the outside of the coop.
  2. Foam with plywood to cover it (also on the outside)
  3. If you can afford it, spray foam is also an option.
A word of caution is that any insulation used should be completely covered. If your flock can find it, they will eat it; even insulation. Eating insulation, of course, is absolutely dangerous for them. To prevent this, keep insulation covered and hidden.

Egg-cellent Lighting and Fuel

Most places during winter get less light naturally. In humans, this can often lead to depression and a decrease in productivity. We are not saying that chickens in the winter get depressed, but a lack of light will decrease egg production. For that reason, lighting should be made a priority in winterizing your coop. A simple nine watt fluorescent light will do. Keep them on a timer, so you keep your chickens laying eggs without venturing out in the cold yourself. For maximum surface, exposure place your bulb(s) in a high spot. Your light will also do well to be wiped off every week so that dirt does not build up, causing light to seem dim. Another way to keep your flock laying is to keep them fueled. Ready food supply is vital to chickens in the winter to fuel egg-laying and keep their body temperatures up. Water should also be available and monitored closely to ensure it does not freeze. Water can be thawed by keeping it in an insulated tub or with an automatic water dispenser kept inside your coop. If not tended to, water bowls will freeze. Lack of water and food will lead to stress, causing your flock to lay fewer eggs. While chickens naturally have an internal temperature of 104° to 107° Fahrenheit, they still need a warm, dry, and stocked habitat with available feed.

New Heritage Feed Co. Cares for Your Coop

Chickens in the winter. little girl holding a red chicken. We at New Heritage Feed Company believe that your flock can be cared for without harsh chemicals, no matter the season. Their entire well being is essential. We offer a wide variety of products to care for your animals. Visit us online or find our products in stores across Minnesota and Wisconsin today for more tips and excellent products.

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