Winter is just around the corner. It’s time to prepare your chickens and their coop for the cold weather. Here are the things that I do to get ready for winter with my girls.
I live in the northeast where the winters can be extremely cold. Because of this, I purposely chose a cold tolerant breed of chicken (Rhode Island Red and White Rock hybrids).
It has taken me a while to accept that my girls actually do better in cold weather than in the heat. I do not provide any supplemental heat for them for two reasons. The dangers and risks of using heat lamps are not worth it to me and my chickens have not needed it.
I use greenhouse plastic to enclose the chicken pen. This keeps the wind out and heats up the pen when the sun is shining on it. It keeps it nice and cozy inside and the chickens are comfortable. The difference in temperature inside the pen as opposed to the outside is significant.
Below are a few pictures of my coop and pen during winter.
You will notice that I have a removable door for the front of the coop. This is because proper ventilation is incredibly important to the health of your chickens. I can’t stress that enough.
I take the door on and off depending on the weather. On nice days, I take it off so the girls can get more fresh air and enjoy looking outside. The door always goes on at night. By having the ventilation at the top, the chickens don’t get caught in any drafts. The way my pen is built, there is also quite a bit of ventilation on the sides of the roof. During storms, I place a towel over the top to keep the wind and precipitation out. This still allows some air through and there is plenty of ventilation on the sides of the roof. The towel comes off after the storm subsides.
Now it’s time to talk about a few additional things they need in the winter:
1) Water – Access to fresh, unfrozen water is extremely important. I use a heated dog bowl to provide this for my chickens and it works very well.
2) Bedding – In the late Fall (usually November), I take all of the bedding out of the coop, scrub the whole thing really well and put clean bedding several inches thick in. I scoop my coop daily and replace bedding as needed throughout the winter. I use aspen wood shavings. Because chickens have delicate respiratory systems, you should never use pine shavings.
3) Scratch – I only use scratch in the winter. The energy it takes for the chickens to digest it causes their body temperature to rise and heats them up a little. I give my girls some scratch before bed on cold nights to warm them up while they digest it overnight.
4) Straw – I keep a box of straw in the coop that the girls love to get into. Be careful if you decide to spread it on the ground because straw can become moldy which will make the chickens very ill. I “fluff” the straw in the box daily and replace it as needed. I also put straw on the top shelf I have in the pen and change it daily. The girls like to lay on the straw on that shelf.
5) Toys – Chickens need things to occupy them while they are “cooped up” over the winter. Generally, they are motivated by food. I hide different greens, vegetables and treats around the coop for them to find. I have shelves, perches and stumps for them to walk and perch on. It keeps them active and helps keep them from getting too bored. They also still get out to roam free every morning for about 30 minutes while I clean their pen and longer on the weekends when I’m home during the day.
6) Sand or Dirt – Chickens still need to dust bath in the winter. Make sure you provide unfrozen sand and/or dirt for them. Because I use the greenhouse plastic to enclose the pen, it keeps the dirt from getting frozen on the top. Every morning when I clean out the coop and pen, I use my rake and shovel to keep the dirt loose.
I hope these tips help you to prepare your chickens for the cold weather. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that my chickens actually like the cold weather and I struggled with that greatly. There were so many sleepless nights my first two winters worrying about them being outside and going out to check on them in the middle of the night. However,I have observed their behavior and realized that they are happy and comfortable. I will admit that I still don’t like it in the winter but have come to feel better about it.