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How To Care For Chickens During The Winter Months
As the winter months approach, you may be wondering how to best care for your chickens. Adult chickens are relatively tough and can withstand colder temperatures than we can, as they have no problems with temperatures that drop slightly below zero. However, when the temperature drops far below zero, there’s cause for concern. To make sure your chickens are safe and comfortable, here are some things you can do to get them through the winter.
Deep Clean The Chicken Coop Before Winter
As the weather gets colder, it's important to deep clean your chicken coop just before winter. This will help keep your chickens healthy and warm during the cold months. To start, remove all of the bedding from the coop and add it to the compost pile (that should be loaded with black soldier fly larvae). Then, use a hose to spray down the entire coop, inside and out.
Once the coop is clean, it’s time to disinfect it. This can be done with a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water. Be sure to wear gloves and a mask when doing this. After the coop is disinfected, add fresh bedding. This can be straw, hay, or even wood chips. But do not use sawdust. Chickens will peck t he sawdust, assuming it's food, and this will destroy their digestive system. Be sure to add enough bedding so your chickens will be comfortable and have a place to nest.
As stated in our chicken summer guide, too much bedding can help overheat your chickens. So for winter months, it's a good idea to use extra bedding to help insulate your chickens.
Insulate The Chicken Coop
One of the most important things you can do is to make sure the coop is well-insulated. This will help them stay warm when the temperatures outside start to drop. You can add extra insulation by lining the walls with straw or hay, or by placing a tarp over the top of the coop.
With the deep litter method, copious amounts of straw are placed on the floor. In combination with chicken droppings, a compost pile forms, generating heat. When spring comes around, apply this compost to plants for optimal growth.
Adequate Ventilation Is Still Important In Winter
Chickens require access to fresh air so don’t seal up the chicken coop completely, as it should still be ventilated to prevent excessive moisture and facilitate proper air exchange, ensuring ammonia levels don’t build up. Something as simple as leaving one of the windows open is enough to ventilate the coop while maintaining a higher temperature than the outside environment.
Add A Roof To Part Of The Chicken Run
Chickens really don’t enjoy the snow and will often not go outside of the chicken coop if there is snow on the ground. This is why it is a good idea to add a roof to the part of the chicken run closest to the chicken coop. This will encourage chickens to go outside and wander around during the winter months, optimizing their life quality.
Prevent Drinking Water From Freezing
Another important thing to keep in mind is that chickens need access to fresh water at all times. During the winter months, the water dishes may freeze over. To prevent this, you can either place them inside the coop where they will be protected from the elements, or you can invest in a chicken-specific water heater.
If the temperature is below zero, add a ping pong ball to their water dish so water has a harder time freezing over. If it is bitterly cold, add a 2L plastic bottle filled with hot water to the water dish, as it will keep the drinking water in liquid form all day long.
Supplement Feed With Insects, Grains, And Greens
It’s important to make sure your chickens have access to plenty of food during the winter. To maintain their body heat, chickens consume 25% to 50% more calories during the winter months. Since their ability to forage for food is limited, supplement their regular feed with dried insects, scratch grains, and greens to give them the extra boost they need.
Insects are especially important, as they are high in protein and fat. Consider stocking up on mealworms, crickets, or fly larvae so you have them on hand all winter. Ideally, feed chickens corn just before they roost for bedtime, as this calorie-dense food helps keep them warm throughout the night.
Provide Supplemental Lighting
As the weather starts to cool off and the days grow shorter, you may find that your chickens are less active and don't seem to be producing as many eggs. One thing you can do is give them supplemental light during the winter months. This can be done with a simple lamp placed in their coop. The light will help them stay warm and encourage them to lay eggs.
Avoiding Frost Bite
Install flat roosting poles in the coop so chickens can sit directly on their feet and avoid frostbite. In this position, chickens have optimal insulation qualities.
Another option is to apply petroleum jelly to parts of the body not covered by feathers. For instance, applying petroleum jelly to the legs, comb, and waddle can prevent frostbite even when conditions are bitterly cold.
Add A Chicken Heater Or Heat Lamp
For the most part, chickens can get through the winter just fine, but on extremely cold days, a chicken heater or heat lamp can save the flock from freezing. Many farmers install a heat lamp when the days get colder and leave it on throughout the entire winter. With the heat lamp, chickens can warm up near it and always have access to that heat source when they need it most.
Check On Your Chickens Regularly During The Winter
While it is important to check on your chickens all year long, it is even more important to check on them regularly during the winter, especially on extremely cold days.
When checking on your chickens, look for signs of frostbite. Frostbite can occur on the comb, wattles, and legs. If you see any sign of frostbite, bring the chicken inside and warm it up gradually. Additionally, make sure your chickens have fresh water at all times. If the water is frozen, follow one of the techniques described above to take care of this issue.
Caring For Chickens During The Winter Months
By following these simple tips, you can help your chickens weather the winter months without any problems.