It’s that time of year. The wind is biting, the snow is flying, and concerned chicken owners from all over worry about how to care for their feathered friends during the dark, cold, wintry days that lie ahead.
While the idea of keeping your chickens happy, healthy and warm during the cold months of the year can seem overwhelming, it really isn’t. Chickens were built to withstand some pretty harsh environments and they can handle the bitter cold… with your help.
Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Chickens in the Winter
How do I keep my chickens warm?
Chickens have a thick layer of down underneath their beautiful plumage that you and I see. This downy layer naturally keeps them warm as they can puff it up against the air to add their own protection from the cold.
While chickens have some natural ability to stay warm, they do need a dry place to roost and keep them protected from predators.
As long as you have a well-built coop they can retire to in the evenings, they’ll be warm.
Do I need a heater or heat lamp?
I’m only going to say this once so listen well. No, your chickens do not need a heater or heat lamp in their coop.
First off, too much heat will create moisture that you want to avoid in your coop.
Secondly? It’s a huge fire risk. Unless you want to watch your coop and birds get char-fried. Do NOT do it.
And third… they don’t need it. They just need a dry place to roost. Their feathers do a wonderful job of keeping them warm. I don’t see any of the finches flying around here with a heat lamp. The chickens don’t need one either.
Also, just to drive the argument home… if you choose not to heed my warnings and put heat in your coop and it doesn’t burn down… if your hens get used to it and the power goes out. Your birds could very well freeze to death because of their dependence on the supplemental heat. In just a few short hours, they could all get hypothermia and die before you even notice the power is out. Just sayin….
How do I prevent frostbite?
While chickens are totally capable of keeping themselves warm, their combs, wattles, and feet are at risk of frostbite.
Roosters and birds with larger combs are at the most risk.
To help prevent frostbite, ensure your coop is dry. Moist conditions will result in increased risk of frostbite. Cold itself isn’t enough, you need moisture, too.
Also, make sure you’re not heating your coop, like I said earlier. As this increases moisture in the area.
And lastly, having cold hardy breeds with small combs (like these) will help a lot. These birds are made to survive the winter and their combs are small so they’re at less risk of developing frostbite.
Do I need to change their feed?
You don’t have to change it, no. We supplement our ladies feed in the winter with organic cracked corn, hot oatmeal, and cayenne pepper.
The corn and oatmeal help them stay warm and cayenne pepper increases circulation which helps prevent frostbite.
We add the cayenne pepper directly to their feed. Just a teaspoon per cup of feed is sufficient. The cracked corn is served right before bed time every evening and a trough full of hot oatmeal is served on very cold mornings.
Should I put a light in their coop?
Deciding whether or not to use supplemental light in the coop is honestly purely personal. Like all things there are pros and cons to each side of the coin. You can read more about it and what we choose to do here.
How do I keep their water from freezing?
There are many ideas floating around the internet about how to keep your chickens in water instead of chunks of ice.
I have tried several and, unfortunately, none of them have worked for me. But, I have friends who have had success with some of the different methods.
My ladies are picky and will only drink out of a fount-style waterer So, we drug an outdoor extension cord to the coop (no power out there) and stuck a warmer/de-icer like this one under it and it keeps the water liquid.
What kind of bedding do I use?
Also, kind of a personal choice. We use the deep litter method and use straw. Some people prefer wood chips (which we use in the summer). I like to use straw because it breaks down easier than wood chips in the compost and it has more insulating properties to help keep the ladies warm. Some say straw holds too much moisture, I haven’t found that to be true here, but you do need to keep an eye on whatever bedding you use because mold can become an issue.
That’s it! So really, your ladies (and gents) don’t need much extra in the winter. Just a little bit of extra feed and a dry place to roost and honestly, they’ll be fine.