Did you know that the average chicken has 8,500 feathers? Which obviously makes for quite the warm coat. Like its wild bird cousins, a chicken will fluff up, trap air under her down, and stay cozy, even in below freezing temperatures.
Having said that, a sharp, cold wind that ruffles the feathers can send a chill to their skin.
So, although that fine-feathered coat can keep a hen warm even in the coldest weather, there are some things to do to keep your chickens comfortable and healthy in the winter.
Heres how you can help:
Chickens don’t need insulated houses depending on how cold the winter is and if you have a cold hardy breed. But no matter what they need shelter that’s not damp at all, is out of the wind and free of drafts. Also, good ventilation is a must- it’s best to have the vents high near the roof.
Most chickens do not require heat lamps (to a certain temperature). In fact, if you have a spot heater in the coop, the hens will huddle near it, but when they move away to eat or roost, they won’t have
their feathers fluffed out, and they’ll get cold. It’s not healthy for them to go from one extreme to another. Try avoiding the
use of a lamp until temperatures get too low and place the lamp so they can’t get right next to it to huddle. Keep it so it heats up their coop.
They need to huddle on the roost with each other to stay warm at night. However, a few breeds are not cold-hardy. Silkies and frizzle-feathered birds feathers can’t trap air, and so don’t keep them warm, and so you have to provide heat.
Chickens like to be high and dry. If your run gets muddy, add a few bags of sand, or put down wood chips, to give the hens a place to roam above the muck. Chickens have scaly, bare feet. They don’t like walking on snow or ice. They’ll do it, but they won’t be happy. So, take a moment and shovel a clear area for them in their run. Or,
if the snow is too deep and icy, put down some hay.
Trust me they’ll appreciate it.
Some Feeding Tips
One of the most important things to give your chickens in the winter is fresh water! Try one of these base heaters for the waterer. Otherwise, you’ll have to replace the frozen water a few times a
Make sure you’re feeding them high-quality laying hen pellets In the winter, chickens will expend extra calories staying warm so give them an added ration of cracked corn or scratch grains.
Try hanging a whole cabbage from the roof of their coop so when they are inside the coop in the winter they have something to play with and they are also getting their greens! As an extra bonus it’s pretty amusing for you to watch too!
Egg Production in the winter:
Hens need 14 hours of sunlight to lay. You can increase the light using a 40 watt bulb on a timer, and you’ll bring production up. (They still won’t lay as much as in the summer. For that, you
need to keep the girls heated and indoors.) If you do decide to use a
light, turn it on in the early morning. Do not use it at night – if it’s
dark out and the light suddenly goes off, the hens won’t have be able to settle into their roosts for bedtime and they’ll be miserably stuck on the ground.
Chickens often molt during the winter and during a molt no chicken
can produce eggs, so you need to plan for that.
Keep your flock safe!
Make sure to protect your flock from predators, if not your flock will disappear rapidly. Be sure that your coop does not have any holes in it. If there are, be sure to fix them sturdily and check often that they are not being re-opened. If your coop is made of wood, you will want to reinforce the wood with some other material. Try a screen mesh to cover the outside on the bottom of the coop. This will prevent an animal from being able to chew their way into the coop.
Another method of keeping your flock safe from predators is to raise the coop off the ground. Raising the coop 6-12” off the ground will prevent any animal from burrowing under the coop and taking up a residence there. Rats and raccoons love to do this. Animals you do not want near your chickens. You’ll also need to be sure that all entrances to the coop are very well secured and cannot be opened easily. Raccoons are well known for their ability to open gates and many types of latches. Place the latch high on the door to deter them from tinkering with it until they get it.