Keep your chickens safe and healthy this winter with these 6 cold weather tips…
Winter is here, and that means if you have livestock on your homestead, you will want to make sure your animals are safe and well protected from the cold. Chickens are generally able to stay fairly comfortable in cold weather, although some chicken breeds are better suited for cold than others, so you generally don’t need to worry too much. Chickens have a high body temperature (around 106°F), and their thick feathers are designed to trap heat, so they don’t easily get chilled. However, if your chickens are molting or missing feathers during a cold snap, it is possible for them to develop hypothermia and die.
That said, some methods of warming the coop can be expensive (e.g. if you need to run electric wiring), and unsafe (electric heaters may pose a fire hazard).
Below are 6 tips for keeping your chickens warm, healthy, and safe during extra cold winter weather – no electric heating required!
#1. Assess Chicken Feather Health
As a first step to cold weather chicken care, assess the feather health of your flock. Any birds with missing feathers may need special care for the duration of any unseasonably cold periods. Also, if you have Mediterranean breeds, that are lightly-feathered, treat those breeds as you would a more hardy chicken in mid-molt.
If you are facing extreme cold and have a half-naked chicken in your uninsulated, unheated coop, you may also have to consider moving that chicken to a heated area or offering heat in the coop. For less severe conditions, some of the following tricks might be enough to keep your at-risk birds, and the rest of your flock cozy in the cold.
#2. Make a Chicken Sweater
For birds with feather damage mainly in the saddle area (the back), you can consider using a chicken sweater to help protect your chicken’s skin from the cold. You can make or buy fancy versions like those found on Pinterest and Etsy (just search “chicken sweater”). Or you can also just cut up an old sweatshirt, blanket, or towel and use twine to make a less-fashionable, still-functional version.
#3. Create a Chicken Couch
Feather loss in the bum area is a bit more tricky to protect though, since that’s also the drop zone for chicken poop. Provide butt-naked chickens with warm places to sit (other than the nest boxes) by adding lots of extra litter to your coop floors or filling empty boxes with straw, hay, or wood shavings to make chicken couches. Just be careful not to make your chicken couches too cozy, such as by providing head cover or tucking them into a dark corner, or your cold-weather couches might get mistaken for new nest boxes.
#4. Up Your Chicken Feed and Offer More Cracked Corn
Chickens eat more food in cold weather in general. However, in extreme cold, you want to make sure they have access to an all-you-can-eat buffet of high quality chicken feed so they don’t burn through their fat stores trying to keep warm.
Extra carbohydrates can also help chickens keep a bit warmer. I increase the amount of cracked corn in my fermented scratch grains during cold-weather snaps. Scratch grains are not the most nutritious food source, but just like humans have a cup of hot cocoa to warm up on a cold day, a little carb-loading in extreme cold can be helpful.
#5. Cover Hardware Cloth Windows
If you live in warmer areas and have hardware cloth windows for good ventilation, you may want to consider covering them with clear trash bags temporarily. This still allows in light while also helping trap more heat in your coop during cold spells. Keep in mind that chickens still need ventilation so they don’t develop respiratory issues as a result of inhaling too much ammonia. If your coop is already super-sealed in other ways, then covering your only ventilation source with plastic might not be the best option for you.
#6. Bring in the Hot Water
I give my chickens buckets of warm water to drink on freezing days because it takes longer for the water to freeze and buys me time before I have to bring them another bucket. Chickens also seem to love drinking hot water as a cold weather pick-me-up.
Bringing in a five-gallon bucket of hot-as-you-can-get-it water and placing it in the center of your coop, particularly after you have shrunk your chicken space and put up a tent, can also help warm the area. Similarly to how we use drums of water in a greenhouse, all that heat in the bucket will dissipate out in the small coop area and infuse the air with more warmth.
Now, you won’t get big gains with this little trick, but sometimes all you need is a few extra degrees to avoid having to think about electric heat…
Read more cold weather chicken care tips at TheGrowNetwork.com…