How to Keep Your Chickens Warm in Winter?
Winter can be a scary time for chicken farmers as they grapple with how to keep their birds warm. Fortunately, chickens have feathers that will keep them warm in the cold, so you might not have to worry much if your area is not very cold. Nonetheless, the feathers will not be enough for your birds in freezing temperatures.
Most farmers will choose cold hardy breeds when they live in freezing temperatures. These breeds have small wattles and combs that protect them from frostbite and are also somewhat heavily built to keep them warm.
Some cold, hardy chicken breeds include Dominique, Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpington, Australorp, Cochin, Delaware, Silkie Bantam, Minorca, New Hampshire, Brahma, Wyandotte and Speckled Sussex.
Unfortunately, cold hardy breeds might not meet your expectations in a chicken breed, so you might be better off with another breed. In this case, you should take the following steps to keep your backyard birds warm when temperatures are freezing.
Insulate the Coop
An easy way to ensure your chickens are warm in the winter is by insulating their coop. If your budget allows, use fiberglass or foam insulation on the walls, then cover these with plywood. Ensure you cover the insulation completely to prevent your birds from picking at it, which would cause considerable damage and put your birds’ health at risk.
If you are on a tight budget, you can do it with hanging horse blankets or other types of thick blankets along the walls of your chicken coop. These blankets will keep out the chilly air. Some chicken keepers stack bales of straw on the walls.
Irrespective of your choice of insulation, remember not to make the coop airtight. Coops need proper ventilation so that moisture and polluted air can escape and fresh air can flow in.
You can drill some holes in the wall near the ceiling or fashion a window near the wall’s top for ventilation. Cover the window with hardware cloth that will keep predators and pests out. It is fine if a little cold air flows into the coop because it is more important for your coop to be well-ventilated.
Use Deep Bedding
Most people forget their floors when making their chicken coop warm for the winter. You can use deep bedding for the floors to keep your birds warm. This option is also called the deep litter method. In it, you stack at least six inches of litter on the floor. Besides insulation, the deep litter generates heat as it composts slowly over the cold season.
In the deep litter method, you will let chicken poop on their bedding material, then let these slowly accumulate over the summer, fall and spring so that you have enough compositing material on your floor by winter.
Though the compost needs regular upkeep, it is a cheap and effective way of keeping your coop warm. If the deep litter alternative does not work for you, consider using extra bedding on the floor of your coop to keep your chickens comfortable.
Trap the Sunlight
Days might be shorter than nights in winter, but you can still trap the sun’s heat during the day and then use it to keep your chicken coop warm during dark hours. You can use well-insulated windows as sun traps. Increasing your coop’s “thermal mass” will allow it to retain solar heat for longer. The thermal mass measures how well materials absorb heat to release later.
If your coop has a high thermal mass, it will steadily release a lot of heat long after the sun sets. Stone, concrete and compost floors have high thermal mass. If your coop is movable or you have a chicken tractor, you can move it to the best possible position for the sun to warm it for the longest possible time during the day.
Provide a Roosting Area
Roosting will keep your chickens warm because it gets them off the ground and keeps them huddled together with their feathers fluffed to cover each other. Quality roosts for the cold should be big enough to house all your birds. If you only keep one or two chickens, consider getting more in the winter to keep your flock warm.
Get more roosts if you notice some birds roost in nesting boxes or on the floor at night. If the roosts are next to a door or window, seal off the area or move them to prevent drafts.
Drafts can disrupt the fluffed chicken feathers that keep your flock warm. Your roosting surface should also be large enough so that birds completely cover their feet when sitting on it. This protects their toes from frostbite.
Feed Energizing Foods
Chickens will need extra food during the winter since they need more energy to keep warm. Moreover, foraging in winter is difficult because the ground has frozen, and there are fewer bugs and berries in the cold.
Provide high-quality energy-rich feeds in higher portions at this time to give your birds enough energy. Be careful when feeding your chicken extra food in the winter. Remember, the bird will not move around so much, so overfeeding might cause it to become obese.
Toss grains and other appropriate feeds on the floor of your chicken coop so that the birds are kept busy and exercise to keep them warm. You can also hang cabbage leaves that the chickens will keep jumping up to nibble at so they can generate some heat. Give the chickens plenty of drinking water as well to help regulate their temperatures. Keep checking to ensure the water is not frozen.
Feeds will become wet on damp snow-covered ground, making it unsuitable for chickens to eat. To avoid this, keep all feeds in airtight, pest-proof containers. There are also weatherproof automatic feeders available to keep chicken feeds dry.
Use a Water Heater
If your winter temperatures do not drop below fifteen degrees Fahrenheit, you might not need to heat your chicken coop.
Nonetheless, if you are anxious about the dropping temperatures and are unsure if your enclosure is sufficiently warm, you can use a water heater rather than a heat lamp for the coop. Heat lamps can cause fires because of their poor installation or when birds peck through wires.
Opt for water heaters with safety features like thermostats and automatic shut-offs to prevent overheating and accidents in your chicken coop. To warm the enclosure, you can also use plastic jugs full of hot water in safe, strategic positions.
Feed Chickens in the Evening
It is ideal to feed your chickens in the evening just before they go to bed in the winter. This is because their bodies will start breaking down and digesting the food to generate extra body heat when they sleep.
This does not mean foregoing morning feeds. Chickens will drink and eat soon after rising because their crops are empty. When chicken keepers do not wake up early to ensure their birds are fed, this leads to feather pecking and bullying as the hungry birds wait for their breakfast.
Though uncommon, chickens can freeze to death in winter when left unattended. In most cases, these are chickens that were in poor health at the start of winter. However, it is best to take the steps above to ensure your whole flock makes it through the harsh winter conditions. You do not have to lock up your birds for the entire winter.
Chickens can tolerate cold air, ice and snow since the blood in their feet and lower legs with minimal feathers is warmed by blood from the heart. If you keep layers, their egg production might reduce with a decrease in daylight hours.
Thankfully, you can maintain egg production in some breeds with artificial lighting and the steps above for keeping them warm.