Cold weather chickens - 8 things NOT to do to in winter
How to prepare your chickens for winter isn't especially intuitive. In fact, many people may take steps that can actually make things more difficult for their flock rather than helping them to become cold weather chickens! Choosing cold-hardy breeds (if you live in an area of cold winters) is certainly an important first step! But presuming you've already made good breed choices, you'll also want to know what NOT to do for your cold-weather chickens.
Cold weather chickens - 8 things NOT to do to in winter
1. Don't keep your chickens closed up in their coop when it's cold.
Good cold weather chickens can be allowed to decide when they want to stay in or come out. You might think that your chickens won't want to go outside in the snow, and sometimes that's true. Some of your chickens will hate it, and will stay inside most of the day, but others won't mind it at all.
The only time I keep the coop door closed during the day is when the snow is too deep for my cold weather chickens to walk in, or when it's just so bitter and windy I know no one will come out. (And even then, I sometimes open the door just in case).
2. Don't tightly insulate your coop.
I know that seems strange, but it's true--tightly insulated coops can cause more harm than good. If your coop is tightly insulated, not only will it retain heat, it will also retain moisture... and retaining moisture in the coop is very, very bad.
Chickens create a lot of moisture from their respirations. A lot of moisture also evaporates from their droppings. And in winter, they'll be spending more time inside, even if just because of the longer winter nights! More droppings build-up---and more moisture. And the problem is that lot of moisture in the air can condense, freeze, and contribute to frostbite. All that humidity also increases the risk of unhealthy conditions in the coop leading to respiratory ailments and mold-related illnesses. Plus, poor ventilation can also cause ammonia gas to build up inside your coop, which is damaging to your chickens' lungs.
You can have some insulation in cold areas, but remember that cold weather chickens need a coop to be well ventilated, to avoid moisture build-up, but not drafty.
3. Don't assume you need to heat your coop
This is another piece of advice that seems completely counter-intuitive...however it's good advice for a number of reasons, unless you live in a region that regularly drops below twenty degrees outside.
Chickens adapt to lower temperatures over time. If the coop is heated, they'll never become real cold weather chickens; they'll never get used to the cold winter temperatures outside. Then, if you lose power and their heat goes out, the sudden sharp drop in temperatures with no time to acclimate means you could lose your whole flock in one terrible, fell swoop.
Even if it doesn't come to that, if your chickens are hesitant to spend time outside, they will spend even more time inside the coop making the air wet and breathing the unhealthy, moist air. Finally, heating the coop is a fire hazard if you're using an infrared heat bulb (they can get up to 435 degrees!)
You might heat your coop during sudden, precipitous drops in temperature, just to help ease the transition for my cold weather chickens , or when the temperatures are below zero for extended periods. If you live in an area where you have to heat your coop, consider getting a backup generator so you don't lose birds during a loss of power.
You might also choose a heater like the Cozy Coop Heater or Sweeter Heater, which don't heat your whole coop, but rather take the edge off when your chicken cozies right up next to it for a reprieve.
4. Don't forget to gather eggs more often than usual.
If you have cold weather chickens, some may continue to lay during the winter, and the eggs could freeze. While this doesn't really hurt them, you can't then eat the eggs because they're at high risk for bacterial contamination. What happens is that the frozen egg contents expand, and can create tiny hairline cracks in the shell you might not see with the naked eye. The cracks can let bacteria into the shell. Of course, at cold temperatures, the bacteria doesn't grow very quickly, but nonetheless, keeping cracked eggs is just not a good idea.
Plus, there's nothing like opening your refrigerator to find that an egg has thawed and seeped out all over everything---ugh, what a mess!
5. Don't let your water freeze.
Keeping fresh, unfrozen water for your flock in the winter can be a challenge. There are always the heated waterers, but---I admit it---I don't care for these very much. (There are people here at My Pet Chicken who swear by them, though, and they may work for you just fine.)
Personally, I don't like the fire risk, although they are much safer than as trying to heat the coop. I've also found them to be generally harder to use and clean than regular waterers. One heated waterer I had filled itself so close to the rim that it needed to be EXACTLY level so it wouldn't simply pour its contents out on the floor. Another worked well, except for the fact that the chickens kept unplugging it. A third functioned nicely in reasonably mild cold weather, but in very bitter cold, the top of the reservoir would freeze, so that the bottom heated portion where the chickens were meant to drink from would run completely dry.
I haven't found a heated waterer that works very well for me and my cold weather chickens. Instead, I just use multiple waterers. In the morning, I bring in a fresh waterer, and bring in the waterer that was in the coop overnight, and is now frozen. By the time that one is thawed, the other one is nearly frozen, so I switch them out. It requires a lot of walking and carrying, but my preference is to do it that way rather than use expensive heated waterers for my flock.
6. Don't put off coop cleaning.
Because your cold-weather chickens will be spending more time inside and creating more droppings inside as a result, the coop will need cleaning more often. For myself, I like to use the deep litter method for managing my coop rather than frequent cleanings, but even doing that, new bedding needs to be added more frequently in the winter to make sure everything stays dry and cozy.
7. Don't let your birds get too bored.
If they have a very small coop and run, there may not be a whole lot to entertain your flock like there is during warmer months. When snow is on the ground, there will be little or no sunbathing. With the ground frozen, dust bathing is unlikely. There won't be lots of bugs to catch or greens to forage. Bored birds may become snippy or even aggressive with one another if there isn't anything to think about or do other than reinforce the pecking order over and over again.
Alleviate some of the boredom for your cold-weather chickens by adding treats to their area. For instance, hang a head of cabbage in your coop for your girls to peck at. As they peck, it swings, making it more difficult to eat immediately, and keeping them entertained for hours. My chickens, seemingly unlike any other chickens in the world, don't care for cabbage. Still, there are other treats that work well for entertainment... for example, suet cakes. I prefer to use something high protein, like the Treat Square Cake designed for chickens and other domestic poultry. In winter, something with high fat (including scratch or cracked corn) gives them the extra calories they need to help stay warm. You can also simply scatter some scratch inside the run for them to forage for. That'll keep them entertained, too.
8. Don't skimp on the grit.
Chickens pick up grit naturally from small pebbles they ingest while foraging around, scratching through the dirt in search of morsels to eat. The grit acts like "teeth" to help their gizzard "chew" their food. In winter, however, the ground may be frozen and too hard for a bird to dislodge any pieces to pick up grit naturally. In this case, it's wise to make sure your birds have plenty of supplemental grit to help them digest their feed. Your flock will thank you for providing this digestive assistance on those cold winter days!
Do you have any other suggestions for preparing your cold-weather chickens for winter? Please share below in the comments!
Hi... I use heated buckets for watering during the winter. I do not put food or water in the coops. They are placed just outside the pop doors. I leave their doors open except on the most blustery nights. My coops are surrounded by welded wire fencing surrounded by railroad ties so nothing can get in. I have found that not keeping water in the coops greatly cut down on moisture issues since heating water makes it evaporate it would add to the moisture from the chickens. I use deep litter too... only way to go... deep litter also supplies some heat for them as well.
Great information. I to supply my birds with warm water. Our birds seem to do well in all types of weather, but we do close them in every night.
Thank you so much for this article..Really Really helpful with my first winter with my tweet Tweets (so my granddaughter calls them)
Great article! This is my first winter with my girls also, so I'm a little nervous. This gave me good information that I needed to know! I was planning on doing a couple of the things it said not to, so I'm definitely glad this was posted.
What good info. I knew about the vaseline, but never thought about the moisture buildup in the coop. I have a very large coop that was a stroage shed before it became their home, and the ventilation is good. There's a hole where a dryer could have been vented, and althoug my hens go in at night through a window, that I close at night, I leave it cracked. The squirrles are bad around here and my coop is right under a big ole oak tree (Florida). It helps so much in the summer.
But I do heat my coop, although I have thought of the fire hazard. It is electric, but it's one of those gel filled ones that look like a radiator and it never gets really hot. Just knocks off the chill and there is no open elements or fans etc. And I also use lots of bedding too so they can nest down in it.
I think it was here that I read to put a little apple cider vinegar in the water, and I do that. And we rarely freeze here for more than maybe one night, here and there. But it's a wet windy cold
I really enjoy reading your blogs and the info is always so helpful! Thanks again!
I don't heat my coop, though I might put a small bulb in there for added lighted hours, for water I bought the smallest horse water dishes, the rubber ones, if the water freezes just pop it out and refill~ I check their water 3 to 4 times a day. For added treats I like to cook them scrambled eggs, oatmeal or cooked pasta< a favorite with my girls~ I think it helps them stay warm~
I don't know if it is an old wives tale or not, but I give my chickens a lot of cooked oatmeal in the winter with a kick- I add cayenne pepper (quite a bit) to it. It raises their temperature on really cold days and adds a bit of a treat to their diet during the day. I will also add scrambled eggs, especially if we have cracked ones. Frozen water is always and issue in upstate New York, but the rubber dishes do help...
I use small igloo coolers (6pk or 12 size) for water. I fill them with luke warm water in the morning and they don't really freeze unless it's bitterly cold. At night I empty them and bring them in.
I have5 ducks and 21 black Australorps. I leave a little water running during the night and during the day if it is below freezing. The chicken drink from the duck pool. I also have a heat lamp above the roosts that I turn on when the night is extremely cold. A light comes on every morning at four and shuts off at eight.
In the winter i use leftover bacon and beef grease to make my own suet food for the chickens by packing a baking dish with oatmeal and a bit of 5-grain scratch then pouring and stirring in the grease. let cool and watch em go nuts! I also put a tarp on the wire roof of their run so they have a dry place to be outside. Also I make sure they have a dry place to dust so parasites don't take hold.
Great article ! I build chicken coops and other fine structures and i tell folks as much information i can about chickens ! So now i have even more knowledge to pass on.
We insulate our large coop but leave the door open during the day and then 4" of fresh air intake the rest of the time. We do keep a heat lamp over the waterer so it won't freeze. I also use the deep litter method but I mix it with paper from the shredder. It really cuts down on the dust! My local UPS store keeps me in good supply. We're in MN and gets very cold but we've never had problems with the combs. They seem to know when to come in out of the cold. I liked the idea of the tarp and will keep that in mind. We shovel out an area so they run around and scratch at corn. Thanks for the great tip on the homemade suet. I am going to try it. I'm sure they'll love it.
Thank you! This is really helpful-- I am another one who has chickens for the first winter this year. I love the idea of hanging a cabbage to keep the chickens entertained...
How often should the petroleum jelly be placed on the combs to winterize them. I live in an area where it gets pretty cold in the winters, and I have experienced some frostbitten combs in the past...would love to avoid it this winter!
How often to apply the jelly will vary, depending on the severity of the weather. The aim is simply to keep the combs from getting chapped, so keep an eye out. If the skin appears to be getting dry, that means it's probably past time for an application.
We were told to hang old DVD's for them to peck to alleviate bordem but we saw no interest. Going to try non-glass mirrors to see if that will interest them more. Scratch, meal worms, old bread or corn chips are great treats to keep them busy. It is not really that hard to raise mealworms, too, if you don't find them creepy 🙂 Popcorn keeps birds busy since they can't just swallow it down. It requires more effort to break it up. Fairly cheap, too. I grow squash and pumpkins. They keep well and and I can offer them later in the winter as treats, seeds and all. If starting to go, they can be cut into chunks and frozen to be fed later. Same can be done with lots of produce like cukes that are getting soft, tomatoes, fruits, etc. We bring out HOT tap water and it lasts longer before freezing. We have goats so my birds have learned to drink from buckets. Nice since they are more weather proof than waterers. If frozen, I just switch buckets or break through the ice on the top. Buckets are so easy to carry, too. Love the oatmeal idea. Have done cream of wheat. Also pancakes and rice.
I never thought of keeping my hens busy but I have some hens that were born in Aug & they will not be able to "play" like my spring chicks do all summer. I tried putting a tarp over part of the run one winter but we got a bit too much snow one night, causing my netting to stretch & the whole get-up to sag. I do shovel an area for them in front of the door & put goodies in some grass hay so they can scratch & peck.
I once lost my hens to a coop fire, loosing my garage also. It was not from the heat lamp, which I constantly checked, but from the extension cord that must have gotten too old & cracked/frayed and sparked one extremely cold night. Now ALL cords get replaced, even just to lightbulbs, every fall.
I live in southern california where the weather isn't that cold, yet my girls are not laying any eggs at this time. Any recommendations as to what they might need?
Marlin, we can't know from here why your girls aren't laying right now. Molting? Not old enough? Parasite infestation? However, it might help you to browse through the "Not Laying" section in the Chicken Help pages section of our website to help you narrow down what might be going on.
I need to move some chickens outdoors (they've lived in my basement - temp around 60). How can I acclimate them to outdoor living for winter in Wisconsin (I just bought a new coop) - or - is it too late for this year?
Lori, that's a common question, so we address it in the Chicken Help pages of our website here.
Great info for our first winter...of course, we're in Louisiana so we're not likely to get more than one or two snowfalls. It does drop below freezing several nights during the winter though, so it's good to know.
May I post a link on my website?
This is my first winter with chickens, having received my flock of 6 from friends in August. I have a chicken tractor for right now, which they all love. I built them a big covered run for play that has a dog house at the opening. I have 1 rooster and 5 hens. The hens all take turns laying their egg in the dog house. I do deep litter in the coop and run. I change out water every morning, with some cider vinegar. On cold mornings they get warm mash. They always have fruit and veggie scraps. I give them meal worms, black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn and popcorn for treats. I don't heat my coop or waterer, nor do I add light to the coop. I have received 5 eggs almost every day, except when one of the girl's takes a day off. Thanks for all of this wonderful information and for your website. It is a great help to us newbie backyard chicken parents.
what is a good dusting substance during the winter when the ground is too frozen?
Dust baths won't seize up unless there is some moisture in the dirt or dust to freeze. So, if your chickens' regular dusting hole is not covered and has frozen with moisture, you can always provide them with an alternative like a child's covered sand box that you can keep dry. (Sand doesn't hold moisture as well as clay does, either, so sand is a little easier to keep dry in a dust bath situation.) You can also make your own small dust bath by constructing a simple wooden frame and filling it with dusting materials like sand plus a little wood ash and/or diatomaceous earth. Good old (dry) dirt works well, too. Then put the dust bath in a sheltered area. In pinch, you might use a plastic storage tub, but I've found they don't work especially well long term because the chickens want to perch on the sides when planning their angle of entry, and that can overturn a box that doesn't weigh very much.
I never thought to keep them from being bored. I live in WY so it gets pretty bitter cold here some times. I leave there door open day and night so they can go in and out as they want. I keep there food in side there coop in the winter but i leave there water outside and give them warm water as well. When the snow melts and there run is dry they dig holes and wallow in it for hours.
I only get about 1 egg a week and I have 6 hens, a couple roosters and my 5 ducks also share the coop and run with them. Any one got any ideas why they arnt laying?
My girls love to go outside. They are like little kids in the snow. When they get bored, I put homemade suet treats out for them. All summer, as I mow the yard, I mix up grass cuttings, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers and what ever else doesnt get used from the garden with a bit of natural peanutbutter and cracked corn. Freeze into small blocks. Once the grass is gone for the winter, I thaw some out and hang in a suet feeder. They stay busy and still get their greens. For extra protection during the winter, I buy old sheets from goodwill and hang them on the north side of the run fence. The sheets will help block the wind. After rain or snow, the sheets freeze and act like a wall to stop even more wind. Plus, they dont tear in the wind like plastic would.
I pop popcorn, then put it on old potato bags and hang it from the side walls in the coop. They have to jump and wrestle it around to get it, and it amuses them for hours. When I 'can' in the fall, I keep all the trimmings and skins from things and freeze them, then in the winter, I bring out tomato skins, apple peels, broccoli leaves, etc, and thaw and then put it in the "treat"bin.....that way, they get fresh stuff in the winter months also..
My poor girls (and our "oops roo")... it's been below freezing for the past week and we're expecting more snow this week. The first few days of snow, my blue Polish (who is dumb as a box of rocks and not a very good layer, but hilarious and we love her) ate snow until she could eat no more. I was afraid that the poor thin thing would get hypothermia, but she seems to have been adjusting just fine.
We have four of the listed cold-weather breeds, but everyone (9 pullets and our cockerel) seems to enjoy roosting on the sides of the garden boxes when the sun's out, with their feathers fluffed up and trying to get as warm as possible. Silly things won't stay in the coop where it's about 10 degrees warmer, though. Nope. They may not like the snow, but they like being inside less.
Inside the coop (a converted storage closet connected to the carport, they have a heat lamp, a heated waterer (which I need to change often, since it's inside because it's too cold to be outside), and deep litter. There is a tarp over the doorway to keep snow and rain out. They also like huddling under the dryer vent when it's going and on the air conditioner sill outside our kitchen window. I have to admit, they have us trained well. We just open the window when someone knocks on the glass and they get whatever kitchen scraps we have handy. 🙂
My hens are experiencing frostbite on their combs. I do apply pet. Jelly. I also leave water in coop as it doesn't freeze as fast as water in run and I work so that's an issue. I close pop door at night and leave another top door open a crack at night. I shut barn door. The coop is in a stall in the barn. I'm thinking waterer is source of frostbite. Suggestions? I do deep litter method. Thanks.
You don't mention what breeds you're keeping, or what kind of climate you're living in and how cold it's actually getting. In some areas it will get so cold that despite all winter precautions (ventilation, protected combs, etc.) frostbite is still a danger, and combs will turn black and die. If that's happening to you (after you've provided appropriate medical care for your hens who are suffering, of course) you'll probably want to consider keeping a more cold hardy flock in the future. For instance, the Buckeye is known as a great breed for cold weather. They also have small, pea combs so they aren't nearly as susceptible to frostbite as breeds with large single combs are. The Chantecler is another great choice; they've been specifically bred for the coldest of winters.
dont have worry about that too much in florida
I live at 9000 ft in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado...and I heat my coop. The girls can come and go if they please, and they do. If they are cold, they go back in. Chickens, no mater what breed, are not indigenous to the mountains, or the altitude, and If my dog shouldn't be left out out in the cold, then neither should my chickens. If your chickens are getting frostbite..it's too cold for them!
This is my fifth year with my girls. The only year I put heat in the coop was when we had some sub zero temps. This year...no heat...no lights. I read a great article on the importance of ventilation....you need to keep chickens out of a direct wind or draft but they all need the ventilation. As you pointed out the moisture build up needs some where to go...and in this article it pointed out the the build up of amonia from the droppings will harm their lungs. I do twice a day water changes and they get warmed water on the coldest of mornings. I too have heard that you can add a little cayenne pepper to their food, I add it to their scratch sometimes and I have also heated up a sweet potato for them and once it was cool enough for them added some of the pepper. They love the warm food....
Wonderful article. Thank you. This is my first winter with my chickens and so far we are doing okay. I spend a good deal of time researching and asking other local chicken people. I am working through the winter will much trial and error.
I live in Vermont, so,it does get pretty cold. I have been using a heat lamp only when it is frigid. After reading this article, I plan to use it less.
My crew is adverse to the metal drinker and the water heater. I would clean it every day and refill with fresh water but I did notice something odd. When I would empty it, the trough water would always have an bad smell. I work in microbiology so I cultured it...omg ! I felt like a heel knowing I was leaving it for them to drink, and this was with me cleaning it every day! I now use the plastic watered and switch it out often. It makes me feel much better.
I am using the deep bedding method for the bottom of my coop but I have installed a poop board (2 planks of wood) under their perches. I clean that about every other day and the bottom of my coop stays clean and mostly dry. I do turn the bottom bedding when I clean the poop boards. It seems to work well.
Is it a lot of work, yes, but the joy of caring for these wonderful living creatures gives me great joy.
Thanks again. It's site has been a godsend right from the very beginning.
Thanks for the info. Am going to put cider vinegar in my ladies water in the morning.
Am interested in getting some French copper murans . Want to try keeping a small
Flock of them seperate from my backyard flock.
Love your article. I've been wanting to get chickens for a while. All that stops me is housing them. I have a garden shed that's maybe 10x12' that I'm thinking I'd like to keep them in. The thing is it's been used as a garden shed for years. There's lawnmower oil on the floor, fertilizer residue, lime dust, etc. I garden organically, but there's plenty of organic stuff that's still very nasty. How much do I need to do to make the space safe for them? Will I still be able to keep my shovels and rakes in there? How much of a shared space can it be, or does it have to be hen house only?
I think you'll find that you'll want it to be hen house only... mostly because the chickens will try to roost on anything they can, and because it will be so dusty in there. On the other hand, you might be able to make a closet or something like that which would keep out the chickens and worst of the dust. As to making it clean for your flock, you'll want to do your best. I wouldn't worry too awful much about organic fertilizer residue. A dusting of bonemeal beneath your bedding---as much as you weren't able remove by cleaning---is unlikely to hurt your flock. It depends on what organic fertilizers you've used, of course, but generally speaking, those are meant to break down, and chickens make their own organic fertilizers that you will be cleaning from the coop. 🙂 If you have questions about the safety of specific products you used, contact the manufacturer for more information. I WOULD be more concerned about oil or gas residue because it's pretty toxic. Try to clean that up as much as you would if there had been a spill in your living room. After all, if your chickens are exposed to those things, you may well be exposed to them, too, when you're eating their eggs! You may even want to replace part of the floor if you can't get it properly clean; better safe than sorry.
thank you for this. up to this point, I have had a heater in my chicken coop and I let them out in the daytime . was so very worried that they might freeze. now I know better. I do like to keep a light in there in case of predators it tends to keep them away.
I have spoiled chickens..lol.. They have a large 50x50 fort knox pen with a coop and day building. The coop is heated during the night time till morning. Their other building is all made of corrugated polycarbonate panels from my greenhouse that blew down. It is A frame so just a bit of winter sun heats it up pretty toasty. They head outside every morning when I open the coop and head to the other building for their food and water. The A frame has about a foot of straw on the floor and they are happy to dust bath. Every day they get fresh greens and either raisens/soaked mealy worms/ or some other treat to go with the greens. They also get straw thrown on the path to the different buildings after every snow which they love to play in and it also keeps their feet a bit warmer. On sunny warm days they pretty much stay outside and roost on straw bales or their tree branch playground. Happy chicks mean eggs all winter long.
I have 10 Rhode chickens and 3 Pekin Ducks all in one big coop. We didnt get around to insulating it but I chose the deep litter method and SOME occasional heating. I have it off now that we are not in the -40's C with windchill. I also used the heat lamp above the water to keep from freezing and it did awesome all winter. I would make sure to go out often to check on the water. And as it mentioned, I would give them the option to roam during the day if they chose to. USUALLY... my birds will tell me if they are out of water or food during the day. I would either hear my ducks YELLING or my chicken will come up the deck and peck at my patio door. I recently learned that I can't rely on the chickens now. As the weather warms they are ALWAYS at my door and they just want some attention 🙂 This is my first time with chickens and ducks and didn't lose a single one AWESOME 🙂 I also have my male cat that lives in the coop with the chickens and think that deters the mice, one pomeranian helps me gather the eggs. In total, 10 chickens, 3 ducks, 2 cats, 4 dogs, and 8 humans... my crazy farm 🙂 <3
I am going to be doing my first winter with chickens this upcoming winter.i had the idea of using a fishtank heater to keep our water from freezing. We have a bucket with the chicken spout nipples for them. Has anyone tried this? We have a fishtank that always has the heater submerged and has never been a problem for years.
Plus I was thinking of releasing a few love crickets into the coop here and there as A snack.
My chicks are almost a month old and still inside my house. I am in the process of renovating an 8x11 shed into their coop. I also have the problem of oil stains as it was a garden shed. I plan on cleaning it the best I can and the laying linoleum down. The flooring will be covered with bedding. People I have talked to highly recomend this. I am still working out the kinks as to insulation, windows, and ventilation. The advice I have recieved is to definitely put nesting boxes under the widows because the need a dark place to nest and lay. Also not to make the boxes too high off the ground. I live in Wisconsin so the winters are very cold. A fish tank heater sounds like a great idea to heat water! I have two large tanks and have never had any problems with my heaters. Thank you for the great article! I cant wait to have everything together and look forward to making my gitls happy for years to come 🙂
Love the infomtion for chickens because I have chickens myself!
do you a kind of chicken that can live inside?
Chickens prefer to live outside where they can scratch and forage, although sometimes one might bring a chicken inside temporarily to recover from an injury or illness.
I have sat here and read for at least a couple of hours it seems! I have marked this page on my computer to make sure I will find it again. I love all the ideas I've gotten from food to housing. just finished re-screening my coop..actually double screening it. Its just a small one to hold mabe 4 hens. I'm just almost OCD about protecting my chickens. Got 4 Barred Rocks on hold. I've heard about the fish tank warmers before and had planned to use one.. also had seen that hanging a feeder up will help keep it cleaner. I am in NC so our summer/winters never seem to go as the weathermen think they will. we have pretty sandy soil so I'm going with coarse sand in the runs. I love all the ideas about treats and food...I'll be cooking more for them than I do my poor hubby who is really not into this chicken thing yet. I'll win him over..LOL Thanks to everyone... If anyone has some suggestions..I would love them
Thank you for the wonderful information. I plan on having chickens next year and I live in northern Indiana.
Thanks for the thoughts about chickens in winter. One question, however: what winter are we talking about? Some respondents happen to live in California, others live in Maine. And then of course every climate/winter is different for the different chicken breeds. So, what I like to know is:how can one see that it is too cold for their chickens? What behaviour tells us that now we really do have to switch on the heater. I am new to chickens; since two months we have a Finnish breed of chickens and we live in the south of Finland. Temperatures can be as low as -30 C outside (= -22 F). I am now making a place for my chickens in an unwarmed stable (concrete floor and walls, wooden ceiling). I will go for deep litter, starting with a pile from my compost heap, but I doubt that the warmth it generates will be enough. Could someone enlighten me here?
Hi, Michiel. There are certainly some climates in which you may need to use regular heat during the coldest weather. In the US, really this would occur only in some areas of Alaska. People often ask "how cold is too cold," but there is no hard and fast answer to that. After all, how cold is too cold for humans? For instance, 50F and sunny may feel warm, while 50 F with rain and wind may be uncomfortably cool. Just like there are no absolute temperature requirements for dogs or cats, there aren't for chickens. How well they do will depend on many factors, including how long they are exposed to the temperature, whether they are adequately protected from wind and rain, etc. etc.
Using heat as seldom as possible would be ideal. In my area, it very occasionally drops below zero (F) in the winter at night. On those occasions, I will carefully dust and hang a heat lamp in my coop. I may also dust and use a heat lamp if there is a sudden drop in temperature, even if it's not especially cold overall. For instance, if it's been 50F and a cold front moves through dropping the temperature in a day to 20F, I may have the heat lamp on for a day or two just to help the birds transition more easily, even though 20F is not generally a problem for my birds.
You can tell your chickens are cold when they ruffle their feathers (creating a larger layer of insulation beneath them) and huddle together. Slow and shallow breathing is a sign that they're in some distress. You can read more here.
Since you live in Finland and have a breed of chicken that has been developed in Finland, you're starting the right way! My best advice would be to contact other local Finnish poultry keepers who have this same breed and find out what precautions, if any, they take during winter in your local conditions.
Thank you very much for your very, very helpful information. First of all I will start to watch their breathing... I didn't realize that they were breathing and certainly didn't see it or look at it. Interesting! (Tomorrow, when they are awake...)
Any idea how big an area of deep litter can be maintained by five chickens? And me of course.
I recommend allowing at least 12 square feet (about 1.1 square meters) of outdoor space per bird, and 4 square feet of indoor space (0.37 square meters) per bird, for a total of 16 square feet (almost 1.5 square meters)of space per bird. More is always better, though! In northern climates, you'll sometimes want to have a smaller indoor space, because the birds' body heat will naturally keep it a little more comfortable in cold weather. If you choose a smaller coop for your flock, then that should be balanced by giving them a larger outdoor area. However, whether you want a smaller coop or not may depend a little on breed, too. If the Finnish breed you keep tends to be aggressive or restless, you may not want to reduce indoor space because long winters in which they want to stay inside can lead to boredom and bad behaviors like feather picking or egg eating. If your breed generally does well in confinement, you'll be better able to manage boredom with the types of distractions I mentioned in the post above (such as hanging a cabbage, offering high-protein/high-fat treats and so on).
Thanks again, Lissa, for your most helpful information and your informative help! Fortunately I have space enough, so no problem there, but too much room might also be a problem, me think. Deep litter needs the chickens' activity to stay alive, isn't it? And I assume that five chickens (one rooster 6 months old, two chickens of 5 and two youngsters of 2,5 months) can only maintain a certain quantity of deep litter. I could offer them as much as 8 square meters, inside, but that's a lot, I suppose to keep the deep litter working....
Lissa,My first year for chickens and I live in North Dakota.How many chickens would you keep in a 8x12 shed? THANKS for all the GREAT information !!!
Glad we can be of help, Teresa! It would depend on whether the girls have substantial outdoor space. Generally speaking, you want at least two to four square feet of indoor space and 10 to 12 square feet of outdoor (run) space per bird. If you have less space outdoors, then you need more indoors, and vice versa. Especially in the north, a smaller coop can sometimes stay a little warmer because the chickens' body heat will heat that smaller space up more quickly and efficiently. A mobile tractor style coop also usually requires less space per bird because you'll be moving the girls to fresh pasture daily. If you have enough run space, though, you could keep up to 24 birds in an 8 x 12 indoor space (presuming enough nests, roosts, feeders, waterers, etc., of course).
Thank you for the insights you shared in this article. It is really a great help for me, because this is my first time to spend winter with my "gurlz". Your tips will surely make my gurlz so busy, comfy and warm during winter.
The 'do not heat your coop' rule will work almost anywhere in the US except up here in AK where it gets down to -50......
this is such a great site, good information that is so encouraging......the deep litter method has worked for my ladies for the last 3 years, would never have done it without your guidance
Don't forget to scatter crushed oyster shell to prevent crop impaction and add calcium.Also, fun ways to prevent boredom ; hang bits of string and other things they will look up and peck at.
Becky, there is a difference between crushed oyster shell and grit. Grit is used to help grind up food. Oyster shell is for calcium, and does NOT act as a substitute for grit.
We do heat our coops and cool them in the summer. When I open them in the mornings they all come running out because they love being outside. I decided to heat them because we have some silkies and they seem to get cold easily.