By Lisa Steele, Brand Ambassador
Chickens are extremely cold-hardy and don’t really need a lot of extra care to stay warm through the winter, even in the far most northern climates. But there are a couple of simple things you can do to make them be more comfortable through colder temperatures.
Your chicken coop doesn’t need to be heated, but a nice thick layer of straw on the floor and along the inside walls will help take up some of the dead air space. It will also help your chickens keep the coop warmer using their own body heat.
Even in the winter, your coop needs good ventilation to allow for fresh air flow and to let ammonia fumes to escape. Leaving small vents under the eaves open year-round will keep the moisture level down and prevent frostbite on those exposed combs and toes.
Getting your flock outside as much as possible in the winter is important. They need fresh air, sunlight and some exercise to thrive. Encouraging them to spend as much time as possible outside also cuts down on the amount of cleaning your coop will need!
By wrapping a corner of your coop in clear tarps or shower curtains, you provide a nice windblock and create a sort of greenhouse effect, allowing the sun to shine through the tarps and warm up a portion of the run. Some straw, dried leaves or pine needles on the ground will entice your chickens to venture out, especially important if there’s snow or ice on the ground. Chickens generally don’t like to walk on snow.
Providing fresh, unfrozen water is also important in the winter. Heated bases for metal gravity-style waterers, or a heated dog water bowl, are both good ways to make sure your chickens always have water to drink.
Chickens expend a lot of energy trying to stay warm, so they naturally burn more calories. In the winter, I like to offer my flock scratch grains just before bedtime during the colder months. Scratch is a mix of various grains usually including corn, wheat and oats, which are high in energy and calories, but not nutritionally balanced, so they should be treated as a treat instead of a complete diet. But scratch grains help keep chickens warm overnight as their bodies burn energy digesting the grains.
Suet cakes are also another good winter treat for chickens, as are sunflower seeds or peanuts. They will benefit from a bit more fat when the mercury drops.
Your local feed store should carry everything you need to keep your chickens happy and healthy this winter, so make sure to stock up on the necessary supplies in advance of the onset of frigid temperatures.
Lisa Steele is a 5th generation chicken keeper, author, DIYer and master gardener. Follow her blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com