DO'S AND DON'T'S FOR WINTERIZING
(Photo courtesy of MyPetNugget.)
When the cold weather strikes it's up to us to keep our flock safe and warm. Chickens fare better in cold than in heat but this does not mean we don't need to help them through the hard, cold, winter months. There are some very important things to do in order to keep the flock happy and comfortable in the winter. However, there are things that we do wrong sometimes. Below you will read the Do's and Don'ts for winterizing your flock.
DO Buy cold hardy chicken breeds
If your area is known for getting harsh cold winters, then buying appropriate chicken breeds, https://www.backyardchickens.com/products/category/chicken-breeds is imperative.
DO Provide proper ventilation
You need good venting in your coop ceiling to rid the coop air of all this unwanted, moist air. If you don't put in good ventilation, during those really cold winter nights, all this moisture is going to rise up to the ceiling since warm air rises, and if it has no place to go, it will fall back down as water or frost making your birds very cold and uncomfortable.
The ideal way to create good venting is put in 1 square foot per bird of venting in the roof. Split it half and half on either side of the ceiling, one vent higher than the other. If the coop ceiling is not very high then position the roosts lower to the ground. You don't want any venting near the floor. This will create drafts. So what really does this do? It makes it so the moist air from the chickens slowly rises into this positive air coming in the lower vent and out the upper vent. Birds themselves put out heat. So they literally are roosting in a nice warm bubble of air. The moist air rises and goes out these vents. You don't want to disturb this air space around the birds with drafts. So make sure to seal up all cracks above the birds a foot or two.
Venting can be worked on those cold winter nights by closing off some of the lower vents to slow air movement in the coop. You never want to close off the higher vents. You will not retain much heat by closing off the vents, but you will keep the birds drier, especially if it is a bitterly cold night and you use heat lamps. Hot air meeting cold air creates condensation, so keep the air moving to prevent this.
Read more about ventilation here: Chicken Coop Ventilation - Go Out There And Cut More Holes In Your Coop!
DO Provide clean, dry and warm bedding
Just like any other time of year, chickens necessitate proper bedding to live on. During winter, you especially want your coop bedding to be dry, warm and absorbent. If the bedding gets wet and then freezes, your flock will get frostbitten feet and be very uncomfortable. If the bedding is not warm then you chickens will, obviously, be cold! So what is the best bedding to use in winter? Many people argue about this but I, honestly think, that the answer is straw. It acts as a natural insulator, boredom buster and frostbite preventer.
Read more about bedding here: Bedding Part 1: Comparing Materials and Bedding Part 2: Maintaining Your Bedding
DO Feed and Water your flock well
A while back, I used to think that all animals drank more in summer. Believe it or not, this is not true! In fact, animals drink either the same amount or even more water in winter than they do in summer. Why? Because cold temperatures greaten the chance of dehydration. Also, animals need water in order to stay functional in winter. I have noticed that I have to fill my hens' water as well as my dog's water more in the winter. So water is just as imperative in winter as it is any other time of year. You'll need to either buy a heated base or heated waterer for winter. A heated dog or horse bowl will work fine too. You also need to feed your chickens well in winter. Scratch is a wonderful treat to feed. It is fattening and provides warmth and energy. Feed it in the evenings so that it helps keep the chickens warm while sleeping.
Read more about winter water here: Water in the Winter
DO Allow free ranging/access to the outdoors
Even though you may not want to be outside when it's cold, your chickens still want to. Chickens have heavy, duty feathers which allow them to survive and thrive in cold much better than we ourselves can. They are a lot more hardy than you may think. So unless the temps are lower than -5 try and open the coop door every day for at least a few hours. Chickens HATE being confined all the time. It can even make them sick.
DO Rub vaseline on chickens' combs and wattles
This helps prevent nerve damage from frostbite. Further ways to help prevent frostbite include: making SURE the bedding does not get wet, using 2X4" roosts with the 4" side facing up (chickens like to sleep flat footed which allows their chest feathers to cover their toes entirely) and keep humidity levels down in the coop. Here is a link on preventing and curing frostbite: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/frostbite
DON'T Keep your chickens closed inside
Only keep them inside with all doors shut if the temps are lower than -5. Otherwise, always leave one door open so they can get outside when needed.
DON'T Tightly insulate your coop
Why? Because the tighter the insulation, the more moisture build up is created. This leads back to the whole ventilation deal. Moisture from droppings, breath and humidity all will be increased if you tightly insulate your coop.
DON'T Allow water or eggs to freeze
Again, either use heated waterers or buy a heated base. Collect eggs more often so they don't freeze. Frozen eggs are hard and obviously cold for a hen to sit on and are not supposed to be eaten.
Here's one way to prevent frozen eggs: Heated nesting boxes help stop frozen eggs!
DON'T Stop cleaning the coop
Do not put off your coop chores because of the cold. The cleaner the better. Droppings are messy, wet, smelly and can freeze. All these are bad for a chicken coop especially in winter. Refresh the bedding every week or so and spot clean every few days.
DON'T Allow drafts to exist in the coop.
(See ventilation info above.)
DON'T Use straw as your only insulation
If you use straw bales as your only heat source and insulation, then mold with grow, causing respiratory illnesses. Insulate your coop properly and add a few bales of straw for extra heat and fun.
Read more on insulation here: To Insulate or Not to Insulate...
(Photo courtesy of MyPetNugget.)
Properly prepare them for the upcoming season.Remember, winterizing is a chore which should NOT be taken lightly. Chickens can and will die if you do not
If you have questions, please feel free to PM me.
DO'S AND DON'T'S FOR WINTERIZING
Recent User Reviews
"Good Starting Point"
- 4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Oct 29, 2018
I was very pleased to see that proper breed selection was the first item on the list; it certainly belongs there! Choosing a good breed for your climate, weather, and available habitat should be the first thing any chicken keeper considers--but often isn't.
I would have liked to see more mention, if not discussion, of using greenhouses for winter runs/free-ranging. The whole function of greenhouses is to create a warmer, sheltered microclimate, perfect for helping poultry get out and about during the the harshest frigid coldsnaps. Many agriculturally-inclined people with any amount of land in cold regions already have greenhouse space for winter crops and composting that could be adapted for parttime or shared use by chickens with minimal additional trouble or expense.
I believe Harvey Ussery has written about this some in his book and on his website, themodernhomestead.us.
- 5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 29, 2018
Thanks for the advice and reminders. I've had chickens for a few years, but this was a great reminder and the first full explanation on ventilation that I've read. We live in Maine, so we get some very severe cold.
Unfortunately, my husband refuses to help me catch each of our 2 dozen chickens so we can rub petroleum jelly on their wattles! But I can put the rest of the advice into practice.