1. If this is your first time on BYC, we suggest you start with one of these three options:
    Raising Chickens Chicken Coops Join BYC
    If you're already a member of our community, click here to login & click here to learn what's new!

Things to and Not to do During Winter

  1. Mountain Peeps
    (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.

    (Photo courtesy of baselinegroup.blogspot.com)

    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.

    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.

    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.
    (Photo courtesy of Pintrest.com)

    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
    (Photo courtesy of MyPetChicken.com)

    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.

    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.

    (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.

    Share This Article


To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!
  1. Blooie
    Good job, MP! If I might add something here...my run is covered in greenhouse type plastic so the run is always a bit warmer than the coop or outside. I leave my pop door open 24/7/365. Because the run is covered, I get additional air circulation from the bottom of the coop with no direct wind able to get in and create strong drafts. It also provides the birds with a place to get out of coop confinement. I also have windows on every side except the North, where most of our really bad weather comes in, although there is an upper vent there which I can easily open or close. I do the same with the the windows - I can open the ones downwind, so air circulates through the coop but there isn't any wind or snow blowing in. Here in Northern Wyoming long periods of sub zero temps with winds sometimes 60mph and more makes winter protection a top priority here. Your advice on ventilation is spot on - in fact, I think it's the single most important thing to plan for in a coop. Very nice article!
  2. Mountain Peeps
    @Chicks4fun2 , the doors should be closed at night. And there is a difference between a door and a crack. With a door you can close it. A crack is harder to find and will chill your birds easily on winter nights.
  3. Tenneesse
    chicks4fun2 I dont think you can but when they roost Im thinking any door would be closed but depending how well the coop is constructed would determine if its going to be drafty.
  4. Chicks4fun2
    I'm confused... How can you keep a door open and eliminate drafts?
  5. NHgirl
    Thank you for this article! As a new chicken mom, it's hard to know exactly what to do. I have a leghorn (Road Runner) who got frostbite on her beautiful comb. It almost looks like a rainbow of red near the head, a white stripe above that, and purple at the end of the comb. So obviously she has had frostbite (got to -1 here). So what do I do now? It seems as though it's too late for the vaseline trick...or should I still do it?

    Thank you.
  6. Tenneesse
    I make paths for them to their favorites hangout and where they like to peck around we dont get so much snow that I can just broom it for them and they stay right in the trails. they will go straight to the sunniest locations and I make sure there is no wind blowing it will frost bite them really fast. If its cold and blowing they stay in.
  7. Mountain Peeps
    Thanks all for the wonderful comments!!:-D
  8. Mountain Peeps
    You can still use straw just don't rely on it as your only insulation and heat source.
  9. Mountain Peeps
    You do not need to rub their combs with vaseline unless it is dropping below 0. Also, it is TOTALLY normal for them to avoid snow. Shovel a path for them so they can still walk around.
  10. jafo
    Our girls and the "ol man" don't care for snow either, but if I shovel, they're outside. If it's snowing and blowing, t5hey just sit by the pop door and peek out every now n then. We put sawdust down on the coop floor, mixed with hay. Hay in the laying boxes, and 1/2 a bale for them to kick around. Heat lamp, water heater, when it's 10 below outside it's like 25 in the coop. Yup, they got it made !

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by