Chickens and winter- help!

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by AlyK94, Dec 27, 2013.

  1. AlyK94

    AlyK94 New Egg

    Apr 27, 2012
    Hello! I have a bunch of questions to better the health of my chickens this winter. Last winter they seemed to do just fine, but I am concerned about them this winter.

    The chickens- I've got 4 RIR (one just died from staying outside alone all night, we didn't realize it hadn't gone into the coup like they all normally do. :( ). They are currently not laying any eggs (which I've heard is normal in the winter?). Also they are loosing their feathers on their necks. Is it normal for them to molt during the winter or is something else wrong with them? Should I keep them inside their coop during the winter? If I leave the door open for them, snow or rain they will go out. (they have shelter under the coop) it gets very cold at night so we were putting the red light heater in there, but reading the forums around here I realized that is a big no no? Even if the temps drop below 0 I should keep the light out of there and they will be fine? I am just afraid to go in there and find them all frozen. :\

    The coop- a mansion of a coop that my brothers built. Everything is pretty air tight- perhaps some small cracks here and there. We lost our very first batch of chickens to a weasel that got in the coop due to us tightly cardboarding over the broken window for a night (thus we now leave not even the slightest opening anywhere). I've been reading proper venting is key though. We have high rafters, but they are closed off on either end. The highest perch is at least 4 feet off the ground with a lower one that is 1-2 feet off the ground, but they always hop up to the higher one. Can a perch be too high? I put hay down on the floor for a little insulation- should I use saw dust instead? I was also reading about sand baths? Are these necessary for winter?

    The feed- Do you need to change up their food at all during the winter? We just switched our plastic feeders for a rubber bowl because the water kept freezing in the plastic and breaking it. But they seem to be spooked by it and aren't eating as much. Will they grow accustomed to them? I have been putting the water and feed in their coops at night to keep the water from freezing, should I leave it outside to minimize moisture? Do we need sand/ grit available even if they are outside when they eat? I've been putting it on the ground near their feeders but it keeps getting covered with snow, can/should I put it in with their food?

    Sorry that is so many questions! I know everyone does things differently, but I want to make sure that my chickens are healthy and happy! Any and all input is GREATLY appreciated from me and my chickens ;)

  2. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Flock Master Premium Member

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    People do things differently, with much depending on what part of the country they live in. I live on the western MN gets cold here - way below zero cold. Things that work for me may not apply to you, but I will try to answer your questions in order and share what works for me.

    Egg laying: it is normal for them to not lay during the winter. I have 16 hens and am getting one egg a day from the same over-achieving pullet. She just started laying a couple of weeks ago.

    Not sure what to tell you about the feather loss. Have you checked them for fleas, lice or mites? Mine started molting in Sept. and Oct. and have since grown all their feathers back.

    I'd let them out if they want to go outside. Fresh air, sunshine and a chance to go wander about is a good thing for them. They can figure out when it's too cold.

    The light can actually do more harm than good. It prevents them from properly acclimating to the cold. If the bulb were to burn out during the night, or electricity go out, you have a bunch of cold chickens, more susceptible to problems because they didn't get a chance to grow those extra feathers.

    My chickens roost in rafters 8' off the floor. In the past, I had chickens roosting way higher than that in trees. (I wouldn't encourage that - they all got picked off by owls.)

    We use straw for bedding. I do not have sand or dust baths set up for them.

    We use the same feeds, summer and winter. Water is inside the coop in a heated water bowl. Moisture is not a problem because the coop is not completely tight. You'll know if there's too much moisture because frost will form on the walls.

    I hope this helps some.
  3. Yay Chicks!

    Yay Chicks! Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 15, 2010
    Forest Grove, OR
    Hi, and [​IMG]. Glad you joined us.

    Chickens can do quite well in cold temperatures. BYC has members in remote parts of Alaska who do not provide supplemental heat for their chickens.

    About your coop. Think vents not drafts. So, you absolutely need vents up high. You can cut them out and put hardware cloth over them to keep out critters. Seal up anything that might cause a draft to blow up their skirts, so to speak.

    People do different things with the food. I have their food in the run during the day and lock it up in a bin during the night to discourage rodents. If your coop is secure, and there's enough room, it's probably okay to leave the food in the coop.

    I switch mine to flock raiser during their molt and through the winter. It has extra protein and I believe that helps with the new feather growth.

    It is normal for them to not lay in the winter. Generally speaking, they need 14 hours of daylight, more or less, for egg production. You could provide some supplemental light, which people do, to encourage egg production. Personally, I just prefer to let mine take the winter off.

    I've heard of too many coop fires due to heat lamps to think it's a good idea.

    Hope this helps a bit.

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