How to protect chickens in the winter??


In the Brooder
Apr 13, 2015
South Dakota
Hi, I live in South Dakota, first year raising chickens. Have 4 barred rock. About 2 weeks ago we had 8 inches of snow, chickens feet were getting red between their toes so moved the coop into my garage. The garage is insulated but no heat. So far it has stayed about 30-35 degrees in there. Will change as our winter progresses. I noticed the other day, their feet were red again. It had went away after putting them in the garage. We have two layers of cardboard between the coop and the garage floor. What do you do to keep them warm without lights? (we had a garage fire in April so not taking any chances on starting a fire). I think their feet get cold just during the day, would sand or straw help keep their feet warmer. I doubt they are cold. Combs look great. We are getting another 10 inches of snow today, so wondering what others in cold climates do? Thanks for the help and suggestions. I have had great help thru Backyard Chickens, so thank you very much.
Ok. So if it snows, use the snow to insulate the coop as in shovel it around. If their feet or combs get to cold, rub a little Vaseline on them. I know, I know it sounds stupid but it really works! I would also put extra shavings or straw in. Not sure about the sand though. But chickens are smart if their feet get to cold they will sit down and put their feet in their feathers.
My chickens are in Montana. I have 6 inches of pine shavings on the floor for them. The roosts are 2 x 4's with the 4 inch side faced up so their breasts cover their feet when they roost. The roosts are placed in the lower part of the coop so there is no draft on them from the upper vents. There are 2 vents that are open and just under the eaves. Their little door to the outside stays open all the time. There is another screen covered vent in the people access door that gets no wind. The run is covered in tarps and clear plastic shower curtains. This gives them a wind free, snow free area to hang out in during the day. The water and food is kept outside in the run.

The main thing for winter is to keep the hens dry. Their droppings and breathing can add a lot of moisture inside a coop if there isn't enough ventilation. A damp coop means a chance for frost bite. Ventilation does not mean a draft on the birds. You do not want their feathers to ruffle and lose that warm layer of trapped air under those feathers. Keeping the moisture down is also why I keep the water outside.

For water I have a rectangular tote I bought at Walmart. I'd guess it holds 10 or 15 gallons of water. There are horizontal nipples near the bottom and a stock tank deicer that is okay to be used in plastic. The deicer comes on at 35 degrees and turns off at 45 degrees. So far, even with the cold nights it hasn't frozen up.

Nights have been in the single digits in Montana this past week. The chickens refuse to walk on the snow so they are staying in the run even though they could go out. My house sitter tells me the girls are doing fine. I use no supplemental heat or light. They are still laying 6 eggs a day as they did before the cold weather started.
So you got this at Walmart? I have a water heater that goes on the floor, how much does it cost? Cause I have to fill my water holder up once a day in the winter.
I bought the tote at Walmart. It's just one of those semi clear (so it's easy to check the water level) plastic storage totes with a lid. It probably cost $5-7. I bought the 250 watt stock tank deicer at the local feed store. It's rated for plastic tanks. It was kind of pricey at about $50. It rests on the bottom of the tote. I got the horizontal nipples on ebay. They were another $15 if I remember right. They are placed 2 or 3 inches above the bottom of the tote. I have 14 chickens. The house sitter only has to fill it up about once every 2 weeks. At least in winter we don't have to worry about mold and the lid keeps the chickens from putting dirt in the water. The cord for the deicer runs through the lid. That bit of a hole allows the water to flow with no vacuum forming in the tote.

I had to figure out an easy way for the house sitter to take care of the chickens. He sometimes leaves for work early in the morning and is not back until midnight or so. I needed to figure out how to water the chickens in case he has to work like that a couple days in a row. With the large tote there is no worry about them running out of water. Yes, this system is more expensive than what many here use. However, it is working well and was just what was needed to ensure healthy birds and a happy house sitter.
I wish I had a picture of the set up. It wasn't done when I headed south for the winter. I will get a picture in the spring or maybe the house sitter will send me a picture. However, it is simple....just bought a tote, drilled holes for 4 horizontal nipples close to the bottom on one side, put a hole in the lid for the electric cord, put the stock tank deicer in and it was done. I have it sitting on an old footstool we had at the house to raise the nipples up close to head high.

I'm thinking of insulating it for next winter. Thinking I'd buy a larger tote, put the water tote inside that new one, drill holes for the nipples so they would stick out of the large tote, and add insulation to the bottom, sides, back and top. The front with the nipples wouldn't be insulated as the inside tote would be up against the big outside tote.

Even when the temperature went down to 0, the waterer did not freeze nor did the nipples freeze. Montana is now having cold temperatures and it is not expected to be above freezing for another 2 weeks.

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