Oh, Dreaded Winter!!!!!


13 Years
Aug 8, 2009
Ok, today in Northwest Wisconsin started out pretty good, fairly warm with some clouds, then the wind picked up, and what a cold wind it was!!!! Back to reality, I live in the Frozen Tundra! Today made me think of how we are going to handle our first winter having chickens. The coop is VERY well insulated, which will be good, but it gets -30, or -40 easily here. Will we have to put heat in the coop? Does everyone shovel out their girls' runs? Will the chickens even want to go outside in the winter? Also, it gets dark here around 4:30 pm in the winter. Should we have a light on earlier in the morning, or later in the day? Also, my girls will be 17 weeks old tomorrow, could eggs be anytime???? Thanks in advance. I know lots of questions at once but....
If you have a light with a timer, most people have it come on in the morning for a few hours, then in the evening for a few hours. If that's not possible I would do it in the evening, much more time for 'daylight' in the evening.

There are also some people that have heat in their coops for the very frigid weather, but you don't want it to be too warm in there. I would say probably 35-40 degrees at most so they don't get chilled when they go outside. And they will go outside! I haven't found anything yet that has kept mine from going out, though it doesn't get as cold here.

As for shoveling the run, I believe that is more of a preference. I've read some that do and some that don't.

Good luck with your chickens this winter!
We are in Missouri and while it is not as cold as that it still gets pretty cold. We do not heat the coop. We do also use a timer and light when possible. We also give them hot water to help egg production and help it not freeze as quickly.
They do go outside as long as it is not totally frozen over.
Hot water freezes faster than cold water


If you take the same amounts of hot water and cold water, the cold water will usually reach freezing first, esp. in relatively closed containers, like waterers. It's a thermal mass problem ... and hot water will have more energy to lose than cold, so it will take longer to freeze.

You can get warmer water to freeze faster than cooler water in like quantitiy and condition, but it takes some messing around to get the right conditions to make this happen. It's called the Mpemba effect, but it is an exception more than the rule. In general, the warmer water will take longer to freeze, especially if there is not a lot of evaporative cooling.

Also -

If you've got the right size coop relative to the number of birds, and you have proper ventilation up above where the birds roost (i.e. you want air flow, but you don't want the birds in a cold draft), you should not need additional heat. However, a heat lamp will help on cold nights. You can shield the coop with stacked straw bales, and do the same on the windy side of the run and to protect the door from drafts.

Remember that cold+damp = frostbite! Keep your coop dry in the winter.
I get as cold and colder than you do and also have those nice cold winds
I do not shovel my run as it is covered but I do put down straw in the runs. I also have covers over my pop doors to block the wind or drafts from comming back into the coop but they (chickens and turkeys) can still get out. It does get cold enough where they will not go outside and nor do I want them out so I close the pop door. Make sure you have extra sq/ft in your coop if you do intend to lock them in. Also make sure you have ventalation. I also get darker than you do and I do add light. I have a timer set up and just leave it at that for the winter. Other do not add light but we get down to just a few hrs of light a day so I do add. As for 17 weeks and having eggs I think it depends on your breeds and your luck factor
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It depends so much on your individual coop design, #chickens, am't of ventilation, coop humidity, etc etc that it's hard to predict for sure.

Smart thing would be to have available an outlet and somewhere SAFE SAFE SAFE to hang a lamp, but then wait and see if you actually need them. You may not. Some people have chickens do just fine down to -20 F (actual indoor coop temp) or lower... and remember the coop will stay warmer than the outdoor temp on the coldest nights.

Put a max-min thermometer in there -- preferably one of the old-style mechanical ones, as AA batteries do not always work well in subzero temps -- and you will get a sense of how your coop behaves. And then just sort of let the chickens guide you in what to do.

You'll have a *wide* roost (like the wide side of a 2x4) and lots of bedding and lots of food, and no leaky or spilling waterers, right, so they will be good down to really pretty cold temps.

Does everyone shovel out their girls' runs? Will the chickens even want to go outside in the winter?

You may want to shovel out major drifts, but you don't want to expose bare frozen ground or ice, as that is hard on chicken feet. (If you have bare frozen ground or ice anyhow, it may be worth throwing down some straw or something... although I warn you it will turn into a horrible wet stenchy mess in the spring thaw and you will have to hold your nose and slop it all out

Some chickens go out a lot in the cold, some hardly at all, it is hard to tell how your particular chickens will act. Partly it depends on wind -- chickens are not big on Blustery Days -- so if you are in an exposed area, whatever you can do in the way of windbreaks will make the run a bit more appealing.

Also, it gets dark here around 4:30 pm in the winter. Should we have a light on earlier in the morning, or later in the day?

If you're going to add light, it makes most sense to add it pre-dawn. That way its heat is being added to the coop when it's coldest out (since it *will* be adding a bit of heat *anyway*, you may as well get maximum use out of it
) and the birds will experience natural gradual dusk which helps them get onto the roost (a sudden lights-out can leave them stranded in the dark)

But it is a personal decision whether to add light. I don't, FWIW, and my winter daylength is probably about the same as yours (I'm an hour north of Toronto); the sussexes slack off to hardly laying, but the sexlinks I've had did not slow down at all despite no additional light. So it depends on the breed. Remember you can freeze extra eggs now for use in cooking if the hens are laying less around the solstice.

Good luck, have fun,

I feel your pain of -40 for long periods of time, and those cold wet winds we got yesterday and again today are just a taste of what winter is gonna be like I think. I have a half insulated coop which will be completely insulated before winter hits and I cover their run/dog kennel with tarps and clear plastic. I put down boards at the base of the run to keep moisture out and put about 2 bales of straw down on top of the concrete the run sits on with a few more bales stacked here and there for them to sit on. The main thing for the run is to cut out those northwest winds even if it is just by putting up a big old piece of plywood to block it. I use a heated water bowl which hasn't failed me in 2 winters now and a heat lamp in the coop just to take the edge off. The coop is very small and only the hardy birds stay out there over winter (cochins ee's and possibly the silkies depending on how they do) The rest have a coop in the garage which rarely gets below freezing and has a heat duct routed into the coop itself if needed. I use broad spectrum lighting in the garage coop seeing as natural light is in short supply there. I do not give them a light in the run outside but the heat lamp runs 24/7 in the coop I keep a clear 250 watt light in there as well as infared. I use the clear one during the day and the infared one at night.
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