We recently covered how to care for chickens in hot weather, but as fall seems to be whizzing around the corner, we thought it would be a good idea to cover how to care for them in cold weather, because it’s important to plan ahead. It’s simpler than you think really-chickens can, with the right conditions, keep themselves warm surprisingly well.
1. Let them breathe
It seems like you’d want to make their coop completely insulated and airtight to protect them from harsh winter weather right? Wrong. While insulation is very important, and you should start fixing leaks in the roof and putting up fiberglass or foam insulation where you can, it’s also important to ensure proper ventilation in your coop. Chickens produce a lot of moisture that needs to be able to escape, and as they also produce a pretty decent amount of heat on their own, this will breed harmful mold that is more likely to kill them than the cold, so make sure there’s still some airflow through the coop.
2. Keep them hydrated
It’s very important that chickens have regular access to clean, fresh water throughout the winter months. Make sure to check it and refill it every day, especially as it might be in danger of freezing! This will help them keep themselves warm and keep their poop clean (eh, cleaner).
3. Try the deep litter method
A similar method is done for cows in winter barns with hay, this super cool natural way of trapping in heat harnesses the nitrogen in the chicken’s droppings and helps keep them warm. Line the coop with a thick layer, about six inches, of litter and/or hay, straw, wood chips, leaves, etc., then turn once or twice a week, removing wet portions, paying special attention to areas under roosts, and replenishing if necessary. (Hint: this will make some awesome compost in the spring!) You can even toss in some feed to encourage them to scratch it up and turn it too!
4. Allow for ample roost space
Chickens need proper roosts to be able to keep warm. If they sleep on the ground, they will loose too much heat. They need ample room to perch, and for their claws to wrap all around the roost to be able to keep them protected from frost bite. If you see your chickens sleeping on the ground or in nesting boxes, they need more roosting space.
5. Give them room
In the coop, if you have a larger space, you might want to section off a smaller space by hanging plastic sheeting to give them an area where they can roost and share body heat, because a smaller space will be easier to heat up. Wherever they are, make sure they also have room to scratch-because that’s almost all chickens do all day, you don’t want the poor things to get bored! If you do section off part of the coop for roosting, consider leaving another part for scratching, or make them a covered run for the daytime.
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