Preparing Your Coop for Winter
I belong to a number of backyard chicken groups on social media and one of the questions I’ve seen the most is how to prepare your coop and chickens for winter. Living in Minnesota winter's are long, but it's nothing to get stressed about.
Let’s start with the physiology of chickens. Chickens have a built-in down winter coat. Meaning, their feathers provide great insulation. In fact, chickens don’t have sweat glands, so they actually prefer cooler temps over warm ones. Here in Minnesota though, temps drop drastically and go below zero quickly for multiple days in a row.
I remember the first year we had chickens in the winter. I was so stressed about coming out to the coop and finding them frozen solid. Thank goodness that never happened! So, while temperature extremes of any kind can add stress to your chickens, there are a few things you can do to prepare them for winter and a couple things to avoid.
Things to Do to Prepare for Winter:
Make sure your coop has good ventilation and is draft free. This is SO important! Maybe the most important to be honest. Your coop needs to have good ventilation to allow moisture and ammonia smells out. Of course, you will have your Coop Recuperate to help with both of these, but you will still need good ventilation. If moisture gets trapped and settles on your chickens, that’s when frostbite can set in. Chickens don’t do well with drafts, so eliminate these by securing your coop in problem areas. Should we insulate our coops? I think it’s fine as long as there is good enough ventilation. We also need to take into consideration the hot summer months when we’re thinking about insulation. My coop is not insulated.
The deep litter method also provides extra warmth for your flock.
Find ways to keep your water from freezing. This can be tricky! However, your local farm supply store has some pretty cool heated waterers!
Keep some hearty scratch on hand. My chickens won’t touch the corn in the summertime, but when the cooler temps set in, they know to eat it. They're so smart! Corn scratch is high in carbohydrates, so it takes more energy for their little bodies to digest. I give them some scratch before bed, so their bodies can work a bit harder while they rest, thus keeping them a little warmer.
Flock Fixer is a great addition in times of stress. When the temperatures fluctuate so much here, it can stress all of us out! I always add in some Flock Fixer to their water. This gives my girls all they need to continue to stay healthy in stressful times.
Things to Avoid During the Colder Months:
Heat: I think one of the first things people ask is what kind of heat should they add to their coop? My answer? None. Unless I have younger birds who need the heat supplement, I steer clear of heat sources. Heat lamps are the number one cause of coop fires. People have lost their entire set up and flock due to one little heat lamp. That’s not worth it to me. I do have a heat panel in case the littles would need extra heat, but outside of that, our full grown birds do better without it. Also, temperature extremes are not good for chickens, so adding heat and then taking it away is not healthy for them.
Drafts: As I stated above, good ventilation is imperative, but drafts are a problem. Do your best to secure your coop to prevent drafts but allow for ventilation. Many people will wrap plastic around their coop or runs. This is a great idea as long as they plan for ventilation.
Frozen Water: Chickens drink a LOT of water. Whether you check their water multiple times or set up a heated water bowl, chickens need to have access to fresh, clean water at all times.
If this is your first winter in a cold climate with chickens have no fear! If you take into consideration the things listed above, they will come through the winter just fine. If you’re wondering about egg production in the winter, it usually slows down. This has more to do with light exposrue than it does with cooler temperatures. We can talk about that more later on or you can go HERE to read a bit more about why they may be slowing down on egg production.
Winter can be a long time for all of us. It doesn’t have to be a stressful time for chicken keepers though. A little preparation goes a long way. And, in my humble opinion, starting to prepare now is not a bad idea! We have begun the winterizing process here at the Wing residence. I am far from being ready for the snow to fly, but when it does me and the girls will be ready!
--The Wing Lady