Chickens in the Winter | The Ultimate Guide

Chickens can acclimate to cold climates–they will make it through harsh temperatures as long as you set them up for success.

In this Ultimate Guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about winter chicken-keeping, so your flock stays happy and healthy in their coop.  

Quick Jump

 

Chapter 1:

Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds


Weather Adaptation

Chickens have layers and layers of feathers that trap heat keeping their bodies warm. Most chickens are fully capable of withstanding cold winters that we face year after year.

Most chickens? Why not all? Certain breeds of chickens have larger combs that are most susceptible to frostbite. Some breeds don't have very much feather insulation and are more equipped for warmer climates.

What Makes Certain Breeds Cold-Hardy

If you live in a region that experiences cold winters, you'll want to choose breeds that are cold-hardy. They have smaller combs, larger bodies, and have originated in colder climates, so they are well built for winter. 

Cold-hard chicken breeds

Cold-Weather Intolerant Breeds

Lightly feathered breeds aren't able to maintain enough heat in their bodies to handle winters well. A few examples of these cold-weather intolerant breeds include:

  • Frizzle
  • Naked neck
  • Leghorn 
  • Minorca
  • Hamburg

Now that you know which breeds are right for your climate, let's talk about gearing up your coop for the cold in Chapter 2.

    Chapter 2:

    Winterizing Your Chicken Coop


    Winter-Proofing Your Chicken Coop

    Before winter hits, it's best to take some time to examine the entire coop. Check for cracks, holes, and any damages that need to get fixed before the snow hits. 

    While it's crucial to make sure there are no drafts in the coop, you also need to have good ventilation, ideally coming from the roof of the coop. Ventilation prevents moisture accumulation, which is not something you want, especially in the winter. 

    Below are the main components of a winter-proofed chicken coop. We'll dive into each component throughout this guide.

    Winter-proofed chicken coop

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     Deep Litter Method

    Adding extra bedding to the coop in the wintertime is a great way to help insulate the coop, but replacing that often is timely and expensive.

    The deep litter method is a solution to managing your coop bedding in the winter. All you have to do is put down about four inches of bedding and turn it over repeatedly once or twice a week.

    Over time, sanitizing microbes develop in the litter. This process decomposes the chicken poop and eventually turns the whole thing into compost.

    The key is to keep turning it over so it can dry out and deteriorate. Make sure there are no areas that are matted down.

    Check out all these benefits of the deep litter method!

    Benefits of the deep litter method in your chicken coop

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    Completely clean the coop before you start this process. Begin the deep litter in the wall. If its already winter, it's too late. Carefully monitor the process and never put diatomaceous earth down in the coop when deep littering.

    Winterizing Your Run

    Chicken keeping is all fun and games until your entire run is hidden in three feet of snow. Don't let that be the end of playtime in the run! There are many things you can do to make the run accessible and enjoyable for your flock. 

    Winterized chicken run

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    What about coop heaters you ask? We'll take a deep dive into that hot topic next. 

    Chapter 3:

    Chicken Coop Heaters


    Do You Need a Coop Heater?

    Heated chicken coops are a hot topic, due to the risks that come with it. Most backyard chickens are equipped to handle cold winters, and for that reason, most sources will tell you not to use a coop heater.

    Despite the warnings, many people who live in areas where the temp drops below zero do use a coop heater. Some have had no issues with it, some have lost their coop and flock to an accident.

    We recommend taking other steps to keep your chickens warm instead of using a coop heater.

    How to keep chickens warm in the winter

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    Dangers of a Coop Heater

    Aside from a coop fire, another big concern about coop heaters is if there's a power outage. If the chickens are used to the heated coop and all of a sudden the heat supply stops, causing an extreme drop in temperature, this can actually kill chickens.

    If you do decide to use one, make sure its set to make the coop only a little bit warmer than the outside. Remember, extreme temperature changes are rough for chickens.

     

    Now that you are aware of the risks of a coop heater, it's completely up to you to decide if you want one or not. Your flock, your decision! 

    In the next chapter, we'll talk more about frostbite prevention.

    Chapter 4:

    Chicken Frostbite


    Frostbite Prevention

    Frostbite is caused by excess moisture in the cold air, which freezes the fluid in the cells of a chicken's waddles, comb, or toes.

    Everything we've talked about thus far is a good way to prevent your chickens from getting frostbite. For a refresher, the most important frostbite prevention measures are listed below.

    • Reduce moisture by removing damp litter and improving ventilation
    • Eliminate drafts by patching any cracks in the walls or ceiling of the coop

    Make sure you are keeping an eye out for signs of frostbite on combs, waddles, and feet of your flock. The photo below shows what frostbite looks like on a chicken's comb.frostbite on chicken comb

      Treating Frostbite

      If you notice one of your chickens has a pale looking comb or waddle and it's still frozen, gently apply a warm cloth for 10 minutes without rubbing it. Once it's thawed out, apply some Neosporin.

      Keep that chicken separate from the others so she or he has time and space to heal. 

      Unfortunately, sometimes you might notice frostbite on one of your chickens after it's too late. In this case, the comb or waddles will have already been thawed and look swollen. You'll still want to gentle apply Neosporin and isolate that bird from the others to prevent further damage. 

      Once the swelling reduces in a frostbitten area, it will eventually fall off and will not grow back. 

      We don't mean to scare you with this information, but as you can see it's important to take the necessary precautionary steps that prevent frostbite in the first place. 

      Now we will switch gears to a less depressing subject—feed and water for chickens in the winter!

      Chapter 5:

      Feed and Water


      Feeding Chickens in the Winter

      During the winter, chickens use more energy to stay warm in the wintertime. They need to eat more carbs and protein so their bodies are working to create energy, which creates internal heat. 

      Increasing your chicken's protein level in their feed to 18% will help provide your chickens' with more energy to produce internal heat during cold winter.

      Carbs are converted into energy faster than protein, which is why scratch is a popular morning or evening snack. Morning time for internal heat until birds are warmed by radiant heat from the sun and evening time to boost body heat while perching through the night.

      If you feed your chickens scratch, make sure scratch (or other treats) do not comprise more than 10% of their total diet.

      Hen eating organic chicken feed on the ground outside

      Heated Chicken Waterers

      Chickens need to have access to water all day, which can be tough to provide in the winter when temperatures drop below freezing. If your chicken's water is freezing, it's best to get a water heater of some sort in order to avoid water deprivation.

      A heating pan or an immersion heater are two common types of water heaters. The other option is to just buy a waterer that plugs in to control the temperature of the water. Shop these items on Amazon below.

       

      In the final chapter, we'll discuss a few routine management pointers for wintertime care.

      Chapter 6:

      Routine Management


      Molting Chickens

      Once a year, chickens lose and regrow their feathers. This process, called molting, typically begins at the end of summer or early fall and lasts 14 to 16 weeks.

      Chicken's feathers are 85% protein, so when their bodies are in the process of growing new feathers, they need more protein to help them through it. This also explains why their laying rate slows down. Nutrients are being repurposed into producing new plumage instead of producing eggs.

      Chicken going through molting

      You can help your hens through this process by switching their feed to 18% protein and giving them mealworms as supplemental protein. Mealworms are rich in amino acids, which are needed during the molt.

      Keep reading to learn more about what to feed chickens in the winter.

      Egg Laying in the Winter

      As daylight decreases in the winter, chickens naturally lay fewer eggs or stop laying altogether. This period of time gives hens a break and a chance to recharge. 

      If your chickens are valued pets in your life, let nature take its course and make peace with no fresh eggs this winter. Your chickens will be less stressed and more physically healthy when they can take a break from laying. 

      The reason hens are wired to stop laying eggs in the winter is because their offspring would not be able to survive in those weather conditions. The more you know!

      If you are raising chickens for the sole purpose of eggs and want them to keep laying, you'll need to augment daylight. In most parts of the United States, total daylight hours start to go below 15 in September. 

      The chart below illustrates how many extra hours of light are needed each month to maintain 15 hours of light.

      Light for egg production

      Your chickens will also need to eat more food than usual to help them stay warm and produce eggs during the winter.

      Winter Boredom Busters

      Chickens spend a lot more time in the coop during the winter to stay warm. As you can imagine, this gets pretty boring for them. To keep your chickens entertained and out of trouble, try some of these ideas below.

      boredom busters for chickens in the winter

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      If you have kids, get them involved in creating these boredom busters. They'll love it!

      Again, make sure you aren't feeding them too many treats. Keep the goodies under 10% of the chicken's diet.

      Now that you know how to take care of chickens in the winter, that cold, white stuff shouldn't be so scary anymore. 

      If you have a good winter chicken keeping trick to share, send us an email: milefour@milefour.com.

       

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