Winterizing Your Chickens


It’s that time of year again – winter. If you got chicks this spring, you probably asked the question, “How do I take care of the hens over the winter?” Bringing them into the house is not a great idea, and unlike dogs, chickens generally aren’t given to wearing sweaters and booties. Here are some tips for helping your chickens ride out the winter.

Coop Environment

Heat is not a major need for chickens in winter. They can tolerate pretty low temperatures and will eat more to increase their metabolism. Overheating your coop can lead to hefty hens who haven’t burned off all the extra calories they’re consuming. So leave the space heater in the spare room! Your main enemy is moisture. Too much moisture in the coop leads to frostbite. It’s more important to have a dry coop than a warm coop.

  • Clean poop from the coop often. Chicken feces add to the moisture content of the air in the coop.
  • Ensure that the coop is well ventilated but not drafty.
  • Move your coop to an area out of the wind.
  • Cover the run with tarps or heavy-duty plastic to prevent drafts.
  • Stack strawbales around the run to hold in the heat and prevent snow from blowing in.
  • If your coop is raised, the area between the floor of the coop and the ground is often a favored winter hangout. Provide some windbreaks for the birds and they’ll likely enjoy their winter digs.
  • Provide lots of bedding or straw. Bedding should be dry and fluffy so that it traps the heat.
  • You can use a heat lamp when temps are in the single digits for several days. Beware of fire hazards, especially with the dry bedding, and use a red, rather than white, bulb. A reptile heat emitter is a good alternative.
  • If you want your hens to continue laying during the winter, supplement white light in the morning (not evening) so that the hens get 14 hours of light. You can also let their bodies rest and give them the winter off from laying.
  • Provide wide roosts that allow the down feathers on their bellies to cover their feet.

Food and Water

  • Provide fresh, unfrozen water and be sure they have continuous access to food – their bodies need it to stay warm. You can keep two waterers – one in the house and one outside – and swap them out as the outside one freezes.
  • Provide extra protein for the birds during the winter months. A handful of dry cat (not dog) food will give an extra protein boost.
  • You can provide a handful of scratch grain in the evening, before they head to the roost for the night. This will help keep their metabolism going during the night.
  • Provide a head of cabbage, hung from a string or chain to keep them engaged and prevent pecking.
  • Use a bird suet basket as a treat box.

Frostbite

  • Use Vaseline on combs and wattles to keep them from freezing.
  • Watch feet, combs, and wattles signs of frostbite – they will look swollen and puffy at first. They will eventually turn black and fall off. Infection is a possible risk of a bad case of frostbite.

Contact Home to Roost if you’d like an in-home winterizing consultation.

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