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. Nor are they given to fluid replacement.
Here are some tips for helping your chickens ride out the winter!
- Move your coop to an area out of the wind. You can also cover it with a tarp or heavy-duty plastic to prevent drafts – but be sure the coop is not airtight – moisture needs to escape!
- Minimize moisture in the coop. Moisture leads to frostbite. It’s more important to have a dry coop than a warm coop.
- Provide lots of bedding or straw. Bedding should be dry and fluffy so that it traps the heat.
- Stack strawbales around the run to hold in the heat and prevent snow from blowing in.
- A heat lamp is optional. Beware of fire hazards, especially with the dry bedding, and use a red, rather than white, bulb.
- 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.
- Make sure they have fresh, unfrozen water and give them more 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.
- Use Vaseline on combs and wattles to keep them from freezing.
- Provide wide roosts that allow the down feathers on their bellies to cover their feet.
- If your hens run in the snow, watch feet for signs of frostbite – they will look swollen and puffy. They might become infected, and the chicken could lose toes or the whole foot.
- 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.
Contact Home to Roost if you’d like an in-home winterizing consultation!