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Chickens are quite easy keepers throughout the winter months as long as you prepare properly and correctly. I do several things each fall to get my chicken coop ready for the winter months. These 6 tips for winterizing the chicken coop will help you and your flock be ready for when the snowflakes fly!
#1. Heated Water
Water is a necessity in order for chickens to survive and it is important that your chickens have a fresh supply of water even when the temperatures dips below freezing. There are several ways to keep your chicken’s water from freezing:
- heated water base
- heated dog dish
- aqua fish tank heater
- black water tub kept in the sun- anything black will absorb the sun’s heat better and not let the water freeze as fast
- golf balls in the water- the motion of the balls in the water keeps the water from freezing as quickly
I use a heated water base to keep my chicken’s water from freezing. My heated water base sits on some wooden blocks and plugs into an electrical outlet in my coop. I place the waterer on the base which keeps the water from freezing.
Reminder- You do not need to heat the coop! Chickens are able to keep themselves warm. If you are worried about eggs freezing then just remember to check frequently on very cold days. An egg is a few degrees cooler than a hen’s body temperature (105-107 degrees F) so it should not freeze too quickly after it has been laid. If you do find a frozen egg, just let it unthaw at room temperature and then put it in the fridge. If the shell is cracked though, you may not want to eat it, but you can cook it up and give it to your hens!
It is necessary to keep good ventilation in the coop. Good ventilation will keep the air from becoming too moisture laden. Moisture causes frostbite to develop on combs, wattles, and toes of chickens. You can tell if the air in your coop is moisture laden by looking for little, white crystals that will form on windows and doors. Ventilation will also help circulate air through the coop and keep it from becoming smelly. Good ventilation is important, but make sure you don’t have any drafts coming into the coop.
I try and keep good ventilation by covering portions of my windows with plexiglass. Another great way to regulate ventilation is to have hinged window covers. You can then prop the window open as much as you like depending on the weather.
#3. Extra Light
There are mixed feelings in the chicken world about adding supplemental light when the daylight decreases. Hens need 16 hours of light a day in order to lay eggs. As daylight decreases, hens will stop laying because they are not getting the correct amount of light. A hen needs a natural break from laying eggs each year to keep her in good health and laying longer. I use a supplemental light, but only under certain conditions and to a certain extent.
I turn on extra light only after all my hens have finished their fall molt. The hens need to put all their energy into growing back new feathers for the winter and usually do not lay during their molt. The extra light should be added gradually. If the extra light is added suddenly, it could stress the hens out. That could cause them to go into another molt and stop laying again!
I use LED rope lights in my coop, which provide a soft light each morning for my hens to wake up to. I start by waking them up at 7:00am and gradually work down to 5:00 am, making sure that there is 16 hours of light between when they wake up and when they go to roost. To save on electricity I set my LED lights on a timer so that I can have them turn off once the sun comes up.
#4. Sheltered Enclosure
I have noticed throughout my years of chicken keeping, that some chickens don’t mind walking through the snow while other absolutely despise it. Making sure your flock has plenty of space to exercise even during the snowy months is important. Make sure at least a portion of your enclosure is covered. I also like to set up a wind and snow block on the north side of my chicken’s enclosure. I staple white plastic over the chicken wire of the enclosure, this keeps the snow from blowing in and provides some wind block.
#5. Use Straw
Last winter I put straw down in my chicken’s enclosure. They loved pecking around in it and it helped retain more heat. You can also use straw to create a deep litter. Lisa Steele from Fresh Eggs Daily uses deep litter and has written a great post about it called, The Deep Litter Method aka Chicken Coop Winter Composting.
Ok, so maybe this last tip isn’t necessarily essential, but it is fun! Here are a few fun ideas that I do to decorate my coop:
- Small pine trees- I place a small pine tree in my chicken’s enclosure. Not only does it look pretty but it also provides entertainment for my flock. Chickens like to eat pine needles, but only the long ones, not the short prickly kind.
- Garland- Feel free to make a garland for your chickens out of popcorn and cranberries.
- Wreaths- You can decorate with both real wreaths and edible wreaths. Here is a great recipe to make an edible wreath for your flock: Edible Treat Wreath for Chickens
- Stockings- Our chickens are spoiled because they each have their own little stocking. Each stocking has a name tag with the chicken’s name on it. We hang their stockings out at the coop so they can see them and on Christmas day we make them a special treat such as a mealworm mix or popcorn.
One other fun thing that we like to do with our chickens is take them on sled rides in the woods! We have a few special hens who seem to enjoy being wrapped up in a blanket and going for a ride! My Buff Oprington hen, Flint, was the best ever at sled riding!
Hopefully these 6 winterizing the chicken coop tips will help you prepare for the cold months properly and keep your flock happy and healthy! Once you have prepared for the cold weather, be sure to check out my other post on 8 Winter Chicken Keeping Tips for ideas on how to keep your flock happy throughout the winter!