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One question that I see frequently popping up on poultry forums is, how can chicken keepers keep their hens warm during the winter? Surprisingly, chickens can handle cold weather better then warm weather, but there are still some things that we can do to keep our flocks happy and warm this winter. Here are some of my tips for keeping chickens warm during the winter!
I have just started using straw in the past two years for my chickens. I buy 3-4 bales of straw each fall to use during the winter months. My chickens love it when I put a couple flakes in their enclosure and they get to spread it around. Not only does the straw keep them entertained, but it also helps generate heat. As the straw composts with the chicken droppings, the decomposing process creates a little bit of heat. My chickens love foraging through the flakes of straw on cold winter days!
#2. Extra Protein
Extra protein is helpful during the cold winter months as the chickens are using more energy to keep warm. Here are a few protein rich treats you can provide for your flock:
- meat scraps (chicken, turkey, venison, beef, fish)
- peanut butter- feed in moderation because it also contains fat, also make sure you supply plenty of fresh water
- sunflower seeds
The fat that is often found in high protein foods (like peanut butter) can be beneficial if fed in moderation. Fat can provide up to twice the amount energy as carbs do, it also slows down the digestion process, which can help the chicken’s body to better absorb the nutrients in feed.
#3. Feed Supplements
I add feed supplements to my flock’s feed all year round, but I especially add certain supplements to my flock’s feed in the winter. Supplements that help with circulation are the ones the I pay attention to in the cold months. The better circulation that a chicken has, the better it will be able to stay warm. Here are some supplements that help with circulation:
- Cayenne pepper- don’t worry, your chickens can’t taste the spice!
For more beneficial feed supplements, be sure to check out my post on 8 Natural Supplements for Chickens.
#4. Scratch Grains
A special treat that you can give your chickens during the cold months are scratch grains. Scratch grains are high in energy but low in vital nutrients and vitamins, so they should not be used as a replacement for layer feed. They should be fed as a treat, not as part of their daily feed. You can make your own scratch grains or buy commercial scratch grains. Most scratch grains contain corn, wheat, and oats. Avoid scratch grain mixes that contain barley, as barley is hard for chickens to digest. Some things that you can include in a homemade scratch grain would be:
*Note: Don’t feed scratch grains to chickens under 8 weeks of age. Scratch grains can decrease the amount of protein that is received by the growing birds.
#5. Warm Treats
Feeding your chickens warm treats will help warm their insides, just like a cup of hot cocoa does for us! On especially frigid days I make sure to bring out enough warm oatmeal for every flock member to get a few mouthfuls! Here are some other ideas for warm treats to feed your chickens:
- vegetable or meat broth
- leftover squash skins and seeds
My chickens love roosting on the various perches that I have in their enclosure. Providing plenty of perching areas during the winter can help keep your chickens warm in the winter. When chickens perch, they cover up their feet with their breast feathers and fluff out their body feathers to help trap heat. Make sure the perches are wide enough so that the chicken’s toes don’t wrap around the perch, because then the breast feathers can’t cover the toes. Exposed toes could lead to frostbite. I recommend 2 x 4 boards for nightly roosts. In the enclosure though, I provide a variety of stumps, branches, and boards for my chickens to perch on.
#7. Shielded Run
Shielding the run or enclosure protects your chickens from cold winds or blustery snow storms (or sometimes rain storms). I put plastic up on the north sides of my enclosures in the fall. The chicken’s appreciate being shielded from the weather. My enclosures also allow in some southern sun, so on sunny days my chickens enjoy sunbathing or basking in the sun. The plastic over the enclosures also helps to keep snow from drifting in. A lot of my chickens do not like walking through snow, so the less drifting, the better.
#8. Interactive Toys
Keeping your chicken’s entertained and active during the winter months can help prevent bad boredom habits and help to keep the blood circulating in the chicken’s body. A few fun ideas that my chickens like are:
- Treat balls– you can buy a little yellow ball that you can fill with scratch grains or seeds and the chickens have to peck at it to get the treats out
- Garland– string up treats into a garland for your chicken to peck at, include treats such as popcorn, cranberries, other berries, and grapes
- Treat wreaths or suets– you can make your own recipe using leftover meat fat or oatmeal mixed with seeds and other treats
- Pine boughs– chickens actually love to eat long pine needles!
Your chickens should stay warm and entertained with ideas. Now lets discuss a few things that your chickens do not need during the winter!
What Chicken’s Don’t Need during the Winter
#1. Heated coop
Chicken’s produce approximately 35 BTU’s an hour in cold weather by physical activity and metabolic processes. By producing their own heat and by the small things that you can do to help them retain heat, chickens do not need a heated coop. Many first time chicken owners will say they feel bad for their hens on freezing nights, but in all honesty, the hens are way more comfortable with their big fluffy feathers and nice draft free coop then they would be in a heated house or coop. As long as you choose breeds that can tolerate colder temperatures and your coop is draft free, then there is no need for a heated chicken coop.
#2. Chicken sweaters
Chicken sweaters can make for cute (and awkward) pictures, but they are not needed to keep your chickens warm. The sweaters do not allow for the chicken to fluff up it’s feathers, which in turn does not allow the feathers to trap necessary heat under them. The bottom line is, chicken sweaters can be used for pictures, but please don’t use them thinking they will ‘keep your chicken warm’.
#3. Heated roosts
Heated roosts is a new convenience that I just recently heard of. Again, they may sound like they will make your chickens happier, but really you are actually not helping them. Chickens are meant to live outdoors (except for maybe a few who are indoor pets) which means they are not used to having constant heat around them. If the chickens relied on the heated roosts to keep them warm, then for some reason the heated roosts stopped working (power outage, malfunctioning) the chickens would be exposed to the harsh reality of the coldness. This could then stress them out or cause them to become chilled. While heated roosts may sound like a luxury, they are actually not necessary, so save your money and your electricity.
#4. Heat lamp or heater
Heat lamps and heaters are also not needed to keep heat the coop or proved additional heat. This again, goes back to what would happen if the heat lamp or heater stopped working. Heat lamps are especially dangerous and create a fire hazard in the coop. Heaters are not quite as dangerous but should still be avoided. Only use a heater in the coop under extreme conditions, such as if the temperature were to drop near -10 degrees F or something. Even then, keep the heater on a very low setting and if there is a chance of a power outage you may be better off not using it.
Now you should have a pretty good grasp on what you should provide and what you should avoid for your chickens during the winter! With these simple tips you should be able to keep your flock happy and warm this winter!
Warm wishes from the flock!