Cold winter weather brings a different set of problems to a flock of chickens, compared to the warmer summer weather. So what kind of care do chickens need in winter?
The most important thing you can do during cold weather is to make sure that the humidity in the coop is not too high. Relative humidity is generally low during cold weather, but the air inside the chicken coop can be high in moisture from flock breathing and defecation.
When the air is humid, the hen’s body needs to generate more heat energy to stay warm. A temperature low enough to freeze moisture in the air can freeze metatarsals, wattles, and toes. So a damp barn helps with frostbite.
To reduce coop humidity, make sure the litter is clean, fresh, and fluffy. While you’re at it, add a little extra litter as insulation. Stirring the feces overnight in the deep litter or removing the feces under the roost each morning will help reduce moisture.
Encouraging the herd to spend days outdoors is another great help. Most chickens prefer to stay outdoors during the day, no matter how cold the weather is. But they do need a place to rest away from direct winds, preferably in a sunny spot where they can warm themselves.
Chickens stay warm in the winter by fluffing up their feathers to trap warm air. This air current carries away the warm air, causing the birds to chill.
On the other hand, good ventilation helps prevent moisture buildup inside the coop. So you don’t want the coop to be too tight to prevent healthy air circulation.
If moisture builds up inside the barn windows, the barn is not adequately ventilated. If you stick a strip of tissue paper in the roost area and flap it, the coop is too damp. Either situation needs to be addressed before the weather turns cold.
Cold weather means that chickens need more food energy to stay warm. Increasing carbohydrates in your flock’s rations will help them generate body heat.
You can balance out their diet in favor of carbohydrates by switching to lower protein servings. Another method is to offer a little grain before the flock roosts. Digesting the grain during the night helps the chickens stay warm.
Pure drinking water is just as important in winter as it is in summer. When the temperature is low enough to freeze your drinking water, you may need to empty and refill your drinks several times a day. Encourage the chickens to stay hydrated by providing warm water with each refill.
If your barn has electricity, the simplest solution is to use a water heater. To save electricity, connect the base heater to a preset thermostat, which will turn the heater on at 35 degrees Fahrenheit and off at 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Collect eggs often
Freezing weather can cause eggs to crack. So “don’t make the mistake of leaving them in the coop,” advises Jeff Smith of Cackle Hatchery®.
Collect the eggs often to ensure that they do not freeze, making them unusable for cooking. Not only that, Jeff says, but “leaving broken eggs in the nest can teach chickens to eat eggs.”
In the winter, when other food sources are scarce, predators are more likely to be attracted to the tasty chicken. Double check the fencing around the chicken path to make sure predators can’t get in. Also, your chickens can’t get out and get hurt.
Also check your coop for predator resistance. Ensure that window openings and ventilation openings are secured. Check to make sure the door hinges and latches are still tight.
Finally, be sure to seal the flock indoors for the night. The automatic door closer is a great help when the winter night comes early and you may be busy elsewhere.
Chickens are primarily warm-weather birds. For a flock to thrive in a cold climate, we humans need to think carefully about the kind of care our chickens need in the winter.
And that’s today’s news from Cackle Coop.
Gail Damero is the author of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chicken. Photo by Carter Yocham on Unsplash.