As much as you would like to bring your hens inside to keep them warm and toasty through the winter, you can't. Just think of the mess! Besides, they are chickens. They can do this – survive outside in the winter. In the freezing cold, even! However, you can do a few things to make it a bit more comfortable and enjoyable for them.
I think these girls are discussing how cold their feet are. At least, that is what I would be talking about if I were one of these hens!
There are some breeds that are winter hardy and do especially well in the wintertime. Some breeds include the Australorp, Barred Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpington, Easter Egger (americauna), and Rhode Island Red, just to name a few. This doesn't mean that your winter wimpy chickens won't survive. They will!
How to Prepare Your Flock for a Happy and Healthy Winter
Prep the Coop
This is the time to be sure that the coop is dry and free of drafts. Moisture should be able to escape through proper ventilation, however drafts should be prevented from creeping in. Some people like to do the deep litter method to help insulate the floor instead of heating the coop. I live in Phoenix and our winters never get THAT cold. However, if I know a particular evening will creep down below freezing, I will turn on a heat lamp for the girls.
A clever way to prevent drafts is to enclose your otherwise “open” coop with plastic. This allows light to come through, but keeps the inside of the coop protected from cold winds and wet rain or snow.
The added insulation from the deep litter method and the draft protection, should help keep your feathered friends toasty. If you suspect a particularly cold night, you can always cover their combs and wattles with a barrier like petroleum jelly. This keeps moisture from clinging, thus preventing frostbite. As for their cute little chicken feet, they will be protected by their feathers and warm body while they roost at night.
Chances are, if you live in a place that gets snow and dips below freezing, you will have a problem with frozen water. Lots of chicken owners bring out fresh water every day. Chickens don't need water at night while they sleep. So, keeping water out of the coop is another way to ensure that it will stay dry. However, if you do struggle with keeping water thawed, I did find this little DIY chicken water heater!
Give them something to do!
If you live somewhere that gets winter snow, chances are your chickens might get bored! They no longer have access to their favorite haunts because they are covered with snow! If your coop has a run attached, make sure that it has a roof! That way they can hang out in the run during the day. Perhaps hang a head of cabbage for them to peck at and hit around. Give them fresh veggies, too, since they won't be able to forage for their own if they have a snow covered ground. At night, you can give them some scratch before bed. Not only do they love the treat, the corn is harder to digest and raises their body temperature, keeping them warm at night.
Since the ground may be covered with snow, the chickens probably don't have access to their favorite dust bath spot! You can make your own! Just grab a big Rubbermaid bin and fill it with Diatomaceous Earth and some sand. Keep a lid on it to keep them from perching on the edge and pooping in it. Allow them access during the day for a few hours so that they can freshen up.
Keeping your coop dry and free from drafts, making sure they have fresh (unfrozen) water, and giving them something to do will keep your hens happy and healthy all winter long!
What are your favorite winterizing chores that you do for your hens? Tell us in the comments!
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For everything you need to know about chickens, check out Oh Lardy's Guide to Keeping Backyard Chickens!