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Winter DON’TS for Backyard Chicken Keepers

For chicken keepers, winter time can often bring lots of worry. This is especially true for first time owners. If you’re going through your first or subsequent winter with your chickens, you can rest easy. Keeping your chickens happy and healthy over the cold winter months isn’t as daunting or scary as you might think. The list of winter “DON’TS” is pretty short, but important. Here are the most important things to NOT do this winter for your chickens.

  • Don’t keep your chickens locked in their coop during the bad weather. Many chickens actually enjoy getting out of the coop, even in the cold, and yes, even in the snow. The birds that don’t enjoy it will stay roosted in the coop or rifling through coop litter.
  • Don’t over-insulate your coop. This might sound strange, but over-insulating your coop will reduce ventilation and sock in moisture, both of which are plain dangerous in the winter time. Keep drafts out of the coop, but allow it to “breathe”. Most coop construction designs do a good job of this by default.
  • Don’t add heat to the coop as a whole. Adding light is a good idea, even if you don’t care if your hens lay through the winter or not, but adding heat can be dangerous. Chicken bodies need to slowly acclimate to winter conditions, and if you heat your coop they can’t acclimate. If your power were to go out to your coop and your non-acclimated birds got cold in the middle of winter, it would most likely be disastrous for your birds. Also, most heat lamps are fire hazards. Place them in a dusty coop full of dry bedding material, and one mishap will send your coop aflame very quickly.
  • Don’t let water freeze. Do keep water ice free, aka you CAN add safe heat to keep water liquid. Wintertime is very dry for most parts of the country, and chickens need constant access to clean, liquid water, especially through the winter. You can purchase buckets that are self-heating, or purchase waterers that have bases for them that you can buy separately that keep water liquid. Some people even bring buckets of water out to the coop two or more times a day and switch the frozen block of ice with fresh clean water in a clean container. Do what works for you.
  • Don’t invest in the wrong breeds. Do choose chicken breeds better suited for the cold weather if you live in an area that gets cold. Chicken breeds such as WyandottesDominiquesBuckeyesBrahmas, and Chanteclers are all examples of ideal chicken breeds for very cold climates. They have very small comb types (pea or similar types of comb) that are less prone to frostbite. They also tend to have smaller wattles, which can also become frost bitten. Small combs and wattles also dissipate less body heat, so in the winter they retain more. The flipside to this is, these same breeds can sometimes have troubles in the warmer weather, but generally they still do just fine. There are also lots of alternative breeds of the favorites that do well in cold climates, like “Rosecomb Leghorns” or “Rosecomb Rhode Island Reds” which are essentially the exact bird as the breed itself, but they don’t have the giant combs and wattles that their original counterparts have- making them better suited to the cold weather.
  • Don’t be stingy with the fun activities and treats. Boredom and low-morale can affect chicken health directly. Cannibalism, pecking, and depression are actual real problems that can have bad effects on chickens in the coop. Offer fun things to do and bring your birds warm treats through the winter. It’ll lift their spirits, keep them healthy, and bring you some comfort too. Here are some great ideas to get you started.
  • Finally, don’t leave eggs in the coop for long. Eggs left outside in below-freezing weather will eventually freeze, and break. This will not only spoil your food, but it can lead to egg-eating. Collect several times a day if you have to.

This winter can be a good one for you and your flock. Don’t worry- don’t stress, and don’t expect to have to go through long lengths to prepare your hens. They’ll do much of the prep for you. Just look at the winter time as a great time to further the bond with your flock!