Winter Weather Wisdom For Backyard Flocks
Welcome to the Winter edition of Chicken Confidential, our ongoing series of insider know-how and answers to frequently asked questions about backyard flocks. With temps already dropping below freezing in some parts of the country, we wanted to talk about what you’ll need to do to keep your pretty biddies comfortable and healthy. For more insights on what makes for happy hens, check out our post on 5 Signs of Chicken Contentment.
Animals have a variety of ways of dealing with winter. Some grow heavy coats to keep warm. Some hibernate through the coldest months. And many bird species fly south to wait out the winter in warmer climates where food is more abundant. But chickens? For the most part, they just keep doing chicken things.
As the temperatures drop, you’ll find that your hens will spend more time inside the coop. Their thick feathers provide a naturally protective coat, and they adjust readily to colder weather. They’ll still want to wander around outside of the coop, and if you live in a place that gets snow, the sight of chickens experiencing it for the first time is guaranteed to raise a smile.
If this is your first winter with a backyard flock, here are a few ideas on how to keep them comfortable and healthy through the cold:
First of all, adding heaters or heat lamps to your coop is almost never necessary. A chicken’s body temperature is around 106 degrees Fahrenheit, they have their own protective layer of feathers to keep them warm, and most chickens, especially cold-tolerant breeds, will do just fine in winter temperatures.
Beyond that, there’s the risk of fire. Many of the things inside a coop are very flammable, including the chickens themselves. And although hens don’t fly well, they do flap and jump and move around in other ways that can knock over a heater and create fire hazards.
If you feel like you really need to add a heat source, make sure you do everything possible to minimize the risk of fire and check the heater frequently to make sure that it’s operating safely. Also, don’t try to raise the temperature more than a few degrees. If it’s significantly warmer inside the coop than outside, your birds won’t be able to properly regulate their body temperatures, which can lead to more problems.
Since your egg-layin’ ladies will be spending more time inside the coop, you might want to add some things to keep them entertained and occupied, like extra perches, branches or even a swing. Encouraging activity will help keep them warm.
Make sure your hens have plenty of food and water, and that their water doesn’t freeze. If you live in a climate with temperatures consistently below freezing, consider investing in a heated waterer. Your birds will expend more energy than usual staying warm, so plan to provide food and water more often than normal. But stick to the 90/10 rule where food and treats are concerned.
Speaking of temperatures, you definitely want to check your coop for drafty spots. But don’t seal it up air-tight: you’ll need at least some air flow to prevent ammonia buildup and keep the air inside fresh. Add some extra bedding material to give your birds a place to burrow and stay cozy, but be sure to check it daily and remove any wet or damp spots.
Finally, let’s not forget about eggs. You’ll want to collect them more frequently than you do during warmer seasons, especially when temperatures are below freezing. Eggs will freeze, and when they do the contents will expand and cause them to crack, rendering them inedible.
Winter weather doesn’t have to mean major changes or challenges for your flock. A little TLC and some extra awareness will go a long way toward helping you and your hens make the most of the season.