Winter: How to Care for Chickens

Winter: How to Care for Chickens


Photo: Belmount Hall

Keeping chickens in winter is no easy task! Fortunately, my flock and I live in California where a cold winter is typically considered a day of 68 °F

In the early days of Treats for Chickens, we did live near the Oregon border and experienced snow, cold rain, black ice and chilly chickens. So, with what I gleaned from that damn cold experience I'm here to share with you what I did and how to care for chickens in the winter. 
First and foremost it's important to ensure that your chickens have a shelter from the storm {and that includes proper ventilation} to keep them comfortable, healthy and happy during chilly winter months.

Keeping them healthy during the off season is an important step to ensuring they are in their prime when egg laying spring and summer rolls in. 

Winterizing Chicken Coop 

winter chicken coop

Photo: The Garden Coop

The most important part of chicken care in winter is making sure your flock has good housing to protect them from predators and the weather!

So, what exactly “constitutes” good housing when it comes to keeping chickens in winter? I’m glad you asked!

Don’t Rely on a Heat Source

heat lamp for chickens

Photo: Times Call

I know, I know, it’s tempting to keep your flock toasty warm when raising chickens in the winter - the urge to plug in {and blast} a heat source in the hen-house all season.

The reason you shouldn’t do this is because if you preserve a warmer temperature through artificial means in the winter, your chickens won’t grow their full winter feather interior fluff and down-ish feathers --  and if anything happens to that heat source your chickens won’t be acclimated and prepared for the colder temperatures.

It’s not uncommon for the electricity to go out in the winter, especially during ice storms, so we don't want to be getting the flock usto temperatures from a heating source that can't be guaranteed 100% consistent during the winter.

Plus, coop fires are an all too common sad, sad, occurrence in the winter…

But if you MUST use a heat source, please make sure you follow all the manufacturer’s instructions and safety precautions! What ever heat source you use, make sure it is securely set up in a way that it can’t fall or be knocked down by any members of your flock, which may cause a fire.

If it gets -20° F or below then those rules go out the window, and its time to bring in some artificial heat! Experts say chickens are fine until inside their coop drops below -20 degrees Fahrenheit.


Do Rely on Proper Chicken Coop Ventilation

chicken coops ventilated winter

Photo: Better Hens and Gardens

The colder it gets, the the more time your chickens are going to spend roosting, loitering and preening in the chicken coop. All those stationary, fluffy, chicken butts allow cold air to condensate into moisture in the coop.

Moisture and damp conditions mixed with low temperatures mean frostbite, and frostbite is a no, no for chickens. It's a no-no for all of us really.

Thankfully a little bit of air flow allowed to circulate in your chicken coop helps moisture dissipate. So, go ahead and crack the vents or windows open in your chicken house to allow air to circulate, which keeps moisture and frostbite down.

Make sure you only CRACK the vents or windows slightly open to allow a little bit of air flow! If you leave it wide open enough for big, cold drafts to come through you are doing more harm than good.

Remember just crack the vents or windows open a teeny weenie bit! I can’t repeat it enough! Only crack it open, don’t have it wide open!

How and What to Feed Chickens in Winter

You’re going to want to provide your chickens free access to food because their energy needs vary so much during the winter that it’s better to play it safe and provide your birds with all the extra energy they may need to burn to help keep them warm during cold winters!

Egg laying typically slows down in the winter and so you might want to decrease the heavy intake of calcium and increase more caloric intake with feed and nutrient rich treats - but not too many. The calories help to keep your chickens warm in the winter.

I have heard of chicken keepers switching from regular laying chicken feed to plain chicken scratch and I don't recommend that at all.

Chicken scratch is too much junk food and is missing the necessary vitamins and mineral supplementation that is still needed.  


How to Keep Chicken Water from Freezing or Becoming Unsanitary

 heated chicken waterer in winter

Photo: Avian Aqua Miser

At least once a month give your feeders and water fountains a good scrubbing in hot water and allow to dry before refilling with fresh clean water and/or feed. Keeping the fountains clean and free of mud, leaves, debris and feed will ensure healthy hens in the off season. 

Chickens in the winter need their feed fresh and water clean like any other season of the year. The difference is now their access to water and feed needs to be constant during the winter months!

{PS: Mark your calendar for a day of the month and do it consistently over the winter and it won't seem like such chore.}

Another concern for chicken keepers that experience very cold winters is how to keep chickens water from freezing. I remember for a.whole.winter.season I brought out hot buckets of water..........oh the love of chickens...

If you’re dealing with freezing temperatures you’re going to need to prevent your chicken’s water from freezing.

There are a couple ways for you to accomplish this:

  • purchase a chicken water fountain warmer base
  • storing water fountain inside the chicken coop roosting space where temperatures do not drop below 32 degrees
  • changing the water multiple times a day to keep the water warmer. 

Happy Wintering! Summer sunny skies will be here before we all know it!

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