This morning in Olympia, Washington the temperature is hanging out right around 23 degrees. It’s getting cold with no plans to get warm anytime soon. I got this email from reader Karen asking – what should she do for her backyard chickens in the winter!?!
The weather is getting cold here in Vancouver, Washington. I imagine it is getting cold where you are too! We have a flock of 5 now. I was wondering what you were doing to keep your chickens warm (or at least happy). Our coop is a little bigger than yours, and we just use shavings on the floor. The windows are closed, and the one inch vents are all we leave open at night. I hope they survive. They must be heartier than I think? Here’s to surviving our first winter with the girls!
Well Karen, this will be only our second winter with our chickens, so I’m certainly not an expert. But I can share some thoughts and ideas based on what we do.
I think the most important thing to remember is - keep their water supply thawed at all times. Some of the ways you can do this include:
- Bring the waterer inside at night time (while the chickens are sleeping) to keep it from freezing overnight. Just make sure to bring it out early – you know they like to wake up early!
- Add hot water to the waterer to keep it from freezing and give your chickens a warm treat. You can do this a few times during the day.
- Update your waterer to have a heated base. Example here: Farm Innovators Heated Base For Metal Poultry Founts Model HP-125, 125-Watt although I think you’ll find them cheaper at your local farm store. And I have seen tutorials online for making these which if you’re handy will cost you even less.
From what I’ve read chickens are marvelously hearty. I mean they are covered with feathers – the same things we fill our comforters with. At night they huddle together to stay warm. They are really very, very hearty chicks.
If you’re still worried, these are other options:
- Reduce wind “chill” – During the summer an open coop with a breeze is a good thing to keep the air circulating – an important thing for a healthy coop. But during the winter, you can board up (or cover with a tarp) the sides of the coop that might be more prone to wind. You don’t want it completely closed up – you need the circulation, but you could provide an area outside of the wind for the chickens to go if they want.
- Add a heat lamp – Depending on your coop style and the availability of electricity – a heat lamp might be a possibility. I think some people use heat lamps during the winter to keep egg production up. We haven’t added a lamp yet, but this might be something to check into! Just make sure it is safely installed and away from things like shavings that might catch fire. This is really important.
- Make sure they have a roost - A roost, at least a few feet off the ground, is important so they are sleeping up off the ground. They huddle on the roosts and they will fluff their feathers to stay warm.
- Deep litter method - We use the deep litter technique in our coop. We let the bedding (shavings) sort of compost in the bottom of the coop. You add layers of fresh bedding and it all just sort of works together. We clean in out every spring. The great thing about the deep litter method is the “composting” litter gives off a bit of natural heat.
- Feed them more scratch (corn product) because corn produces more energy when it’s digested – so they stay warmer (also why you want to give them less during HOT summer days). It’s always good to toss them a handful right before they go to bed as a bedtime snack and to keep them toasty during the coldest time of the night.
- Keep an eye on the eggs – you don’t want them to freeze if you can help it. You can pick them up when you check on the chickens water throughout the day.
These are all the tips I have for you Karen. If anyone else has any other ideas for Karen, please leave a comment!