Updated: Jan 21
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Are you new to keeping chickens and want to know how to keep them warm, properly fed and healthy during the winter? Well keep reading to find out!
Keeping chickens during the warmer months is fairly simple and straightforward. But keeping during the colder months, requires a little more to keep them healthy and happy.
Two things to remember for cold weather in the coop is: Ventilation = good and drafts = bad. Ventilation is airflow above where they roost and drafts are below it. In deciding if an opening is a draft or not, think if they will feel a decent breeze coming through it. If they can, it is a draft and will need to be covered during the cold months.
In the summertime, lower openings/airflow isn't a big deal and may even be welcome when it's really hot out. But in the winter, it can cause frostbite and remove the warmth bubble they create around them in between their feathers, causing them to be cold.
Ventilation circulates air above them aiding in removing ammonia and moisture in the coop. Ammonia is not something you want building up in there as it can cause health problems, like respiratory issues. And moisture buildup can cause frostbite on your chickens combs, wattles and feet. Having a fan to help with ventilation and removal of moisture is a really good option, especially in larger coops.
Lets elaborate on frostbite. They don't get frostbite strictly from cold temps. They get frostbite when its very cold combined with moisture in the air. That being said, it's a good idea to not keep any water in the coop overnight during the winter, as that creates a lot more moisture around them, resulting in frostbite.
You might see that applying petroleum jelly to their combs, wattles and feet to prevent frostbite is recommended, but petroleum jelly is an occlusive moisturizer. That will actually trap moisture on the comb. As the petroleum jelly absorbs into the skin, the moisture is just sitting on the tissue, and that can increase their frostbite risk (something I recently learned). Focus on keeping the moisture levels down and have good ventilation and that should hopefully keep them from getting it. But it does happen, so don't beat yourself up about if it does. They will recover, just watch the wounds and spray with wound spray if needed. Just don't rub or mess with the wounds or blisters.
Now let's talk about bedding.
I recommend the deep litter method during winter. This method is where you turn the litter (like pine shavings) weekly and then layer on fresh bedding over top of the old bedding. If your chickens are good at scratching around the floor of the coop, you could get away with turning less often. You'll add layers until you get to about a foot deep. At that point, you'll want to remove around half so it's more manageable. (Pro tip! Throw the bedding you remove into your overwintering garden or compost pile to use in your garden later.)
This method works great during the cold months because it creates warmth from the
composting manure and bedding. It can send off some moisture, so its ideal to add
some SweetPDZ or First Saturday Lime or something similar to the bedding to help trap it.
If you want to give them some extra warmth, you can give them a little scratch grain. It takes for them longer to digest it, therefore creating some warmth in their bodies.
Never, ever, ever keep a heat lamp in the coop! There are too many flammable things and it can easily catch on fire. They truly do not need it, so why risk it?
The wintertime is a natural break for your hens and a time of repair after laying eggs for months, so ensuring that they get enough to eat is important. They will eat around 50% more during the winter. Layer pellets will have enough of what they need, which is still protein but more carbohydrates to repair and stay warm. Like mentioned above, some scratch grain helps keep them warmer while providing some additional carbohydrates.
A few things I like to do to keep them healthy is adding some apple cider vinegar to their water a few times per month. Organic with the mother, apple cider vinegar has many health benefits including creating a hostile environment for parasites and worms. Just make sure not to add it to metallic waterers as it can cause it to leach. I also like to give Fir Meadow dewormer herbs in their feed a few times per month to keep parasites and worms at bay.
Meal worms or dried black soldier fly larvae like GrubTerra is really good, quality snacks for them and full of protein.
I hope this info was helpful. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. And if you have any additional tips, leave those too!
Thanks for reading,
Chicory Fields Farm