Winters can be pretty harsh for most of our chicken-keeping customers.
And even though chickens are tough little birds, they’re still susceptible to being adversely affected by bad winter weather.
This means that adequately preparing your chicken coop for the winter should be a priority if you want to keep your flock laying regularly in a cold-weather region.
Luckily, there are some pretty simple precautions you can take to keep your flock happy and productive throughout the darkest days of the year.
Let’s start with how chickens keep themselves warm.
Consider your down comforter. Even in a frigid bedroom, a down comforter can keep you warm and toasty while you sleep.
Because down feathers naturally trap warm air close to your body.
Chicken feathers work the same way.
After the fall molt, chickens grow back a downy winter coat, which they will routinely fluff up to keep themselves warm.
Just like your comforter, a chicken’s winter feathers trap warm body heat, and redirect it towards themselves. To stay even warmer, chickens like to huddle together to conserve body heat.
Ever spent a chilly night in a tent? If so, then you know how they feel.
Help Them Roost
Warm air rises.
This is the simple logic behind the roosting phenomenon in birds. Alongside huddling together for warmth, chickens prefer to be elevated off the cold coop floor.
Roosts can be a simple horizontal bar, but make sure whichever design you settle on is at least two feet from the litter, and long enough to accommodate your entire flock.
Deep Litter Method
Speaking of cold floors, consider practicing the deep litter method.
The Deep Litter Method is a great example of working smarter not harder.
Simply layer the floor of your coop with pine shavings, and periodically rake the chicken waste into the bedding mix. Once a week, add a layer of fresh pine shavings to the top.
Together with the pine shavings, your chicken’s poop will form a compost layer that fosters microbe growth.
Microbes cut down on harmful bacteria, and can also help prevent mite and lice infestations in the coop.
Plus, composting organic matter generates much needed heat in the wintertime.
Check for Drafts
Good chicken coops are like well-built houses. With that in mind, it’s worth mentioning that your coop should allow for the even distribution of air, rather than encouraging warm air to pool near the ceiling.
Just like in a house, this is achieved in chicken coops through proper ventilation, and plugging up drafty gaps in the walls.
Take a walk around the exterior of your coop.
Notice any big holes? Patch them with plywood, and fill in any other noticeable gaps in the building materials with caulking.
Eliminating drafts should do wonders for your coop’s ability to transfer heat, but it isn’t enough if you aren’t ventilating the space properly.
Install a simple vent near the roof line of the coop if you haven’t already. Venting will move humid, warm air out of the coop in exchange for more dry air.
The result is less mold, and more even distribution of heat. Consider installing a simple vent that can be opened during the day and closed at night to take full advantage of the sun’s warmth.
See the Light
The above methods can do wonders for a chicken’s productivity, but they won’t get to layin’ without light. Research has shown that light, alongside warmth, is the primary influence in a hen’s laying patterns.
While electric lights are a possible solution, they pose a fire risk, and can get expensive.
Instead, start with installing a well-insulated window into the sunniest aspect of your coop. When a coop is well-insulated and well lit, it’s possible to trick a bird’s biological responses into laying like it’s summertime.
Save a heater for the coldest of days, when the sun’s warmth won’t cut it.
If you’re so inclined, attach a greenhouse-like structure to the exterior of the coop. This will allow your birds to move freely in a bright, well-lit space during the day, and return to the coop at night.
Adjusting a bird’s diet is great way to supplement coop modifications designed to warm your birds.
Opt for protein and calcium-rich feeds and consider increasing your hen’s daily servings. Remember that a lot of their energy is being dedicated to heat production.
The Last Resort
Sometimes, the weather just gets too cold. This is where a chicken’s natural ability to heat itself comes into play.
But remember that a chicken isn’t entirely covered in feathers, and therefore cannot adequately protect every part of its body.
Just like you, chickens are susceptible to frost bite on their exposed flesh.
Cover your bird’s appendages with Vaseline and check on them frequently.