I’ve posted previously about caring for your chickens in the summer heat, but I was yet to post about how to care for them in the winter. Living in the UK we don’t get incredibly cold winters, but in the last few years, we’ve been getting colder and colder temperatures, like when the Beast from the East hit in February 2018. So, I thought it would be a good idea to share my tips on how to care for chickens in cold weather.
How to care for chickens in cold weather
Since I’ve never really experienced an extreme winter with my chickens, if you regularly hit -5 C or lower these tips probably won’t be enough. You know your winters best, so if you think these tips are too much or too little, adapt them to what you think you need.
In the UK we get quite cold, but we normally remain above freezing for the most part. We have been getting colder spells for a couple of years now though, I know we hit -9C when the Beast from the East hit, and we had snow up to our knees. The snow drifts were up to my waist! It was cold, for sure.
Our chickens definitely weren’t happy about it. I’m pretty sure none of them has experienced that before, and we weren’t prepared for those kinds of temperatures at all. Unfortunately just as heat can kill them, so can the cold. It’s important to be prepared, even if it seems over the top or too much.
Insulate the chicken coops
The first thing we’ve done this year, well before it started getting really cold, is insulate the coops. It doesn’t take much to do this, so it’s probably the easiest step to start with.
We had some sheets of plastic left over from the previous project – big sheets that are layers and have tubes inside, a bit like cardboard – so we used those to insulate the coops. We cut them down to size and made sure it all fits over the coop and covers the larger spaces especially.
I then covered the ends in duct tape. It’s obviously not 100% waterproof, but it does stop the water getting into it. It’s mainly so it keeps the air in, or slows the change of air, making it warm up inside the plastic. It’s not warm to the touch, but trapping air in layers is the best way to insulate.
we then stapled the sheets to the respective sides and roof. It’s helped a lot with keeping the coop warmer, and it’s actually kept it dryer inside too. I think this is because it gets so misty up here, and having an extra few layers to go through means the air is fairly dry by the time it gets inside the coop.
Keep damp out
One thing that you really don’t want in your coops, any time of year, is damp. The chickens themselves create moisture and that will condense inside the coop, creating a cold and damp environment. You want to keep this to a minimum as it’ll not only make your chickens cold and make it harder to keep warm, but it can and will make them ill.
We use a layer of sawdust under the chicken bedding to help keep the moisture to a minimum, and make sure there is enough ventilation. Ventilation does not mean droughts! Gaping holes where the wind gets in will make your chickens cold, not ventilate the coop. Ventilation holes are usually fairly small, covered in mesh to stop animals getting in and out, and near the top of the coop.
As with most animals, they will eat more in the winter. Farmer’s are usually a little more precise with how much more each, adding a certain percentage, but we basically feed our chickens on a “eat as much as you want” basis. We limit it to a certain extent and keep an eye on how much they are eating day to day. That said, I have noticed they are already eating double what they do in the warmer weather.
Make sure you’re not overfeeding your chickens as that can cause problems too, but they will benefit from having a little more on them during the winter months. they’ll work it off come Spring.
Keep an eye on the temperature
Just because it’s sunny, doesn’t mean it’s warm enough for them to be outside for too long, or that there isn’t going to be any heavy rain head your way. Something all stockmen and farmers know is to keep an eye on the weather, especially when it comes to livestock. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do when something is stuck in the ground, but you can put your animals away if necessary.
I also mention more about winter chicks in another post. I don’t recommend it, but if you find yourself with chicks over winter that’s a good place to start reading.
Keep them dry
This probably seems really obvious, but keeping your chicken dry is another task in the cold and wet. Mud can collect on their feed, making balls of mud and dirt around their nails. This then can cause some serious problems. Their feathers will eventually let the water through if they get too wet, which will make it hard for them to dry off and insulate themselves with their feathers to keep warm.
All in all, keeping them as dry as possible is the best thing. That means beds, dust baths, their run – or as much of it as you can – and the birds themselves. If it starts to rain and it gets heavy, I always go out and put them all back in their coops. It might seem unfair, but I know my birds and there’s only one or two of them that will go inside if it rains. The rest will stand there, complaining, until they looked like they’re on the brink of drowning.
Keep water defrosted
This only really happens if it’s extraordinarily cold, but it can and does happen. With ours it’ usually after a particularly cold night, there will be a thin layer of ice in the drinkers. It only takes a poke to break, but they don’t necessarily know that and might not try it.
We have also had a problem with it freezing completely. This happened in February 2018, when it was very very cold before and after the Beast from the East. It meant putting out water every few hours as if it was left any longer it just froze over.
You can get some self-warming drinkers, which will help immensely with keeping the water flowing. We’re just not quite that organized yet!
I hope these tips on how to care for chickens in the cold weather has helped! What do you do to help your chickens in the winter? Let me know down below!