Winter Care of Chickens

An average chicken has 8500 feathers. That makes for a warm coat. Like its wild bird cousins, a chicken will fluff up, trap air under its down, and stay cozy, even in freezing temperatures. However, a sharp, cold wind that ruffles the feathers can send a chill to the skin. Icy rain on a hen’s head and mud frozen on a feather-legged hen’s legs can chill her to the bone. So, although that fine-feathered garment can keep a hen plenty warm even in the coldest weather, there are some things to do to keep your chickens comfortable and healthy in the winter.
Chickens do not need insulated houses. But they do need shelter that is out of the wind and free from drafts. At the same time, it shouldn’t be at all damp. Manure contains a lot of water, and in the winter, when the coop is closed up, this can make the air unhealthy and the hens prone to respiratory illness. It is suggested to shovel out coops weekly and bedded with fresh shavings. Also, good ventilation is a must – it is best to have vents high near the roof.
Most chickens do not need heat lamps. I fact, if you have a spot heater in the coop, the hens will huddle near it, but when they move away to eat or roost, they won’t have their feathers fluffed out, and they will still be cold. It’s not good for them to go from one extreme temperature to another. If you have only one hen, do her a favor and get another. They need to huddle on the roost with each other to stay warm at night. A few breeds are not cold-hardy. Frizzle-feathered birds can’t trap air and as a results are not able to keep warm so you have to provide heat. Also, some hens, and often roosters, have big combs, and are prone to frost bite. Slather on some vaseline if you know the temperature is going to drop.
Chickens need to be high and dry. If your run gets muddy, add a few bags of sand, or put down wood chips. To give then hens a place to roam above the muck. Chickens have bare, scaley feet. They don’t like walking on snow or ice. They will do it, but they won’t be happy. So, take a moment and shovel a clear area for them in their run. Or, if the snow is deep and icy, put down some hay. They will appreciate it.
One of the most important things to give your chickens in winter is fresh water. If you have electricity in your barn, get one of those base heaters for the waterers. Otherwise, you will have to replace the frozen water
In winter, chickens will expend extra calories staying warm so give them an added ration of cracked corn and scratch grains. Also, if your hens free range in the summer and eat lots of bugs (protein), be aware that their diet changes in the winter when all of their nutrition comes from you. Make sure you are feeding laying hens high-quality laying hen pellets.
Greens are important in the winter as much as in the summer. Chickens sometimes get bored all cooped up so a cabbage can be hung in the pen. They peck at it and so don’t peck one another. The added benefit is that they are eating greens.
Hens need 14 hours of sunlight to lay. You can increase the light using a 40 watt bulb on a timer and you will bring up production. They still won’t lay as well as they would in the summer. If you decide to use a light, turn it on in the early morning. Do not use it at night – if it is dark out and the light suddenly goes off, then hens won’t have a chance to settle into their roosts for bedtime.

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