How do chickens handle the winter?
Its always one of the first questions someone asks during one of the chicken classes that I teach in Atlanta. If this is your first winter with backyard chickens, you're probably going to worry about what to do with your flock once the temperatures stop dropping. Chickens have made it through some pretty rough winters without human interference for hundreds if not thousands of years without human aid. Sometimes our good intentions to help a chicken during the winter can actually hurt the chicken - but more on that later.
First let's cover some chicken basics:
You've already got a 'hot chick' on your hands. Chickens have a much higher internal temperature than their human counterparts. The temperature of your average, healthy chicken can range from 105 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Add that beautiful coat of feathers on top and you have one animal that is built to handle the cold! There are some breeds that are better suited for colder climates - like the Rhode Island Red. Some bantam chicken breeds, like Silkies, might need a little extra assistance during the winter.
- Don't heat your coop! Heat lamps can be dangerous in a coop.
Every year I see news reports of coops or sheds that burn down resulting in unnecessary loss of life. Providing your chickens with a well built coop that isn't drafty will go a long way in helping your chickens in dealing with the cold. Consider wrapping your run in plastic if its going to be extremely cold and windy.
- Your chicken will not need a chicken sweater.
If this is your first year with chickens - your friends might start tagging you in social media with cute chicken sweater photos. Resist the urge to buy Henrietta that sweater. Wearing a chicken sweater might inhibit her movement and can cause her to become reliant on the heat.
- Your chickens might not like the snow. Keep a small part of the run area free from the snow.
Typically, chickens don't like the snow. Its really hard to forage for bugs through the snow. If you know that its about to snow, consider placing a tarp or plastic over your run area to keep an area that is 'snow free'.
- Don't let the water in pvc pipes or poultry drinkers freeze.
You're chickens will still need access to fresh water in the cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes and will break your poultry drinkers if you're not careful (I lost at least three or four poultry drinkers thanks to frozen water). If you don't want to run out to the coop with fresh water every day when it freezes outside, you can consider a heated poultry drinker. I use a heated poultry drinker in all of my coops during the winter.
- Consider adding a little extra protein to their diet.
It takes a lot of energy to stay warm in the winter months. If you notice your chickens eating a little more during this time of year, that's totally normal. My grandfather would feed his chickens scratch close to sundown. The thought was the chickens would eat the corn, and that would help keep them warm at night.
- Add extra bedding to provide extra insulation.
No matter what material that you use, be sure to keep the bedding dry and from getting moldy. We use hemp bedding at CityChick and the chickens love it!
- Keep them entertained.
You can hang a head of cabbage in a veggie ball or hang a suet feeder with some fresh greens in it,
- Keep petroleum jelly on hand.
Frostbite can happen to a chicken's comb if the temperature dips below freezing for extended periods of time. If you know that a freeze is about to happen, be sure to coat your chicken's comb with some petroleum jelly.
With a little preparation this winter, your flock will make it through their first winter just fine. If you have any questions, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!