How to Prepare Backyard Chickens for Winter

Come rain or snow, it is good to get chickens ready so that they can survive and remain productive throughout the frost. 

Winter is coming. Temperatures drop. Snow falls. Hours of the natural light become less.  There is less food for predators. Your chickens become a target. 

In this article, we cover some of the things you must do to take care of your chicken in cold weather. 

Preparing for Winter

You need to make sure that your chickens survive winter.  For chickens to thrive through winter, there are several things you need to do in order to get ready. These are:-

  • Ensure you have enough chicken feed.
  • Provide enough light in the coop.
  • Provide enough water for your chickens. 
  • Provide enough dry bedding for chicken.
  • Ensure that the coop is well ventilated.
  • Check for leaks in the coop and fix them.
  • Provide enough grit for the chicken.
  • Provide a dust bath for the chickens.
  • Secure your chicken coop and chicken run.  
  • Insulate your coop

Let us look into these in detail. 

Ensure you have enough chicken feed.

Chicken needs enough food for optimal production.  Since chickens are warm-blooded omnivores, they will need to keep their body temperatures at normal levels. 

In winter chickens use food to keep their bodies warm.  Free-range chickens will have access to less feed during winter since the ground is covered with snow. There are no worms and other insects to feed on. 

As a poultry keeper, you will need to feed your chickens with enough well-balanced feed for their health and well-being throughout the winter months. 

Winter storms might make it impossible to go to the store to buy chicken feed. Prior to the winter months, ensure you store chicken food to last you throughout winter. This will come in handy in the event you are unable to go to the stores to replenish your stock.

Provide enough light in the coop during winter

During winter, the number of light hours reduces.  

Chickens need that for optimal production. Light stimulates the hen’s pituitary glands. This stimulates the ovaries to produce eggs. The optimal light hours for laying hens is 12-14 hours. When these reduce, egg production decreases. Your chickens may stop laying.  

Providing enough light in the coop during winter will ensure your hens keep laying. 

A chicken coop light with a timer is an excellent addition. Setting the light timer to light for 12-14 hours will ensure that your chickens have the hours of light needed in winter

Some light timers include a light sensor, that will turn off the lights once there is enough natural light in the coop. 

Some backyard chicken farmers opt not to provide supplemental lighting in the coop during winter in order to give the chicken rest. They choose to be satisfied with the drop in production. 

Provide enough water. 

Water is an essential requirement for chickens.  It is responsible for digestion, egg production, and temperature regulation. The bodies of chickens are 65% water. These water levels need to be maintained. Less water means less production. It may also have a negative effect on the health of your chickens.

With the low temperatures in winter, there is a high chance that the drinking water will freeze. Chickens will not drink frozen water. You can use a heated waterer or create an inexpensive DIY solution to keep the water from freezing.  

Provide enough dry bedding.

Whether you use sand or straw, ensure you have enough bedding for the coop. 

Since chickens will spend more time in the coop during winter, the litter will get wetter than in other months. 

You will need to place a thicker layer of bedding during winter compared to other seasons. 

Ensure that the coop is well ventilated

Drafts in the coop can be defined as the air that moves quickly and horizontally through the coop. Ventilation is the air that moves slowly and vertically in the coop. 

Cold drafts during winter will make the coop cold for the chicken, making them eat more to keep warm. Some might get sick and die. 

While preventing drafts, make sure you do not prevent enough air in the coop.

Without enough ventilation, there will be an accumulation of ammonia in the coop, which will adversely affect your chickens. 

Check for leaks in the coop and fix them

Dampness is bad for the coop and chickens. 

Snow will collect on the roof of the coop and as it melts it water might leak into the coop. 

Dampness in the coop will encourage the growth of mold and other pathogens. This will, in turn, make your chickens sick. 

Provide enough grit for the chickens

Grit is important to chickens. It aids in digesting food. 

In winter, snow will be covering the chicken run.  Chickens will not be able to get enough of the much-needed grit.

Make sure you provide good quality grit for your chickens during this cold season.

Provide a dust bath

The cold hard snow-covered ground during winter will prevent the chickens from making their own dust baths. 

Make sure you provide a dust box inside the coop. You can also shelter the dust baths outside the coop so that snow does not cover them.

Secure your chicken coop and run.  

During winter, predators and vermin have less food available. They will seek every opportunity to get food for themselves and their young ones. 

Your chickens will be targeted by predators during winter. Rodents seek a slice of the chicken feed in the feeders and the feed store

Make sure you secure your chicken run and coop against predators and vermin throughout the winter months. 

Insulate your coop

Insulating your chicken coop during winter will ensure your coop stays warm. It also makes your coop cool in winter. Insulation materials such as styrofoam, cardboard, burlap bags, and straw can be used to insulate chicken coops in winter. 

Is heat required in the chicken coop during winter? 

One of the major concerns for every chicken keeper is if their chickens will freeze during winter. 

Chickens have insulation in terms of thick feathers and other bodily functions to regulate heat in the body.

Providing heat may interfere with their ability to regulate their body temperature for example if you provide heat at 70 degrees Fahrenheit inside the coop, and the chickens step outside where the temperatures are at 0 degrees, they will not be able to regulate their body temperatures. 

Heating is not required in the coop during winter. If you must provide heat for your, make sure the difference from the outside is just a few degrees. 

Safety is another concern when providing heating in the coop. The dry litter and chicken feathers are highly flammable. A heat source placed near can easily ignite them, leading to deadly consequences.

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About James Polystead

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard. follow me on Twitter

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