Winter Chicken Care is one of those things that new chicken owners definitely worry about. They want to know what, if anything, they need to do to keep their feathered friends healthy and thriving during the coldest days of the year.
And where you live and how extreme your winter weather is will determine what you will need to do to protect your flock.
Winter brings with it several challenges when it comes to keeping chickens alive. The most obvious thing is drops in temperature. But there are also other considerations such as wind chill, daylight, extra food needs, and frozen water.
Let’s go through these concerns one at a time and chat about what you need to do (if anything) to protect your flock.
Read on for my recommendations.
Temperature is often the biggest concern people have when considering winter chicken care.
The good news is that most chickens are pretty resilient to winter temperatures. As temperatures drop, their bodies naturally start growing more downy feathers that help keep them warm in the cold weather. They are able to tighten up their feathers to trap their body heat to keep themselves warm.
Most breeds are able to do pretty well in the winter, but be sure to double-check because there are a few kinds that are less friendly to the cold.
The question then becomes, “Do I need to heat my coop, or not?” I personally have not heated my coop in my 8 years of owning chickens. I live in an area where our winter lows are around 20 degrees Fahrenheit though. Not super cold. If you live in a place where you have lower temperatures than that, I would probably consider adding some heat to the coop.
If I WAS going to add heat to the coop, I would use a brooder lamp. This would give the chickens enough heat that they could self-regulate by moving closer to the lamp if they are cold and further away if they are too warm.
If you want to add heat to YOUR coop, I’d recommend this all in one unit.
As we all know, when you are outside in the winter weather, the actual temperature sometimes doesn’t matter. If the wind is blowing, it is going to feel much colder than it actually is.
As I mentioned earlier, chickens are great at holding their feathers tight against their bodies to trap their body heat to keep them warm.
The biggest thing that you can do to protect your flock from wind chill and the elements is to provide them with a tightly sealed coop. If they have somewhere to go to protect them from weather extremes, they will do much better.
If your coop is drafty, you may want to consider sealing up the cracks to help protect your flock.
Also, be sure that your coop is big enough for the number of chickens that you have. I once had a too-small coop and the two chickens who were lowest on the pecking order (a real thing by the way) were essentially kicked out of the coop.
I found them dead one morning because they spent the night outside of the coop and froze from exposure to the elements. Spending their nights INSIDE the coop is super important!
This is a question I get asked about fairly often. Do I need to add light to the coop? Or not?
My answer is that this is a purely personal decision.
Hens lay eggs based on the number of daylight hours they receive. The theory is that as the days get shorter, hens naturally lay fewer and fewer eggs and that by adding extra hours of “daylight” they will lay better through the winter.
I personally choose not to add supplemental light because my goal is to keep things as natural as possible. I try not to mess with the natural order of things if I can. Plus, it’s one less thing I need to manage. So, for me, I’m perfectly fine with fewer eggs during the winter.
But if your goal is to maximize egg production, you may want to add supplemental light to your coop. If I were to add light to my coop, I would definitely get an automatic lamp timer and set it so that it comes on in the morning rather than at night. Chickens are not super willing to go into a brightly lit coop to go to bed, but if they are already in there and the light clicks on before sunrise, then they will get their extra daylight hours for sure.
If you choose to add daylight to your coop, be sure it is a full-spectrum light bulb such as this one.
Extra food needs
The main way that chickens stay warm during the winter (other than tightening down their feathers and keeping out of the elements) is by eating extra food.
You will probably notice your birds going through more feed during the winter months. I simply make sure my chickens always have access to food during the winter (meaning I check on their food supply more often).
I try to give them extra whole grains to provide them with enough energy to maintain their body heat.
This is a very important part of winter chicken care and is one that will totally save your sanity too! I highly recommend investing in a good winter watering system. Unless you like carrying water out to your chickens multiple times per day, this one will save you a LOT of time and hassle.
The good news is that a heated watering system is not very expensive.
I personally buy this heated dog dish and leave it just outside my chicken’s fenced area. They reach their necks through to drink, which prevents them from pooping in their water. Plus, it makes it super simple for me to refill the water and clean it out. This system has worked well for me for many, many years.
Both options should work quite well. Either way, I highly recommend getting some sort of heated watering system for the winter months!
If you absolutely cannot have electricity in your coop due to off-grid living or the coop being too far away from an electricity source, check out this helpful blog post for some great ideas.
Well, there you have it. Plenty of things to consider for your winter chicken care!
To sum up my method, I make sure my chickens have a cozy coop, plenty of extra food, and a heated water dish. I personally don’t worry about adding heat or light to my coop in the winter but it’s totally up to you if you want to or not.
Do you currently have a flock of chickens? If so, I’d love to hear if you have any other suggestions about how you handle your winter chicken care.
What do YOU do to protect your chickens during the winter months? Tell me in the comments below!
Happy Winter Chickens!