How to Raise Chickens in Winter
Winter months can be a fun time for chicken owners. Figuring out how to raise chickens in the winter isn't as complicated as you might think. You just need a ventilated coop without drafts, lots of food, bedding, extra light, and some opportunities for your chickens to stay entertained.
Fix Drafts and Ventilation
Properly winterizing a chicken coop involves fixing drafts while also making sure the coop stays well ventilated.1 You'll want to make sure that all doors and windows are sealed. You can check for holes by turning on the lights when it's dark outside, walking outside and looking for holes where the light shows. You can also put plastic around the chicken run to help protect the chickens from cold winds.2
If your coop has open sides, you can use a heavy tarp or plastic sheeting to cover the sides and block drafts. Don't extend it all the way to the roof, though, because you still need ventilation so ammonia doesn't build up from the litter. You might want to open the top vent or leave higher windows open just a little to allow for much-needed ventilation.
Keep Your Chickens Warm
Of course, you'll want to keep any chickens you're raising warm in the winter, especially when temperatures drop below freezing. Cold-tolerant breeds can be pretty good at staying warm if they're allowed to roost together.3 But a few extra measures on your part can help them ward off the chill.
Be sure and remove any wet spots every day and keep lots of bedding material for warmth. Deep bedding provides insulation against the cold. Some people use a deep litter method, where they let bedding and chicken poop build up before winter so there's a foot of composting material on the coop floor to give off heat.4
Make sure your chickens also have plenty of space to roost together, fluffed up for warmth and off the ground.
If you have baby chicks, you'll need to keep them warm. If their mother hen isn't around, you'll need a brooder, heat lamp, and thermometer to monitor the temperature.5 A heating pad designed for chicks can also help.
Time Feedings for Optimal Warmth
Time your feedings for optimal warmth. This might mean giving them some cracked corn right before bed. If chickens are digesting food at night, it helps keep them warm.6
Don't Let the Water Freeze
Fresh water is important, but it can freeze in the colder winter months. You'll want to change the water a couple times a day. A heated poultry waterer is a great way to make sure water doesn't freeze.
If you use buckets or have unheated waterers that you still want to use in the winter, a universal waterer deicer can be a great investment. It can be used with any waterer to keep water thawed but not hot.
Use Artificial Light
If you want your chickens to still lay a lot of eggs, you'll need to use artificial light when the winter days are shorter. Chickens may need 12 to 14 hours of light, so you might need to set timers on artificial lights to lengthen the "daylight." You'll also want to collect eggs more frequently, since they can freeze.
Keep Your Chickens Entertained
Like anyone else, your chickens can get bored when they're "cooped up" all day. And when it's really cold and snowing, they'll probably opt to stay indoors. You could build a greenhouse-like room where they can wander and get sun. You might also give them toys, like cabbage on a string for them to peck on.6 Branches, chicken swings, and other fun places to perch can also help.
Winter can be a great time for raising chickens. Just make sure that you're winterizing the coop well and providing them sufficient food, light, and activities, and your chickens will have an EGG-cellent holiday season.
- Schirtzinger, Sabrina and McDermott, Tim. "Winter and Your Backyard Chickens." Ohio State University Extension, https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/anr-66.
- Beers, Hannah. "Care and Feeding of Backyard Chickens." University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine, 23 April 2017, https://vetmed.illinois.edu/pet_column/care-feeding-backyard-chickens/.
- Purina Animal Nutrition. "Tips for Raising Chickens in Winter." PurinaMills.com, https://www.purinamills.com/chicken-feed/education/detail/tips-for-raising-chickens-in-winter.
- Mormino, Kathy Shea. "The Deep Litter Method." The Chicken Chick, https://the-chicken-chick.com/the-deep-litter-method-of-waste/.
- Ames, Marissa. "How Long Do Chicks Need a Heat Lamp?" Backyard Poultry, 15 March 2019, https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/how-long-do-chicks-need-a-heat-lamp/.
- Arcuri, Lauren. "Top 10 Tips for Keeping Chickens in Winter." The Spruce, 21 October 2019, https://www.thespruce.com/keep-chickens-in-winter-3016590.