When we determined to boost backyard laying hens, we selected breeds based mostly on grownup measurement (for our restricted area) and cold hardiness. Right here in Minnesota, our winters get very chilly and generally we now have negative-degree temperatures, as our every day excessive and double-digit negative-degree temperatures in a single day, sometimes for weeks at a time. It may be brutal, to say the least. 

Whereas I do really feel unhealthy for the hens within the lifeless of winter, one factor to recollect is that chickens are lined in feathers. They’ve their very personal built-in down blankets and acclimate well to the extreme weather we now have within the north. 

Some chickens don’t thoughts the snow a lot, however mine do. It doesn’t matter if I cowl a path in straw or sprinkle goodies via the snow, they don’t need something to do with it. They only stand within the doorway of their poultry pen and watch me dancing round like a idiot, attempting to entice them out. 

Being that our winters can final 5 to 6 months, I really feel saddened that my chickens are cooped up for a lot of the 12 months. Due to that, we get inventive with methods to maintain them heat, busy and stimulated.

Winter Preparations for Chickens

By October, we’re starting to consider the daunting and fast-approaching first laborious frost that we’re certain to have. With that comes the method of tucking in our gardens for the winter and winterizing the coop for our chickens.

There are a lot of strategies for winterizing coops and runs, however the final goal is to dam the hens from the cruel winds and snow. Winterizing will even permit correct air flow so their coops don’t get moist, which might put them at larger threat of getting frostbite. 

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chickens winter cold
Stephanie Thurow
Barrier

I’ve a little bit of a singular setup for my hens, because the coop is inside a secured poultry pen, which is the “rooster run.” I reside within the Twin Cities, in an city metropolis, which requires us to maintain our chickens confined except we’re bodily outdoors whereas they roam. 

We line all 4 8-by-8-foot sides of the coop with tarps, which we connect with zip ties. We use giant logs from a tree we reduce down to put on prime of the tarps (and bricks) to maintain the tarps from blowing open. My co-author of Small-Scale Homesteading, Michelle Bruhn, reuses her bathe curtain liners as boundaries on her rooster run, which I feel is an excellent technique to repurpose one thing that may in any other case grow to be trash. 

The highest of the pen has a water-resistant cowl that’s made to suit. So, between the highest cowl and the tarps on the edges, we will maintain the snow out of the run (even when we now have almost record-breaking snowfall, resembling this previous winter—just below 90 inches in Minneapolis!). The perk to lining the run with tarps versus one thing extra semipermanent is that on the milder days, the tarps could be pulled again for the hens to benefit from the contemporary air and sunshine. 

Insulation

Spring via fall we line our coops with pine shavings, however within the winter, we get a bale of straw for our chickens. We fill the coop with a pleasant, thick layer of straw, and pack a pleasant barrier of straw across the rooster coop for added insulation.

The remainder of the bale will get scratched and moved across the rooster run in a deep layer in order that the hens’ ft aren’t instantly on the chilly floor.

Complement Warmth

Many chicken-keepers don’t imagine in supplementing warmth. Since I’m solely allowed just a few hens the place I reside, although, I imagine they profit from the warmth since they don’t have the luxurious of gaining heat by huddling along with a bigger flock. We get “Arctic blasts” a pair occasions all through the winter that may trigger the temps to achieve all the way down to detrimental 40s with the windchill! 

As soon as the temperatures get down into the kids, we add a radiant heater contained in the coop, which retains the temperature about 10 levels F hotter than the surface temperature. You don’t need an excessive amount of of a temperature discrepancy as a result of it could make it harder on the hens. They do acclimate naturally to the seasonal temperature modifications. 

The radiant heater is my choice as a result of I imagine it’s the most secure possibility for heating the coop, and it really works finest with the small coop area we now have. Additionally, with only a 10-degree temperature distinction, within the occasion of an influence outage the hens would fare nicely even with out the supplementary warmth—with out inflicting stress on their our bodies.

Correct Ventillation

Correct air flow for chickens is essential year-round and particularly within the winter. Although we do add tarps for the wind and boundaries so as to add additional insulation, we wish to maintain correct air flow in order that moisture doesn’t construct up within the coop. If there’s extra moisture within the coop in a single day, within the morning when the chickens exit into the chilly, they’re at the next threat for frostbite. 

Keep away from Frostbite

On the very coldest days, we add a barrier to our rooster’s combs and wattles. This helps the chickens keep away from getting frostbite. As soon as we open the coops to allow them to out for the day, we scoop them up in our arms and apply a beneficiant coating of petroleum jelly (or coconut oil) over the aforementioned areas.

I don’t rub it in an excessive amount of as a result of I need it to create a water-resistant barrier between their tender pores and skin and the brutal chilly temperatures. However I do strive my finest to completely cowl all elements.

Chickens which have small pea combs at the moment are on the highest of my record of choice on the subject of breeds for northern climates. The Ameraucana is the most effective cold-hardy breed I’ve owned up to now (and my sweetest, most snuggly hen). Chickens with the bigger combs are at most threat. Frostbite hurts, and relying on severity, it’ll have to be handled for an infection. So it’s finest to keep away from it in any respect prices. 

Water Heater

As at all times, contemporary meals and water is essential. However how will we maintain the water from turning into ice with these low temps? There are a number of methods, however my most well-liked technique is to make use of a heated waterer. 

We’ve got a 2-gallon, plug-in, nipple-style consuming system that has stored our water from freezing for occurring 4 years now. We dangle ours from the highest of our poultry pen in order that it’s off the bottom and might simply be eliminated to refill. I do verify the nipples every morning once I open the coop to verify the water is flowing and the heater continues to be working. 

Pest Management

Rodents are drawn to the coop within the winter as a result of they’ll discover meals and heat. We verify the coop for proof of pests typically and advise you to do the identical. Verify the corners of the coop for indicators of droppings. For those who discover proof, don’t use poison or traps that would hurt the chickens. 

Avoiding Winter Blues

Listed here are some nice methods to maintain your chickens comfortable within the darkest and coldest months.

  • Feed cracked corn within the evenings to maintain their our bodies digesting meals in a single day, which finally retains the chickens hotter.
  • Purchase them or make them deal with blocks which are stuffed with useful meals. Trace: There are nice recipes in Small-Scale Homesteading, resembling recipes for flock blocks and suet treats. 
  • Exit and snuggle them! Spend time with them. Realizing your chickens permits you to discover when one thing has gone awry earlier than the signs get too far alongside.
  • Give them uncooked vegetable kitchen scraps and leafy greens. My chickens particularly love once I shock them with a head of cabbage.
  • Add in or alternate issues for them to perch on. This retains the coop dynamic and thrilling.

Put together for winter earlier than it arrives. It’s an unruly visitor, so the extra prepared you might be to deal with it, the simpler it’ll be to get via. For probably the most half, cold-hardy rooster breeds will do exactly positive, however these actually moist, snowy, subzero days and nights could be brutal.

Present in your flock, and ensure they’re bodily wholesome in addition to mentally.


Extra Info

Molting Suggestions

A molt is an annual occasion for chickens greater than a 12 months outdated when their feathers fall out and are changed with new ones. Usually this course of takes place within the fall in order that by winter your molting chickens are totally feathered and heat as soon as once more. Nonetheless, some chickens don’t molt till later within the season. That is the case with one in all my ladies, Smarty Pants, our Gold Star hen. (She likes to attend till the temperatures take a deep dive earlier than she begins her molt.) 

chickens winter cold
Stephanie Thurow

As a result of the greens in our yard and the bugs which are normally discovered there have gone away with the frost, there isn’t as a lot of a possibility for Smarty Pants to forage for the vitamins her physique craves. 

Feathers are made up of largely protein, so I at all times complement my hen’s weight-reduction plan with additional protein throughout the molting course of. At the least as soon as every week whereas my chickens are molting, I give them a combination of the next components: scrambled eggs cooked with coconut oil, crumbled eggshells, chopped peanuts, vitamin E oil, sesame seeds, baked fish, black oil sunflower seeds and soldier fly larvae. 

As a result of they love oats, generally I cook dinner up oatmeal to combine inside or cooked rice and sometimes sprinkle in some dried herbs resembling oregano, basil and mint.

This text initially appeared within the Nov./Dec. 2023 difficulty of Chickens journal.

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