When it starts getting cold, the chickens need a little extra T.L.C. to keep up egg production. Winterizing your coop can help keep the chickens happy, healthy and producing.
How you winterize your coop depends on your geographic location. For instance, those that live in the Midwest will see temperatures dip into the negatives, and their coops will need more care compared to those who live in the Pacific Northwest or the South.
No matter where you live, you will have to do some winter chores to keep your chickens clucking merrily along.
6 Ways to Winterize Your Coop
1. Clean Bedding
Ensuring that the chickens have fresh bedding such as straw or wood shavings to lay and roost on will prevent frost bite. For our coop, we like to use hay for our bedding, especially in the wintertime because it retains heat better. This will keep them more active during the day as well as control the smell of chicken droppings until your Spring cleaning. Move all soiled bedding to the compost pile to compost down for Spring or Summer gardens.
2. Coop Inspection
Check out the coop to ensure that predators have not found an entry in. Predators are usually more desperate to find food during winter and you want to protect your flock. During this time, I also like to check the roof of the coop to make sure there aren’t any cracks or holes. As well, check out the roosts and any other furniture to make sure it is still in good condition.
3. Batten the Hatches
During the warmer summer months having vents and hatches on the coop’s roof and floorboard assist with airflow, help to reduce humidity and any toxic ammonia from the hen house. During winter it is best to fasten the vents and hatches to reduce any cold drafts. Another solution is to wrap a portion of the coop with a tarp or plastic sheeting. This keeps moisture out of the coop, protects it from wind and further insulates it. 4-mil polyethylene film is low cost and readily available. Secure it to the chicken coop to ensure that moisture and wind cannot get through. Again, we want to ensure that the chicken’s body temperature stays at an optimum temperature.
4. Heat Lamps
Keep in mind that young chickens will require more body heat compared to a fully grown chicken. Further, the avian reproductive cycle, which is how a hen produces eggs, is stimulated in poultry by increasing day length. 14 hours of light is what a chicken requires to lay eggs and usually get these results during the warmer months. Having a light bulb hooked up to a timer can assist in continued egg laying. An added benefit to this is it creates added warmth to the flock. To provide some warmth, but not too much light, we use a 250 watt bulb in our coop. One heat lamp per 30 chickens will be sufficient. Light fixtures in the coop should be placed above feeders and waterers, and care should be taken to avoid having areas in the chicken house that are shaded from light.
5. Continued Flow of Water
For those of you who have to deal with frozen water trays in the coop, you’re not alone. This continues to be an issue for many keepers of chickens. One solution is to purchase a heated base for the waterer and run a heavy duty extension cord into the chicken coop. Another solution is to check on your chicken’s water more frequently. Bringing warm water out to replace the frozen water will be very welcomed.
6. Dietary Supplements
Adding grains such as corn in addition to their regular diet can add more fat to their bodies and at the same time provide more insulation and energy during winter. Grains shouldn’t replace their entire diet. We usually do 70% scratch and 30% corn. We also continue to supplement their diets with vegetable and fruit scraps for added nutrition.
Signs of Trouble
Check on your flock a few times per day to ensure the outside temperatures are not too harsh. If your chickens are huddled in a corner or making a lot of noise, take some time to make them more comfortable. Further, if chickens are lethargic or not moving, they may be ill and should be cared for.
Frostbite of the feet and combs are very common in winter months. If signs appear, thaw the affected area with cold water, slowly warming it to room temperature. Then apply a coating of petroleum jelly to isolate it from direct contact with the cold. Reapply two to three times during the day. Warming lights are especially helpful to prevent this.
Another sign to look out for during the cold months is a condition called “pasting.” This occurs when their anuses are blocked with droppings. If caught early enough, you can prevent the chicks from dying by slowly and gently removing the blockage with the help of warm water.
With a little extra attention, your coop will stay very happy during the cooler months. All it takes is some time to get it all prepped and ready.
Contributed by Tess Pennington of Ready Nutrition. Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals. When a catastrophic collapse cripples society, grocery store shelves will empty within days. But if you follow this book’s plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply, your family will have plenty to eat for weeks, months or even years.