Brrr … Are Your Chickens Ready For Winter?

Reader Contribution by Rhonda Crank
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With the coming of fall, farmsteaders focus on preserving the harvest, putting the spring garden to bed, and laying in firewood, in addition to all the many other preparations that have to be done for winter. Based on the actions of the critters here on the farm, I believe it’s going to be a really cold winter. Are you ready? Have you made the preparations your animals need you to make? I often let the cold weather sneak up on me without being ready, but this year, I’m almost finished with all the preparations needed. All that’s left are the chicken preparations!

Hoss checking out the snow for his girls

These tips will probably be something you already do, if you have had a flock for any length of time, but one thing’s for sure, we can always learn more from one another. I always say something my grandfather said to me, “There’s as many ways to get things done on a farm as there are farmers. Be sure you listen to what others are a-sayin’.” I thought these tips would help get our minds on what our chickens need to be ready for winter. If I missed something, or you have a different way you want to share with us, shoot me an email or leave a comment so we can learn from one another. We don’t deal with “serious temps, snow or ice” as a norm, but my northern friends gave me a few added helpful tips for their “real” cold weather.

Speckled Bird not sure what to think

The first thing I do is take a look at my coop. If the roof leaks, I fix it; of course, I use this term loosely, as I really mean my husband fixes it and I help. If there are problems with other critters getting in the yard or the coop, now’s the time to make those repairs too. Remember, your coop shouldn’t be airtight, especially if you have a larger flock. Moisture is left in the air inside your coop from chicken manure, urine, respirations and body heat. Methane gas also needs a way to escape; I have ventilation at both ends of the coop roof to accomplish these things. When nighttime temperatures start to hit the 40s consistently, I put black garbage bags over the doors of my coop, since they are covered with rabbit wire for extra ventilation in the spring and summer. 

Next, I use a pressure washer to clean out the coop and squirt the roost with hydrogen peroxide. I also put extra hay in the nesting boxes and under the roost. There are two reasons I put hay under the roost: (1) The hay helps to block the wind that could come through the cracks of the floor. Since the manure puts off heat, I like to leave it in the coop over winter; (2) Having the hay under the roost makes it easier to clean out in the spring and since the chickens scratch through it in the early morning/late evening, air is allowed into the mixture, breaking down microorganisms making it ready for spring spreading. We all like things that are multi-purposed.

Speckled Bird Asking About the Snow 

When the seasons change, I give the chickens a gallon of water with three tablespoons of Bragg’s raw, organic apple cider vinegar and three tablespoons of diatomaceous earth mixed in. I do this until they have had it for a full seven days. I do this, not only because I was taught to, but because it helps boost the chickens’ immune systems and rids them of intestinal parasites. This aids their transition into the new season. The first few days they drink it like candy so I have to give them a new gallon every day. But after that first couple of days, I only have to offer more every other day. I know that some people do not think this works, but as my family has used this for years and has seen practical and real results with it, we will continue to do it for our animals.

By this time of the year, we’ve already culled extra roosters, hens that aren’t laying, and any bird that doesn’t meet our standards, but there’s no reason not to do a double check for those who don’t pull their weight. No reason to feed an animal over winter who doesn’t contribute. Better in a pot than out of pocket ….

My chickens are free ranged in the winter, except on the nastiest of days. Still, I make sure the chickens have plenty to scratch through to keep them healthy and productive, and also keep them entertained, especially during the winter when they are sometimes cooped up in their yard. I give them greens from the garden, squash from storage that is a little too far gone for us to eat, and any other kitchen scraps I can. Putting hay in the yard for them to scratch through also offers entertainment. 

I know that, like food choice, the use of a heat lamp is a hot topic for chicken keepers. Some people don’t like the idea of using lights in the winter, but the rule for us here on our farm is, “If it is below 32 degress, we use a heat lamp.” We don’t use our self-watering system in the winter since the lines can freeze and make water unavailable to the birds, so I put their waterers inside the coop when it is freezing outdoors.

My northern friends tell me they use paper shreds in their coops along with some straw. We are non-GMO, organic farmers so it would not be something I would do, but, hey, if it works for you, do it. They also said they use a heated dog water bowl to offer warm water and to keep it from freezing – not a bad idea. The other idea they gave me was to be sure to have breeds that don’t have a lot of exposed fleshy parts in order to avoid frostbite. If you do have chickens with fleshy parts, she said she puts bag balm on them to help retain the body heat.

Whatever you like to call yourself, farmsteader or homesteader, the preparation of your animals and farm for every change of season is all in a day’s work. Fun, challenging, rewarding, and HARD, yes, but who would want it any other way?

If you have anything to add don’t forget to email or post a comment. I am here to help you in any way I can. Stay warm and dry.

Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack

Hershe, the Lab; Roxie, mama pit bull; and Izzy, 3-week-old pit bull

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