I am New Englander born and bred so despite the fact that we now live in Virginia, I know all about nor'easters, blizzards, snow storms, freezing rain, sleet and bitter cold. Although chickens tolerate cold far better than heat, there are a few easy things you can do to make the winter more comfortable for them no matter where you live. Be sure your coop is dry and draft-free with good cross air flow and ventilation. Frostbite is partially caused by damp conditions, so having adequate ventilation not only provides clean fresh air but helps prevent frostbite.
Here are a few more easy things to do to prepare for the approaching cold weather:
Set up Some Stumps, Logs, Pallets or Outdoor Roosts in the Run
Chickens generally don't like to walk in the snow. They would much rather stay inside than have to walk on a cold surface. The hens, especially those with feathery feet, really like being able to get up off the ground and out of the snow, ice and mud. Free wooden pallets or logs are a great way to get them up off the ground, as are benches or even lawn chairs.
Add Scratch as an Evening Treat
Scratch is a cold weather treat. The act of digesting the scratch warms up the hens' bodies, so I throw down scratch for them each afternoon all through the winter. You can purchase scratch grains in a commercial mix or make your own. [Read more here about scratch...
Consider Trying The Deep Litter Method
Using the Deep Litter Method in your coop is probably the one best thing you could do over the winter. Easy, inexpensive and an old-timers' tried and true method for overwintering, it's what all three of us Fresh Eggs Farm Girls do for the winter. Basically the methodology is that you keep adding layers of bedding to the coop, turning over the old soiled bedding which decomposes into beautiful compost by spring. It doesn't smell (trust me) and is actually beneficial in that pathogen-controlling microbes are a byproduct. [Read more here about The Deep Litter Method.
Stock Up on Feed and Bedding
Especially if you live in an area that gets lots of snow, keep in mind that a deep snow or blizzard might prevent you from being able to get to the feed store, or even prevent delivery trucks from being able to make their deliveries to the feed stores. Your flock will also eat more in the winter, since grass and bugs aren't available, and they need more fuel to keep warm, so plan on going through feed faster than you do in the warmer months. Keep extra feed on hand. Since the feed will keep in a cool dry place just fine, plan on a month's supply on hand. I also keep extra straw on hand to stack in the coop along the walls to provide natural 'insulation'.
Think about Supplemental Light in the Coop and/or Freezing Eggs
Figure out How You Will Keep Your Water from Freezing
Obviously providing your flock with clean, fresh (unfrozen) water is important. You can buy (or make) a heated base for your metal waterers, but of course they do present a fire hazard of sorts - and I found they won't last all that long and are too expensive to keep buying new ones.
We stopped using the metal waterers a few years ago because they rust and they aren't optimal for ducks. Instead, we use deep black rubber tubs for water. Set in the sun in the winter, the black rubber absorbs the heat from the sunlight and seems to keep the water from freezing far better than a metal waterer. Also, the greater surface area and depth both work against freezing. A few ping pong balls floated on the surface of a water tub will also create just enough movement to prevent the tub from freezing.
Cover Part of the Top/Side of the Run to Create a Wind Barrier
Chickens are pretty cold-hardy and on all but the most frigid days would rather spend their days outside. Covering part of your run with a tarp, sheets of plywood or plastic can create an area where they can get out of the wind and snow and enjoy some fresh air. We use shade fabric in the northwest corner of our run to create an L-shaped protected area for our flock in the winter. They really seem to appreciate being able to get outside, but out of the wind.
Just making these few simple preparations can ensure that the winter will be far more comfortable for your chickens and easier on you. Then you all can relax and enjoy the beauty of the season.