7 Ways to Keep Poultry Warm This Winter

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Deep Litter

Wild winter weather may not have arrived yet in many parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can forego getting your coop ready for frigid temperatures.

If fall chores and holiday preps kept you from attending to this very important task, you still have time. Remember the weather thing? It’s unpredictable.

Here on the coast of California we rarely get bitter cold temps, but we can get nights below freezing, so as a course of action we get the coop ready for cold weather. It’s just a good habit to get into, like cleaning gutters or splitting firewood.

Chickens are fairly tough creatures and can handle the cold much better than they handle the heat, if they have proper shelter. Below are a few tips to help keep your flock warm and comfortable all winter long; how ever long that may be.

1. Check the coop–give the coop a good look over for cracked or broken windows, leaky roof, and vermin digging in. Make sure the wire is safe and secure, and the nesting boxes are in good shape. You don’t want anything sticking out or sharp that may cause injury. Make any repairs needed.

The coop doesn’t need to be air-tight. In fact, you want to have a bit of ventilation as chicken poop is damp, creating moisture build up inside the coop, which can cause mold and respiratory problems.

2. Embrace the “deep litter” method of bedding. Not only will the thick layer of bedding keep your chickens warm, it will give them something to scratch in. The microorganism action, spurred on by nitrogen rich chicken poop will give you a head start on spring composting, too.

To get started–gather up whatever you have that’s free–straw, hay, leaves, shavings, wood chips and pile it in the coop until it’s about a foot deep. Supplement this with purchased straw if you need to. It may seem like a huge amount, but don’t worry. The girls will scratch around and mash it down. At night you can scatter scratch grains in the coop to encourage the girls to hunt and peck in the morning, fluffing up the bedding.

Turn the bedding each week with a pitchfork, paying special attention to the areas below the roosts because they can become damp. If they do, simply scoop out the damp areas and add more bedding. Add more bedding material as needed.

If you have brutally cold winters and your coop is large enough, consider lining the sidewalls with straw bales. Not only will this give great insulation, but adding more bedding will be close at hand.

Extend the “deep bedding” into the outside run of your coop to draw your girls out into the sun. You can use spent vegetable plants from fall garden clean-up, grass clippings and other organic matter. Your girls will have a ball finding out what’s at the bottom.

3. Make sure nesting boxes have plenty of bedding, too. Especially if they are metal like mine. I like to use a mixture of shavings and straw. The shavings make a good protective layer on the bottom, while the straw gives each box a loftiness for the hens to nestle into.

4. Keep water flowing. Although the weather may be freezing your chickens still need plenty of fresh, clean water. This may be a challenge if water troughs are constantly freezing.

To help keep water flowing use a large diameter black rubber tub instead of a metal waterer. Set the water bowl in the sun so the black rubber can absorb the heat. Putting ping pong balls (or other floaties) in the bowl will also help keep water from freezing because the balls move with the wind preventing the water from icing over.

You can also create a mini greenhouse lean-to with old windows. It’s similar to sitting next to a window in your house. It’s always warmer. Another option is to purchase a heated waterer. These work in most winter climates, but require electricity near the coop, and will increase your electric bill. Simple and free are always worth trying first before going the expensive route.

5. Let it shine. If you have electricity in your coop you also have the option of installing a heat lamp for warmth and for extra light, which encourages the girls to lay during dark winter months. I know there are two sides to this topic, and I won’t go into them here because we’re talking about keeping chickens warm, not extending laying or preventing molting.

If you decide to use a heat lamp, make sure to buy the kind with a protective cage so the chickens can’t touch the bulb and use a red bulb rather than white. White is very bright and hard on the eyes. Also, make sure the heat lamp is secured to a solid surface so it can’t fall and cause a fire. I’ve used a heat lamp for decades with no problems at all. Mine is clipped to a chain hanging from the roof joists with snap hooks.

6. Create heat from the inside out. Supplementing lay mash and scratch with a bit of cracked corn every evening creates energy to breakdown and digest the corn, which helps to build internal heat, keeping your chickens warm from the inside out.

7. Banish winter boredom to prevent feather picking, egg eating or pecking each other. Let’s face it, if you don’t like being stuck inside all winter long then why think your chickens would? We have cabin fever. They have coop fever.

When your chickens don’t have weeds or grass to munch on, bugs to scratch for or dust to bathe in they can get bored. Boredom can also be caused by a coop and run that are too small to provide interesting things for your chickens to do. So, send them outdoors to entertain themselves. If weather, and predator control permit, let chickens free range outside their normal confines. Having seasonal perches or stumps to stand on will encourage chickens to spend much of their day outdoors. Hanging overgrown squash, sunflower heads or whole cabbages will give your chickens endless hours of entertainment, not to mention treats and added nutrients.

Anything new and different in, or out, of the coop will pique your chicken’s curiosity, keeping them busy all winter long. Before you, or they, know it spring will be here, the sun will be out and temperatures will be on the rise. Just wait.


More ways to protect chickens from winter’s wrath.

Keeping Poultry Warm During Colder Months 


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