As the chill of winter sets in, we take precautions to keep our homes, families, and pets warm and safe. The same needs to be done for your feathered friends. There are steps you can take to help make sure your birds survive the winter season, and help them to become more accustomed to future cold weather. Fortunately, preparing your birds for winter may be much simpler than expected!

 

Flock Preparation

Breed Selection

Of course, this should be done when initially choosing your flock. You will want to choose breeds that are cold hardy if you live in an area prone to temperature dips. There are several breeds of chickens that have been raised to be cold hardy, and choosing one of these, such as Plymouth Rocks, Jersey Giants, or Orpingtons, will give you the best chance of survival. Birds such as Silkies that have frizzled feathers are not considered cold hardy, and would be best with an indoor area that is spacious, dry, and well-ventilated. It is difficult for them to stay warm in winter, and their feathers don’t repel water as other chicken breeds do, making them more susceptible to freezing or illness.

 

The Coop

The main thing to look for here is that it is free of drafts. Most breeders don’t recommend adding any type of heat source if you have full grown birds, mainly because it simply isn’t needed, and it poses a risk of fire. In fact, adding additional insulation is not needed either, as this will increase the humidity within the coop which could lead to respiratory infection. As long as you have solid walls and some ventilation, your chickens will survive just fine without any coop modifications.

 

The Run

Believe it or not, many chickens love to go outside, even when it is cold and snowy. Giving them the option to leave the coop during the day will allow them to get exercise and will relieve some boredom. If the ground is wet, muddy, or snowy, you will probably want to either provide more roosting points outdoors than normal, or shovel the snow and cover the ground with hay.

 

Winter Feeding

Since your chickens don’t get the same diet in the winter as they do during the rest of the year, it can help to add some supplemental leafy greens. This can be accomplished by supplying a hanging head of cabbage in the coop that will not only feed, but also entertain your flock. Since your birds will no longer have access to bugs, you will want to feed them laying pellets to ensure they are getting enough protein. Adding some cracked corn can’t hurt either since they are using extra energy to stay warm. Remember, you are their sole source of nutrition during the winter months, so you will need to provide them will all of the elements of a well-rounded diet.

 

Winter Watering

Your chickens need fresh water to survive at any temperature. It is important to make sure that your flock has access to clean water at all times, and when everything is freezing, this can be a challenge. Many breeders choose to use a base heater for their waterer to make sure that unfrozen water is accessible to the birds as they needed. Other breeders suggest adding a small amount of food grade glycerine which can help to keep the water from freezing. A few drops will typically keep your water from freezing, but may require a couple more as the temperatures drop lower. Trial and error is the best bet for using this technique. The last option for providing fresh water is to simply check it and change it multiple times a day. This can be tedious, and typically one of the former options is a far superior choice for most breeders.

 

The Birds

Most birds do not require anything in addition to what we have already discussed. However, if you are keeping a rooster with a large comb, you may want to consider putting some vaseline on the comb to help prevent frostbite. How often you do this depends on how cold it is in your region, but most breeders agree that once a week is sufficient for most cold areas, though for extreme temps they may do this every day. Some breeders don’t do this at all and have no problems. This is more of a preference and preventative measure.

 

So, here is what we have learned:

*Birds require a ventilated, non-drafty coop. Wood shavings can help to keep the floor dry and reduce the humidity.

*Your flock will still want to go outdoors, so provide additional roosting areas in your run, shovel when snowy, and lay down bedding if extremely muddy out.

*You provide all the nutrients in winter, so make sure you are offering a varied diet to your birds.

*Water! Fresh, unfrozen water should be accessible by your birds at all times.

*If you worry that a bird is in danger of frostbite, cover the comb and waffles with a small amount of vaseline.

 

Chickens have historically survived all over the world in many different environments and conditions. By taking these few precautions, you can expect to have a healthy flock ready to start producing again in spring. Just remember- winter care can take longer than during other times of the year, so make sure you are planning your day to leave you sufficient time to properly care for your flock, and you will be rewarded for your efforts!

 

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