by Heath Ward, co-founder of City Chick
How do chickens handle the winter?
It’s always one of the first questions someone asks during one of the chicken classes that I teach in Atlanta. If this is your first winter with backyard chickens, you’re probably going to worry about what to do with your flock once the temperatures start dropping. Chickens have made it through some pretty rough winters without human interference for hundreds if not thousands of years. Sometimes our good intentions to help a chicken during the winter can actually hurt the chicken – but more on that later.
First let’s cover some chicken basics:
You’ve already got a ‘hot chick’ on your hands. Chickens have a much higher internal temperature than their human counterparts. The temperature of your average, healthy chicken can range from 105 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Add that beautiful coat of feathers and you have an animal that is built to handle the cold! There are some breeds that are better suited for colder climates – like the Rhode Island Red. Some bantam chicken breeds, like Silkies, might need a little extra assistance during the winter.
Don’t heat your coop! Heat lamps can be dangerous in a coop.
Every year I see news reports of coops or sheds that burn down resulting in unnecessary loss of life. Providing your chickens with a well built coop that isn’t drafty will go a long way in helping your chickens in dealing with the cold. Consider wrapping your run in plastic if it’s going to be extremely cold and windy.
Your chicken will not need a chicken sweater.
If this is your first year with chickens, your friends might start tagging you on social media with cute chicken sweater photos. Resist the urge to buy Henrietta that sweater. Wearing a chicken sweater might inhibit her movement and can cause her to become reliant on the heat.
Keep a small part of the run area free from the snow.
Typically, chickens don’t like the snow. It’s really hard to forage for bugs through the snow. If you know that it’s about to snow, consider placing a tarp or plastic over your run area to keep an area that is ‘snow free.’
Don’t let the water in PVC pipes or poultry drinkers freeze.
Your chickens will still need access to fresh water in the cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes and will break your poultry drinkers if you’re not careful. I lost at least three or four poultry drinkers thanks to frozen water. If you don’t want to run out to the coop with fresh water every day when it freezes outside, you can consider a heated poultry drinker. I use a heated poultry drinker in all of my coops during the winter. Heated poultry drinkers provide peace of mind in the winter!
Consider adding a little extra protein to their diet.
It takes a lot of energy to stay warm in the winter months. If you notice your chickens eating a little more during this time of year, that’s totally normal. My grandfather would feed his chickens scratch close to sundown. The thought was the chickens would eat the corn, and that would help keep them warm at night.
Add extra bedding to provide extra insulation.
No matter what material that you use, be sure to keep the bedding dry and from getting moldy. We use hemp bedding at City Chick and the chickens love it!
Keep them entertained.
You can hang a head of cabbage in a veggie ball or hang a suet feeder with some fresh greens in it.
Keep petroleum jelly on hand.
Frostbite can happen to a chicken’s comb if the temperature dips below freezing for extended periods of time. If you know that a freeze is about to happen, be sure to coat your chicken’s comb with some petroleum jelly.
With a little preparation, your flock will make it through their first winter just fine.
About the Author:
As a child, I loved visiting my grandparents’ farm in Alabama. Chasing chickens kept me busy since I could never catch them! Eggs cooking in the cast iron skillet is a sound that resonates with me today — it is hard to beat the flavor of fresh eggs for breakfast. Having chickens is no longer something that has to be experienced in the country – but in your very own backyard. We started City Chick to share the passion that we have for chickens to our friends and neighbors in the city of Atlanta. I love knowing where my food comes from every day, and I think you will too.