Monday, 22 October 2007

Winter Tips in the Keeping Chickens Newsletter

Here are a few winter tips I have picked up along the way that you may find useful. This is by no means exhaustive. There is no definative right or wrong way for wintering your chickens so these are not “this is what you should do…”, just ideas that you can take or leave. Some of these tips involve the use of electricity in the coop. Electricity in a coop can be helpful but is not essential (afterall people have been keeping chickens for hundreds of years without it). If you do use a heat lamp for the coldest nights, then it is obviously essential to make very sure it is fixed somewhere securely and safely. A dry, draft free coop (but still ventilated) will be the most important part of keeping your girls (and boys) warm. Chickens will acclimatise to colder weather and can create a lot of warmth just huddling together. You will need to consider the temperatures you get in your area and work within that (i.e. nicely insulated coops and cold hardy breeds if you are in a very cold area). Bantams will feel the cold the most. Extra insulation in the coop and extra dry bedding can often make a coop surprisingly cosy, even in the coldest of climates. Fully grown chickens are actually surprisingly hardy and can cope with around 30 degrees above zero. A little extra corn (as a supplement to their normal nutritionally balanced feed) can give them additional internal warmth.

Chickens very often don’t particularly enjoy the snow or rain, but they do need fresh air and exercise. Unless it is blowing up a storm, if given the choice, they will normally prefer to venture outside (even if for only a little while) rather than stay ‘cooped’ up inside for the whole day. In many respects you can for the most part trust your chickens to take care of themselves. Many a keeper has gotten soaked through to the skin trying to round up their chickens in bad weather – only to find them dash right back outside again as soon as their back is turned! Unless there is a reason they do not want to go back to the coop (such as a predator) they will probably not venture far from the coop, and may even just stay inside of their own accord if they feel it is too cold for them or raining hard. In cold weather a covering of thick plastic/tarp over the top of all or part of the run can leave them with a snow-free place to run around. Some unroll bales of hay into the pen to give them a bit of insulation from icy ground. Others will just shovel snow out of the chickens way so they have a little bit earth to walk on and peck at.

Ventilation in the coop (whilst still avoiding drafts) is important - even in the very coldest days. The chickens breathing will create moisture which needs to get out or it could result in a damp atmosphere inside the coop, possibly leading to air quality problems and frostbite. If the coop door is situated in a position where it will get rain blown in or nasty drafts, then you may want to put some sort of protector at the door if it is to be left open. Your chickens can learn to push their way through. Some people have had success with strips of rubber, an old towel, pond liner – even a dog flap!

Those with large combs and wattles are most susceptible to frostbite (unfortunately not an uncommon problem in very cold climates where it can regularly be below freezing). It usually affects just the tips, but whole combs have been known to get frozen. Rubbing vaseline or another kind of petroleum jelly onto a frostbitten comb should soothe it, but there is usually not much that can be done to fully restore the look of the frostbitten bits (which tend to go black and possibly scab)....

The complete Winter Tips article (and October 07 Newsletter) is archived in our free members area - to join, simply enter your name and email in the Keeping Chickens Newsletter Subscription box at the top right-hand corner of this blog.

 The above video is an extract from 'Common Sense In The Poultry Yard' which is available in kindle format (for pc, ipad, android, mac, and kindle fire etc.) from here :
A pdf ebook and mp3 audiobook of it is available here :


Anonymous said...

I `been looking at your newsletter and enjoyed it very much and would like to make some comments. In one picture I think I saw a chicken standing on a roost made from treated lumber, one of the chemicals is arsenic, maybe I'm wrong but I don't think that's a good idea, I wouldn't even use posts that were treated. I would also like you to know, I have too many chickens Right for my coop but, as soon as I can determine which ones are males I have work a little harder. Out of twenty five, sixteen are pullets, of those I think eleven are males, and of course I will be giving them away. I've found chickens make an awful amount of dust, so I installed a small exhaust fan, it seems to work very well. I used all last winter and apparently it didn't hurt any chickens, they were all fine and well, the fan runs twenty four seven. However I heat their coop with an oil filled heater, and keep the temp. sixty seven degrees, and they love it, and, boy do they lay eggs. As you remember I lost four of five layers to my neighbours dogs, I was getting twenty eight eggs a week. So I will maintain the heater this winter, my pullets should start laying any day now. Another comment, if anyone decides to put a heater in their coop make sure it's infer red on oil filled, Because of the dust which is VERY FLAMMABLE. pros, MANY eggs, no frozen water. Cons, Electric costs $$$. It's worth it. Hope my comments will be useful to others. I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL..
Enjoy your monthly letters..THANX JIM NEW JERSEY

Anonymous said...

I just read your newsletter and have a little unasked for advise. If you are using a hook to catch your birds for slaughtering or moving, I find it is effortless and can be done better with bare hands if you wait until dusk as they are sleepy and you can pick them up without any chasing or hooks at all.
Also your list of good winter weather resistant chickens are lacking brahmas, chickens with pea combs and rose combs are resistent to frostbite. Duck eggs are great for baking and since I was doing everything organically (as nature does), before organic was considered cool, (I'm showing my age now !) animals usually try to reproduce in the spring or early summer, so I don't think their hens will go broody and set on their eggs to hatch until then. If you watch the instincts god gave to nature's wild animals you get a pretty good idea what domesticated animals will do !

Keep up the good work, I loved your newsletter.

Celie Jolet

Anonymous said...

Hi. Have been looking for info on wintering chickens. Your information is very good, thankyou. I am looking at getting a bigger run for my pekin bantams so they have more room to roam and peck. But all bigger runs come with a much larger hen house and I am concerned about their ability to keep warm in a larger hen house. There are only four of them. Could anyone advise, please?

Unknown said...

Hanging a cloth / curtain down behind their roost may help keep them warmer in a bigger house, also roosting on one level so that they can huddle together, but perhaps it would be possible to build a larger run without having to replace your hen house if you didn't want to. Another option I have seen some using for a chicken run / scratching shed in the winter is a greenhouse - there is a video showing a greenhouse being used in this way at the bottom of this post :

Anonymous said...

I have 6 adult (hen) white leghorns. What I do is I have my coop inside a regular camping tent. This not only protects them from drafts in rain and snowstorms but protects the actual coop from getting wet as well as prevents drafts from the freezing wind. On top of all this, the tent gives them plenty of ventillation and allows them to roam outside of their coop yet being protected from the harshness of the severe weather. Just in case it gets too cold, I have a small heater which blows warm (never hot) air through one end of the coop and out the other. The tent also allows easy access to the hens for all other necessities.

pattiann said...

I find keeping the run clean is a problem in the winter as I am not moving the little coop and run around the yard because I have an electric water tank hooked up from an adjacent shed. I keep the interior of the coop clean everyday by scooping out old straw and replacing with clean straw. Any suggestions? (I purchased this little coop and run and both are too small for me to go inside so all has to be done from small access doors.)

zana said...

hello my name is zana and i have chickens there such chicks i love them so much and i keep them in my backyard and my neigbor has these to dogs named fling and other one is bighorn ones black and ones white there mean there owner send us a paper that says plz remove Ur chicken coop because my dogs are digging and digging to find away to get my chickens and there getting exhausted of doing so i send back hell no im not its Ur dogs fault go live somewhere else if you don't like my chickens