This post is sponsored by Manna Pro.
As I am writing this, I’m gearing up for another huge snow storm coming towards Denver. With a foot of snow on the way, I get lots of questions as to how I make sure that my free-range chickens in the backyard are safe and warm. You all know that all of my animals are family, so as the temperatures drop, my feathered ladies get lots of extra attention! So if you’re new to chickens or want to make sure your current flock is as happy as can be even with snowbanks surrounding their coop, here are 12 tips for great winter chicken care.
Winter Chicken Care
Coops are Important!
The most important thing when it comes to winter chicken care is a great coop! There are so many different styles and types of coops, but when it comes to combatting cold weather there are four tenants of a great shelter.
1 Keep your coop draft free. Chickens are incredible insulators! Think of a down comforter, it is made of feathers and thus is incredibly warm. However, just like when you are cozy in your bed and you pull the covers off to get up and are immediately freezing, cold drafts in the coop act the same way. Chickens will create their own heat, but it is up to a solid, draft free coop to let them keep it!
2 Flat, wide roosts are key! I’m a bit of a Pinterest addict, so I have a whole board that is just about backyard chickens! However, there are so many times that these gorgeous coops pop up that have roosts that are made out of narrow branches. Aesthetically pleasing, yes, but not great for areas of the country that get cold weather. When chickens fluff themselves up to keep warm, you want them to be able to cover the entirety of both of their feet with their feathers to prevent frostbite. When they are perched on branches, their toes will be exposed because they are gripping around the branch. I prefer 2x4s as roosting bars because they are wide enough for the ladies to have flat feet, but not too wide so they don’t get muddied up with chicken waste.
3 Speaking of frostbite, ventilation is important! Now, I know this seems to completely contradict the ‘draft free’ coop, but ventilation that is above the roosting level is essential to prevent frostbite on chicken feet and especially their combs. Moisture in a chicken coop during the winter is a no-no! Chickens create moisture from their breath, it is given off by their droppings, or if you have chickens that are anything like mine and they don’t mind getting snowed on melted snow as well. That moisture in the air can freeze and collect on feathers and the comb, but if there is great ventilation the moisture can escape and you prevent ill effects. Tip: When putting in ventilation make sure that it is predator proof as well! Securely fastened hardware cloth (not chicken wire!) or metal vents like you might find in your home are good options. The air conditioning vents in particular let air out without letting cold drafts in!
4 Lastly, insulation! Chickens produce lots of their own heat, so you want to make sure you keep that in the coop. When I built my walk-in coop I had to be mindful of the extra space I used because I wanted to be able to stand inside. Many chicken coops are smaller because a smaller space requires less heat to keep warm. So, to make sure that my big space stays warm I added in LOTS of insulation. Each of my coop’s walls have four inches of insulation sandwiched between the plywood. However, if your coop wasn’t built with extra insulation inside, there are external things you can do as well. There is something called the ‘deep litter method’ which I don’t personally use but have heard great things about; it uses biomass to keep warmth in the coop. You can also wrap the coop and run (if you have one) in thick contractor plastic, or stack hay bales around the coop as well. Extra bales? Spread some hay on the snow so your chickens have a warmer place to walk!
So what about heat? (Spoiler alert: DON’T!) When I first got chickens, I was terrified that they were never going to be warm enough. I had a starter coop (the pre-fab ones that are generally meant for southern states) that didn’t have enough insulation and was super drafty. I got so nervous that I started pulling the chickens in at night and letting them sleep in a bathtub (which, just don’t, SO gross to clean up!) when it got to deep winter. So I went out and bought heat lamps that I had seen to hang up. Bad idea. Nearing the end of that first winter, the clip on my heat lamp failed and I woke up the next morning to seared shavings and a black, burned spot on the bottom of the coop. I was incredibly lucky and so many people have lost their whole flocks to heat lamp mishaps. Make sure your coop can withstand the elements and your chickens will do all the rest! Or, if you really want something extra you can try adding infrared heat panels. I bought a couple of the Cozy Coop panels and liked them, but sold them once I completed my new coop!
Digestion is Your Friend! Feed and Treats
Now that you have your coop all squared away it is time to look to diet! What you feed your chickens is incredibly important because one of the main ways chickens produce heat is through their digestion!
1 Feed your chickens high quality, complex chicken feed. Because digestion for warmth is so important, you want to make sure that the feed you are giving to your chickens has a varied list of ingredients. Each ingredient takes a different amount of time to digest, so the process keeps them warm for a longer period of time! I love the Non-GMO Layer Mini Pellets from Manna Pro because they have lots of great ingredients from corn to alfalfa that are both nutrient dense and will keep the feathered ladies warm.
2 Changing up the protein-to-carbohydrates ratio is a great way to keep your chickens warm. As the seasons change, the weather gets colder, and daylight gets shorter, lots of flocks lay eggs less frequently. In my case this usually happens as chickens molt (lose their feathers to grow new ones) and then they don’t get back to full time egg laying until spring. Because egg laying isn’t a priority, you can switch to feeding your chickens a diet higher in carbs than protein. I continue to feed my chickens their regular, well balanced, chicken feed but in higher quantities. I also love to add some more carbs through giving a generous amount of scratch right before they head into the coop for the night. Manna Pro’s Non-GMO 6 Grain and Flaxseed Scratch is a great option for this because, once again, the diversity of ingredients leads to a longer digestion period!
3 Warm treats are fun! Plain, cooked oatmeal is a fun breakfast food for chickens after a night in the coop during the winter. Tip: mix some grit into the oatmeal- if there is snow or the ground is frozen, they might not have access to lots of grit that they need for digestion!
4 Water is important! When the temperatures dip below freezing, it is important to make sure that your chickens’ water doesn’t freeze. I have multiple waters that I switch in and out throughout the day so that my chickens have access to fresh water. Just make sure to remove the water from the coop at night- remember humidity and frostbite go hand in hand! Don’t have the time to switch out waterers? Try this heated water base!
Extra Winter Chicken Care Tips
Chickens are unpredictable, so keep an extra close eye on them in the wintertime! Some additional things to think about:
- Molting. Sometimes chickens make no sense in the winter! If one of your chickens decides to molt, make sure that you add extra protein to their diet (like Mealworm Munchies) and if possible snuggle them in-between some of their feathered friends on the roost.
- Don’t force egg laying. There are different trains of thought re: artificial light for egg production in the winter, but I’m in the ‘don’t’ camp! The winter is a natural break for your chickens, although they still might produce, and allowing nature to take its course can keep your birds healthier!
- Know that you live in a harsh winter climate? Do your research and choose breeds that are cold-hardy! Generally speaking, chickens with small combs and dense plumage tend to do better in cold weather than specialty chickens like ‘frizzle’ chickens whose plumage doesn’t lay uniformly. My most cold-hardy birds are my Wyandottes and Ameraucana!
Backyard chickens are such a joy to have, even if it means having to brave the cold temps during the winter! And please note, these winter chicken care tips are meant for backyard chickens that are fully grown and fully feathered during the winter! Chicks, pullets, and specialty chickens require different care when the temperatures drop. So whether you have chickens that say ‘nope’ when they see snow or you have ladies like mine that don’t mind a bit of a dusting, keep those gorgeous little dinosaurs safe this winter, and don’t forget to tag my Modern Hippie Instagram or Manna Pro’s CityYolks Instagram in your favorite winter chicken photos!
This post is sponsored by Manna Pro. All opinions are my own.
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