As most anyone who has raised chickens will probably tell you, they are, overall, pretty easy to care for. Regardless of whether they are raised in the confines of a coop or free-ranged, they require very little in the way of maintenance. Throughout the majority of the year, the biggest worry of raising chickens is keeping predators away and food and water fresh. However, taking steps to winterize your chicken coop should be just as high on your priority list.
A simple worming once or twice a year (I prefer twice myself) and a thorough cleaning of the coop every month or two (especially the chicken house, depending on if they are being confined or freed during the day), is pretty much all that is necessary for a healthy flock.
Winterize Your Chicken Coop Early
When the leaves start changing and that chill starts cooling the night air is the best time to start planning to winterize your chicken coop. Obviously, how well your chickens will do depend on several factors right out of the gate. How old or young the chickens are, how healthy they are and of course, how severe the winter is in your specific area. There are many more factors of raising chickens as livestock, but those are the most critical for the purpose of this writing.
Before You Winterize Your Chicken Coop – Cull the Flock
Fall is the best time to cull your flock and get rid of some of the excess baggage. If you have an older bird or perhaps a few too many roosters or hens, consider butchering for a winter stew. If your birds are showing any signs of illness, time to cull but not to eat. Never consume any animal that you are not certain is completely healthy.
Perhaps you have some chickens that just can’t seem to get along with the others. A bully or two in the flock or even one who seems to be picked on more than the others might need to be removed from the house. While it may seem harsh, it’s much better and easier to butcher a chicken for the freezer than to find one dead because it wasn’t strong enough to survive the winter or the competition.
Seal Your Chicken Coop from Cold Drafts
The next thing you want to do is secure and seal your coop. Depending upon where you live and the severity of your winter weather, you may decide to keep the chickens closed up more during the winter. The fact, is drafts can kill even a healthy bird in less than a day. Make sure to seal up any openings, paying close attention to any openings which might allow a predator to find a way into the house.
This is a good time to also make sure the roost arrangements are secure when you winterize your chicken coop. Make certain there is enough room for all the chickens to be off the ground when sleeping. Remember, they may huddle much closer than they do in the summer as a means to stay warm but they still need space.
Food, Water, and Heat for the Chicken Coop
Also check on the feeding and watering area, making sure the feed will stay dry even during a heavy snow and water needs will be available without freezing. If your coop has access to electricity, think about investing in a heater or heated waterer to winterize your chicken coop if you’re in an area prone to severe freezing temperatures.
Chickens and quail also appreciate warm water in the winter. Make sure not to overheat but remember the added heat helps them stay warm from the inside out.
Because our chickens are out of their coop so much in the summer, we leave the coop and chicken house floor dirt. In the winter, however, because they are confined much more of the day and all through the long nights, they need bedding material.
The bedding will actually serve a dual purpose. It absorbs chicken waste making it much easier, especially during freezing weather, to clean on a regular basis. It also makes it easier to walk into the coop when the ground might be muddy due to melting. The most important reason to provide bedding is to provide extra warmth.
The most preferred bedding is pine shavings as it provides absorption and helps to mask odors. Never use cedar shavings or any kind of chips as they can cause health problems for the chickens.
If you get the newspaper, you could shred the paper and spread that but I would suggest only using that as a base and covering with a thinner layer of pine since newspapers don’t absorb well and can possibly become slippery in freezing weather.
Try to keep at least four to six inches of bedding on the ground especially in the most heavily used areas of the coop. Even though egg production will probably drop during winter, make sure to keep any laying boxes filled as well. We’ve had winters where almost no eggs were laid but also had some that were just as productive as the summer.
Winterize Your Chicken Coop = Healthy Chickens
Once again, raising chickens isn’t that much more difficult in the winter than in the summer. You just need to take a few minor precautions, secure the coop well and most importantly, check on them throughout the coldest times.
Always keep plenty of fresh feed and water available. Don’t let them go without water more than a couple hours. A little extra scratch, especially for those birds used to free-ranging, is more than a treat, it will add some much needed foraging to keep them warm.