As the crisp autumn breeze signals the approach of winter, chicken keepers turn their attention to ensuring the well-being and comfort of their flocks. Just as we prepare ourselves for the colder months ahead, our chickens also require thoughtful care and attention to brave the challenges that winter brings. In this guide, we’ll cover all the basics to prepare chickens for winter and keep your flock happy and healthy all winter long.
How to Prepare Chickens For Winter
Even in milder climates, you have to prepare for a change in the weather of some sort. These preparations don’t have to be overwhelming. We’ll take a good look at the basic steps necessary to prepare chickens for winter.
With the coming of fall, homesteaders focus on preserving the harvest, winterizing our garden beds, double-checking our firewood supply, and all the other necessary winter preparations.
If you’ve had a flock for any length of time, these tips will probably be something you already do.
One thing I’ve learned is that no matter how much we know, and how much we grow, we can always learn more from one another.
Inspect The Coop
If the roof leaks, fix it. If you have problems with other critters getting in the yard or the coop, make those repairs too.
Your coop shouldn’t be airtight, especially the larger your flock is. Chicken manure, respiration, and body heat all leave moisture in the air.
All that methane gas builds up and needs a way of escape. We have ventilation at both ends of the roof.
If your coop door is hardware wire, you may want to cover it with something like black plastic. This will stop any rain or wind from swooping in on the birds.
Clean The Coop
While the fall temps are still moderate, I like to use a pressure washer inside and out on the chicken coop. I use water and white vinegar in a 1:2 ratio I do it before it gets cold so the coop will dry well.
When it’s good and dry, I pour hydrogen peroxide on the roost to kill any mites that might be living there.
Make sure to put extra hay, sand, or wood chips in the nesting boxes and under the roost. I put hay under the roost for a few reasons.
- It helps to block the wind that could come through the cracks of the floor. Since the manure puts off heat, I like to leave it in the coop over winter.
- Having the hay in there makes it easier to clean out in the spring.
- Over the winter, the chickens scratch through it in the early morning/late evening introducing air into the mixture which helps break down microorganisms. These microorganisms prepare the hay for composting.
We like all things that serve more than one purpose, right? This step is crucial to prepare chickens for winter.
Boost Immune Systems and Kill Parasites in the Flock
Once the coop is clean and ready, I give the chickens a gallon of water with 2 Tablespoons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar.
They drink it like candy for the first few days so I have to give them a new gallon every day.
Boosting their immune system and killing any parasites in their tummies are important steps to prepare chickens for winter weather.
Some people don’t think this works, but we’ve done this for years and have seen real results with it. We’ll continue to do it for our animals.
Cull the Flock
Now if you’re a hobby farmer, skip this section. We’re sustenance farmers, we raise our own food.
It’s always a good idea to cull any birds that aren’t productive. By this time of the year, you’ve already culled extra roosters, hens that aren’t laying, and any bird that doesn’t meet the requirements you set for your homestead.
As part of getting our chickens ready for winter, we do a double-check for those who aren’t productive or who might suffer from the onset of winter.
Also, if you have a rooster who attacks you, you can learn how to break an aggressive rooster before the winter sets in.
Provide Extra Nutrition
We still free-range our chickens in the winter, except on the nastiest of days. But we supplement them during the winter.
Making sure your chickens have plenty to scratch through will not only keep them healthy and happy but also keep them productive.
Offer them greens from the garden, squash from storage, and any other kitchen scraps they will eat.
You can put hay in the yard for them to scratch through for entertainment. We keep a compost pile next to the coop or inside the yard for their entertainment and to speed up the composting process. You can read more about this in our post on feeding chickens without buying chicken feed.
These extras work great for us. They contribute significantly to the health and happiness of the flock.
Heat or Not to Heat
Some people don’t like the idea of using lights for heat in the winter.
We have a rule for our homestead. If it’s below 25°, we use a heat lamp unless the flock is large enough, over 50 birds.
A flock large enough to fill the roost will put off enough body heat, respirations, and excretions to keep them from being too cold. The number of birds necessary to achieve this depends on the size and condition of your coop.
We don’t use the self-watering system in the winter since the lines can freeze. Frozen lines would make water unavailable to the birds, so we put gallon waterers inside the coop when it’s freezing outdoors. This also keeps me from having to thaw their water jugs every day.
As caretakers of our animals, preparing them for each season is all in a day’s work. Hard work? Yes! But fun and rewarding, as you well know.
Getting your chickens ready for winter is a crucial task that ensures the well-being and productivity of your flock during the cold months. From adjusting their diet to providing proper shelter and addressing their unique needs, proactive preparation can make a significant difference in their overall health and egg production. By implementing these strategies, you can create a comfortable and safe environment for your feathered friends, allowing them to thrive even in the chilliest of conditions.
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