Warmish Chickens in a North American Winter

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As a professional (or at least I hope professional) chicken coop manufacturer I am asked a lot of questions about poultry husbandry. I am not a poultry expert, but I know enough and I am usually amazed by the number of people who doubt everything I tell them because of some post they read on the internet or something their grandma told them.

One of the main issues seems to revolve aroung keeping chickens warm in winter. “Because”, the customer will tell me, “it gets really cold out where we live often we get frosts and a few years ago it even snowed!”. “Your chickens will be fine” I’ll tell them, ” as long as you keep them out of the wind and maybe throw a tarp over the chicken coop. They are covered in feathers after all”

What then follows is one of those looks which says something like – you would say that wouldn’t you! Your just trying to sell me a chook shed! As the customer walks away, I’m left standing there (a) thinking why don’t people believe me and (b) somewhat embarressed becasue the prospective customer thinks I’m a liar.

Well perhaps this will change your mind. Stephanie Dayle is a writer for the American Preppers Network – she lived in inland Washington State where the record low temperature is -44 degrees celcius. Thats not just cold – thats freezing – and she keeps chickens. What follows is an edited version of her article – edited so that measurements are in metric and relevant to Australian conditions.

If you are interested in the full article, then please refer to http://americanpreppersnetwork.com/2012/12/tips-for-keeping-your-chickens-warm-in-the-winter.html

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Do you ever wonder if your chickens are cold in the middle of the winter?

I know I do!  Here are some tips for keeping chickens in the winter that will help you and your chickens enjoy, or at least tolerate the season.  We typically have cold, snowy winters here, and by cold I mean the temperature can drop to -18 degrees celcius at night, get up to -10 degrees during the day, and stay that way for weeks.  We also normally have between 60 to 120cm of snow on any given winter day plus plenty of wind, so it’s important that we make some allowances to accommodate that.

Cold Hardy Breeds
Most adult chickens will do just fine in winter, even in cold climates.  They may not enjoy it all the time, but they are very adept to it.  Some breeds are more cold hardy than others – I make sure my flock is made up of mostly cold hardy dual purpose breeds. Cold hardy dual purpose breeds include Australorps (my favorite), Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks (Plymouth Rocks), Brahmas, Buckeyes, Jersey Giants, and Sussexs, just to name a few.  Dual purpose breed chickens are favorites of preppers because they can provide both meat and eggs.

Is it too Cold?
Many people are tempted to add a heater during the cold of winter thinking that their poor chickens are freezing out in the weather.  My advice is usually not to.  The risk of fire is too great and chickens are far more resilient than most people think.  If your chickens are cold hardy breeds and your coop closes up – close them up at night to keep the wind out, protecting them from the wind is your best defense in the winter.  Most cold hardy chickens will do just fine even when temperatures hover around -18 degrees.

Ventilation
When you close your coop up in the evenings make sure to maintain adequate ventilation, otherwise moisture will collect inside leading to frost-bitten feet and combs.  Vents placed high on the coop wall are excellent for this purpose.  This is also why it is important to keep your chicken litter clean and dry.  A deep litter system is very good for this purpose and also insulates your coop from the cold.  Your chickens will huddle together and stay quite warm all night, I have heard that one chicken puts out something like 10 watts of heat, so if you have 10 chickens huddled together in your coop, it’s the equivalent of running a 100 watt light bulb in there all night.  As long as it isn’t humid or damp in there you most likely will not see frostbite.  One of the things I use to guard against moisture is wood pellets (the plain ones they sell for wood stoves), they will dutifully absorb any extra moisture expanding into saw dust as they do so.

Water
A key issue for chickens or any poultry in the winter is a supply of fresh water, so if you don’t like hauling water to your chickens twice a day because it continues to freeze solid, construct your own chicken waterer that uses a submersible aquarium heater or invest in one of the store-bought waterers with a built-in heater.

Snow
When you open your coop up in the morning to give them the option of going outside keep in mind most chickens do not enjoy the snow so they probably won’t venture out of the coop much if the snow is deep or if the temperature drops below -7 degrees.  This is why I shovel the snow out of my chicken pen in the winter – to encourage them to go outside and get a little fresh air.  If they are getting a little restless in their coop and still don’t want to go outside you can hang a half a head of cabbage from the top of the coop and let them spend all day shredding it, it will keep them busy and it’s a good treat for them too.

Warm Treats and Food!
I also use some food to help warm my chickens up, occasionally on real cold mornings I will make them up some warm oatmeal for breakfast, any oatmeal will do, and they’ll love the snack.  Another thing that anyone can do to help keep their chickens warm is feed them a little bit of corn scratch in the evening – this will help keep them warm all night long.

Helping your chickens make it through the winter is not a hard thing to do with the right information.  I hope this article helps and if you have any tips or advice please leave a comment below to help others.