Keeping chickens during the winter time can be tricky business. Here is what I’d like to call the ultimate winter chicken keeping guide.
Do they need lights and extra heat? Some people do supplement their chickens with these things. We choose not to because we like to keep things as natural around our homestead as possible.
I just like to look at it like this, if the pioneers kept chickens without supplemental lights and they survived just fine, we can do the same. With a few added precautions, we can keep our chickens healthy, happy and laying through the winter.
First, I’ll share a few things that chickens don’t need for the winter.
They don’t need sweaters or hats.
Yes, it may look cute to some people, but they definitely don’t need to wear anything to keep warm. This actually does more harm than good. It can cause the chickens to sweat and that leads to moisture. Moisture causes frostbite. So, I see no added benefit or value to those things.
Same goes for adding Vaseline to your chicken’s combs. We have never needed it and I really don’t care for the added chemicals that come in it.
Why is frostbite bad? Among it being uncomfortable and painful, it also can create fertility issues in your chickens. It also could slow or even stop your chickens from laying.
We don’t provide our chickens with supplemental light or heat either.
That is totally fine if that’s the route that you wish to go for our chickens. And if you choose to do this, please ensure that you’re not keeping your light on overnight. A timer can help with this and can prevent a fire breaking out from your light getting too hot.
Chickens also need the darkness of night for them to sleep and to keep them healthy. We choose not to add extra light because we want them to stay healthy and I have read many articles which state that this can mess up their hormones. I want my gals to lay as long as possible without unnatural sources. I just don’t want to risk anything if there is that chance.
Baby chicks are the exception to this rule. Another safety tip, always ensure that you’re using the proper heat bulbs for your size heat lamp.
Having cold hardy breeds is necessary for us.
Because we live in an area where the temperature falls well below zero on occasion. A few of those breeds that we have and absolutely love are Rhode Island Reds, Ameracuana, Brahmas, Buffs and Wyandottes. These breeds have great temperaments and mesh well together.
There are several other cold hardy breeds, these are just a few of our favorites. Our Rhode Island Reds are especially good layers for us, even during the colder months.
A couple of ways which you can keep your chickens laying longer are to buy chicks at various times throughout the year or breed your own. Or if you are able to, you could try ducks. Most breeds lay nearly year round. We have American Black ducks and they are great layers for us.
What Chickens Do Need
These things are necessary to provide your chickens with to keep them happy and healthy through the winter months.
A coop or shelter that doesn’t have good ventilation, leads to unwanted moisture and moisture causes frostbite in your chickens. Helpful and good tip, ensure that the chicken run has a good wind break or some place for your chickens to escape the cold wind.
A clean coop.
Droppings have a high water content and leaving them in the coop for an extended period of time contributes to unneeded moisture. Making sure that this is cleaned each day can help save your chickens from that risk of frostbite.
Fresh clean water.
We use these water bowls and keep them from freezing during those crazy, subzero temperature days by using this heated water base. Another tip to keep your water dishes from freezing is to dump them out at night. Chickens don’t drink water at night so those dishes aren’t needed until morning.
Also, keep water bowls or buckets in the run instead of the coop itself to prevent moisture from building up.
Water is necessary for chickens to regulate body temperature so having it available and not frozen will also prevent frostbite. It’s also important for their digestion and egg production as well as many other health needs of your flock.
Fresh food, supplements & treats.
We make sure that our chickens have a good quality feed each morning, but having enough protein and supplements are also important for your chicken’s health year round. We like to make sure that our chickens have calcium supplements, occasional meal worm treats and I make them homemade flock blocks (see recipe below) for a winter boredom buster.
Calcium is very important for chicken’s egg laying and for good hardy shells. I recycle my egg shells, crush them and feed them back to my chickens by mixing it up in their feed.
During the winter months, chickens can get bored easily because they have less daylight and less opportunities to have outdoor time. Sometimes this can lead to chickens picking on each other and in very bad occasions, they can kill each other.
To prevent this from happening, I try to give them things to keep them busy. One of the things that I like to proved are these simple DIY treat blocks.
Herbal Treat Blocks for Chickens
- 1 ½ cups of oil or fat of choice (I like coconut oil. I know some like to use tallow or lard for this.)
- 1 cup of unsalted sunflower seeds
- 1 cup of scratch grains or cracked corn
- ½ cup of raisins
- 2-3 tablespoons of dried herbs of choice
- 2 garlic cloves, diced
I will occasionally add in mealworms as a special treat for our chickens.
You can play with the ingredients and substitute for chicken safe alternatives!
- Melt coconut oil on stove top.
- Once melted, remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients.
- Pour your mixture into molds and allow to cool. I really like silicon cupcake molds for these. They just pop right out when they’re cool.
- These can be stored in the in fridge or freezer.
Note: These are a great winter time treat, but are not recommended during warmer months since the coconut oil has a melting point of 76 degrees.
Raising Chickens: The Basics