Is Your Chicken Coop Winter Ready?

backyard poultry

Time to winterize the garden, house, backyard and the coop. Cold weather and blankets of ice and snow mean your chickens will be spending quite a bit more time indoors. You will need to ensure the coop remains draft-free, well-lit and ready to provide the flock with a healthy and invigorating living space.

chicken coop
If you add festive touches to your coop, choose safe, inedible and fire-proof decorations. Chickens love a holiday party.

Fall Cleaning Your Chicken Coop

Prepare the chickens living space for the next few months. Cold and inclement weather means the chicken barn will be closed up and not allowed the airings of the spring and summer.

Change all of the bedding and scrub away any manure. Cobwebs and dust needs to be vacuumed, and it is a good idea to spray a livestock approved disinfectant before and after the shop vac gets turned on. Keep birds outside when cleaning the coop as the dust is very bad for them.

Pay close attention to cracks and crevices scrubbing off any manure that may have stuck there. Use a paint scraper or sharp implement. This is a fun job that we all look forward too! It really does stick like paint. And painting the areas prone to soiling makes tidying-up much easier. The paint gives the coop a clean look.

Roosts need special attention and should be cleaned on a regular schedule. Do not let manure sit on the roosting poles as this increases the chances of foot infections. Bumblefoot (pododermatitis) can often be linked to dirty roosts.

chicken coop
Purchase “cheap” rubber drawer liners to wrap around roosts. They are disposable – which keeps cleaning simple. They provide a non-slip, cushioned surface and are warm under the birds’ feet.

Cleaning Tip: A great way to minimize cleaning chores and prevent sanitation issues is to set up a droppings board under the roosts. If night manure is allowed to fall onto the coop floor, it will get tossed and spread around by the chickens. This makes daily cleaning a nightmare and you end up wasting too much bedding. Chickens rarely use the manure trays for nesting. Situate them about ten inches (roughly) from the roosts. Layer the tray with organic, unscented cat litter, pre-soaked wood pellets or regular shavings.  Do not use hay or straw.

To facilitate composting and to reduce odors try sprinkling the tray with Coop Compost Coop Odor Neutralizer . Scatter this product on the tray before adding the litter material!

Air freshener: After making your winter drinks save the halves of the lemons and oranges. Take these used halves and rub them over the roosts and coop furnishings. They offer a mild disinfecting benefit and the coop will smell great! You can also steep the peels in hot water to make your own citrus mist. The chickens house will smell so great you will be hosting holiday parties in the coop.

Winter Feeding

Even though snow and cold limit or stop foraging, your bird winter nutritional needs remain the same. If you light your coop, egg production is still going on, birds are molting, choose a complete feed for the chickens, and be sure to keep feed stations full.

For a special treat provide the birds with a fun mash. Fill a feeding bowl with the chicken pellets and pour hot water over the feed. The chickens relish this (the feed should be very warm but not scalding).

chicken coopGreens: If grass is not available, provide the birds with fresh greens each day. Choose whatever they enjoy (avoid iceberg lettuce), but the darker greens are best and usually the cheapest! Chickens love kale, collards, mustard, dandelion, escarole, dark green lettuces and chard. Many birds will not eat the red chards or lettuces, but it can’t hurt to try. Do not offer avocados, as these are toxic. You can place the greens in a “salad” or treat ball made for this purpose!

Fruit: The chickens will love the fruit treats. Try whatever is in season apples, melons, grapes and berries (thawed frozen berries are a great money saver). Birds will not eat, mango, pineapple or citrus.

Treats: Chickens love treats. Treat these as treats. Do not offer too many. Check your fluffy chickies to ensure they are not putting on winter weight. With limited exercise, the birds can get chunky this is not healthy. Know the ideal weight for each breed. If birds feel like they are putting on too much fat (fat is felt through the back on the keel the birds will feel heavy), limit treats and rich foods such as seed, pasta, corn, nuts and sunflower seeds. Only offer sugary foods as a rare dessert.

Boredom

chicken coop
Bare ground! Chickens are feathered for the cold, but do not allow them outdoors in windchill, snowy conditions or wet weather. Birds are at risk for frost bite.

Provide the birds with entertainment. Chickens are highly intelligent and active animals inherently structured to spend their days foraging. This need for activity must be addressed to stave off chronic stress and other behavioral issues (feather picking, aggression and immune system problems).

Hang heads of lettuce or greens from a rope to let the birds forage.

Offer seed cakes or other bird treats that require work to access.

Play a radio. Chickens enjoy the stimulation.

Always give the chickens access to a tray of clean dirt. Bathing is critical to feather and bird health. Dust bathing trays are a winter must. Do not add any diatomaceous earth or peat to the soil, as these are respiratory irritants.

Set out feed quality first cut hay for the birds to scratch through. They love the seed heads. Never supply moldy or dusty hay. Remove hay once it gets wet or soiled. Chickens tend not to eat first cut hay, but they may munch on alfalfa (they can eat dry alfalfa) or second cut. Chickens are prone to dangerous crop impactions from eating stemmy hay – so watch out for this. Check to be sure the birds are not eating the hay remove it if they are, and replace it with pine needles. If you can get clean straw, this is also a great alternative. Grain stores and pet shops often carry this bedding quality straw. Avoid bales of field straw as they usually harbor mycotoxins and molds.

Toss pine needles in the coop and in the nest boxes. They are clean, smell nice and do not harbor molds. Scatter a thick layer in the yard as well. Pine needles allow the birds to scratch and they look fantastic in the yard. A nice layer of golden pine needles looks clean and adds a festive fall touch to the pen.

Toys are a great addition. Try out the fun treat ball that you fill with seed or meal worms for the chickens to munch. You can also purchase swings designed for chickens! Chickens really enjoy getting a ride on these specially engineered swings.

Allow the chickens a bench or window ledge so that they can perch and look out the coop windows.

Heating the Coop

This is an issue that scratches up quite a bit of debate. If you choose to provide supplemental heating for your coop, safety is the primary issue. Be sure any heat lamps are new, clean and in good working order (no rust, cracks, frayed wires, spider webs or dust). Heat lamps are a fire hazard, keep lamps well away from litter and any flammable substances. Never allow birds or animals access to the lamps and be absolutely certain they are firmly secured.

Never use space heaters in a barn. Only purchase specialty infrared heaters or carefully positioned radiator-style heaters that have safety tip-over shut off features. Old, second-hand or found heaters must not be operated in a barn. Deadly fires kill animals every year don’t be on that list.

chicken coop
“It’s never too early to shop for treats.”

Note: Heated water buckets are a major source for disastrous barn fires. It is not a good idea to use these in chicken houses.

Share your cold weather chicken ideas by popping them in the comment section! Well, enjoy the holidays – and don’t forget those chickens on your shopping list.


9 thoughts on “Is Your Chicken Coop Winter Ready?

  1. Pingback: Top 5 Coop Upgrades You Didn't Know You Needed | eFowl

  2. Pingback: Is Your Chicken Coop Winter Ready? | DEMO | Back Yard Chicken Talk

  3. Andrea from Black Thistle Farm says:

    Hi, Sandy. We all need to be concerned about anything electrical in our barns. There was just a devastating fire in a dog rescue up her in MA. Nightmare. Barn fires are just total nightmares. You can never be 100% safe with anything electrical….but you can do your best.

    The submerged heaters are safer. Always use the ground fault and be certain all connections are secure. The problem people had with the bucket heaters was that if they ran dry or were knocked over the fire started from that. You just can never be certain of either of those issues NOT happening around animals! That’s why the bucket heaters are not safe. It only takes one time. And in that one time – your animal family can be the victims of a fire.

  4. Pingback: Is Your Chicken Coop Winter Ready? - How To Do Things...With Chickens!!

  5. Sharon Rinaldi says:

    So enjoyed your tips..I have been doing the same..but totally luv the pine needles idea..I used your summer ideas with herbs tied up and hanging.. My girls luved it..Thank you so much for sharing.. Sincerely.. Sharon Rinaldi..

    • Andrea M says:

      The pine needles make the coop and nest boxes look amazing. The next best part is…they are free! I love using the pine straw as mulch, but you know what happens to mulched plants when chicks see it!

  6. Emily says:

    Hello Andrea,

    Your Coop Winterizing article is very interesting to me.

    I am a new chicken owner. I have some questions, please, regarding How To Keep My Birds Warm this Winter. Please pardon the length of this post…

    I am located in USDA Zone 6a, which is -10°F to -5°F. I’m currently in the process of converting our non-insulated 10′ x 14′ wooden storage shed into a chicken barn.

    For starters, I plan to lay down a linoleum floor with 1 foot of excess flooring material curving up the sides of the walls (to assist in easy spring cleaning.)

    To help keep them warm, I am planning to use the Deep Litter Method with fresh clean Straw added frequently to “top it off”, which I understand produces quite a bit of heat as the underlying chicken poop decomposes.

    WHAT IS YOUR OPINION of the Deep Litter Method and is shiny clean yellow straw a good bedding material? Or would you recommend Hay, or Wood Shavings? Regarding Wood Shavings, I have heard that Pine or other Aromatic woods are very bad for Bird respiratory systems. I have also heard that some chickens might eat Straw, which could cause an impacted Crop. (I like the idea of Straw or Hay, so that in the Spring I can use the dirty litter as compost in my garden.)

    ALSO, I’m scared to put a heat lamp, electric radiator, or heated chicken water fountain in the shed, for fear of fire; but do you think I should add INSULATION material into the walls?

    Many thanks and kind regards,

    Emily

    • Andrea M says:

      As long as you have cold weather breeds they will be fine (avoiding the Malay, small “toy” bantams). Chickens lived in those conditions for a looong time – remember grandpa’a coop. They are very hardy and feathers are incredibly warm.

      I do not like the deep litter method. It is never a good idea to leave droppings – they must be removed daily. They are a source of disease and they will not compost in the coop. Your coop will get gross fast, and I mean gross. You can bed deeply,just sift through the bedding and get the poop out. The only way you will generate heat is to set the coop over a huge manure pile (think horse and cow farm!). Hah! A few inches of ammonia exuding poop will do nothing but fowl the coop air and be a source of dangerous pathogens.

      Wet stray and hay are harborers of mold and mycotoxin. Use livestock shavings, and that will mulch up fine too (pile it up over the winter with kitchen vegetable waste and add leaves and ready-made compost to the compost (like a mulch sandwich). Pine does not bother birds at all. Yes, birds that eat hay are at risk of impaction. Not all chickens do – so keep an eye on it. Our rescue birds are in a horse barn and we use thick hay beds in winter. The birds get plenty of greens and snacks and never eat the hay. Just watch for that. Remove hay if it gets eaten.

      Insulation is a great idea. Don’t let the birds eat it though! I use a safety, shut-off on tip over, radiator heater set on a metal tray(clean any dust and bits/shavings each evening). You can buy safe infrared (Sweeter Heaters) types that are very safe. You have to be very very vigilant with heat sources. I buy a new radiator heater every few years and donate the old one. The water heaters can and do catch fire if they run dry. Water heater elements are dangerous. You can use insulated buckets instead. Far safer.

      Have a wonderful and safe winter, Emily!

  7. Sandy Thomas says:

    Question: you do not recommend the bucket heaters for the chicken house but what about the under water tank types? I have been using an official under waterer heater but now am concerned if they to are safe or not.
    Thanks for the news.
    Sandy Thomas

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