Some chickens are hardier than others but there’s no doubt that you need to take care of them during the winter. Preparing their coop for the winter doesn’t have to be hard. Here’s how to prepare their coop for the upcoming long nights:
Get good ventilation
It may sound counter-intuitive to ventilate the coop during the winter. After all, you probably wouldn’t open your windows during a blizzard. However the real danger for your chickens is the moisture. Your chickens have layers of feathers that can protect them from the cold, so it’s very important to keep them dry. Moisture from their breath and manure can accumulate fast in a poorly ventilated coop, leading to frostbite, respiratory problems and other serious health issues.
Fortunately it doesn’t take a lot to keep a good ventilation. Windows at the top of your coop are a great way to replace stale air with fresh air without cold drafts hitting your chickens directly. You can leave it open during the day and close it at night or during rain and snow. If you’re modifying your coop to add a vent make sure that you place it where the wind doesn’t blow. If for instance the wind tends to blow from north to south, place your windows facing east and west.
Finally, keep your coop clean to avoid build-up moisture from manure.
Heating and lighting your coop
Buying a heater is optional but can definitely help your chickens stay warm. Keep in mind that younger chickens more heat than more mature chickens. If you do decide to use artificial heating for your coop, do not use heating bulbs. Heating bulbs are related to a lot of fires and accidents during the winter.
A light bulb on a timer in a secured place where chickens can’t reach can not only keep your chickens to remain cool but also to keep laying due to the artificial light. Be careful of not getting one that’s “shatter proof” or has Teflon coating since they release toxic fumes that can be deadly to your chickens. If you want to heat up your coop in a safe way try a coop heater. Your chickens don’t be as warm as yourself so you can simply set it up to 40 F°. A heater can also help keep the water warm since chickens actually love warm water in the winter. You can easily keep it warm with a special water warmer like these ones.
Keep in mind that drastic changes in temperature can be detrimental to your chickens so make sure to have a back-up in case of an electrical outage.
Insulating your coop
Although it’s not completely necessary, insulating your coop will make you sure that there aren’t any leaks or holes in your coop. Keeping your coop warm will also help your chickens to keep laying. You can either use insulation sheets that you can get in any hardware store or a few layers of cardboard if you’re in a budget.
Whatever you use, make sure to cover it! Otherwise your chickens may just peck it away.
Appropriate winter bedding
Having a clean and fresh bedding is critical for your chickens. Using the right one can also provide insulation and help your chickens to stay warm and dry. Some people prefer to leave their bedding for a long time trusting that the decomposing manure will help heat up the coop during the winter. However, decomposing manure emits ammonia which can be very harmful to your chickens. High levels of ammonia can even leave your chickens blind! If you live in a particularly humid area you need to replace the bedding constantly to avoid it getting damp. Here are a few options for your bedding:
Shredded paper: Not very recommended. Paper absorbs a lot of humidity fast. It also compresses quickly and can get very cold. If you’re gonna use it, try mixing it with another material for litter boxes.
Wood shavings: These are becoming quite popular. They provide insulation during the winter and can help with odors. IF you’re gonna use wood carvings just make sure that they’re safe and approved for chickens.
Hay: The favorite for the winter. Hay retains heat better and is also a great insulator. It’s also quite easy to get and it’s great alone or mixed with other bedding.
Whatever bedding you decide to use, you may want to use more than usual to help keep your chickens warm and away from the cold floor.
Keeping an eye on your coop
Once you’re done getting your coop winter ready, keep an eye on it. Make sure your chickens are dry and safe. Check periodically for holes or leaks. Remember that during the winter predators are more desperate for food than ever! Make sure that your coop is predator-proof and can withstand any potential attack. Maintain the ammonia levels at bay and remember: chickens are much hardier than humans! As long as you give them a safe coop, they’ll enjoy their time during the winter.