The seasons are changing! As your chickens delight in scratching through drifts of colorful autumn leaves, happily snacking on insects and worms, you’re likely cleaning your gutters and performing all the usual pre-winter rituals involved in caring for your home.
How about your chicken coop? Is your poultry palace ready for the shorter days and colder nights of winter?
Here are some chicken coop winterization tips for keeping your chickens happy and healthy this season.
Depending on your climate and the type of chicken you have, you might want to consider adding a red-bulbed heat lamp to your chicken coop. The red light won’t affect your flock’s natural molting or egg-laying cycle but will help keep the edge off the coldest winter weather.
Make sure you place the bulb so the chickens can’t reach it, and use a shielded ballast for safety. Select a location in the coop that allows your birds to move away from the heat if it gets too warm, and to keep your electricity bill reasonable and your chores minimal, install a timer.
Heated water founts
Sometimes all you need to keep your chicken’s watering system from freezing is the same heat lamp you use to keep your birds comfortable, but many flock owners opt for heated water platforms or water founts with a built-in heating element. These are fantastic options for flock owners who don’t want to have to thaw out their waterers several times a day or haul hot water to and from their house!
Birds need lots of fresh, clean water to maintain metabolic health, so it’s essential their access to water isn’t hindered by sheets of ice on top or rock-solid frozen watering founts.
If you use an automated system, be sure to wrap supply pipes with an electric pipe warming system, or consider blowing the water out of the lines for the winter and switching to heated founts. Frozen water lines can cause flooding in and around your hen-house, so be sure your automated system is prepped for the season!
Nobody likes to stagger out to a dark hen-house in the dead of winter! Artificial lighting helps you with your chicken chores when ambient lighting is nonexistent. You can get a better sense of your birds’ health, and if you want to extend your birds’ egg production or manipulate the timing of their molt, you can use full-spectrum lighting and timers to your advantage.
Keep an eye on your birds when they’re “cooped up” in cold weather so they don’t pick at one another. Red lighting reduces henpecking while illuminating and warming space, and full-spectrum or “white” light is often best used on a limited basis during confinement. The former helps your birds with vitamin production, while white light is typically used for warmth, safety, and illumination.
Ventilation & drafts
Does your hen-house have adequate ventilation? Good airflow is important year-round, but when your birds spend more time indoors, accumulated moisture and ammonia from droppings are a recipe for respiratory health disaster.
Make sure to check the vents in your hen house daily to reduce obstacles and accumulated dust and feathers, especially during the molt. Use an animal-safe silicone caulk to seal up joints in the coop’s siding and roof to prevent drafts and water leaks, and check the interior for signs of moisture buildup or mold from improper air movement.
During the summer months, opening and closing the door to our hen-house isn’t much of a problem, but during the winter, it’s often still too dark when we leave for work in the morning, and dark when we get home in the evening.
Automatic chicken coop doors help us protect our birds from predators at night while allowing them to access outdoor areas, fresh air, and sunlight during the day. Depending on your housing and run design and your schedule, you might find the investment in an automatic chicken coop door worthwhile.
Consider installing a ground fault interruption circuit (GFCI) to any outlet you use for your chicken coop. If water spills or rodents chew through your wiring, you’ll have a layer of protection against electrocution (of both you and your birds) and fire damage.
If you use extension cords to run power to your flock’s facilities, make sure they’re a heavy gauge to reduce power loss, and that the cord is rated for heavy-duty outdoor use. Check the entire cord regularly for damage.
Make sure your perches are correctly sized and placed
Your birds’ feet should rest on top of your perches, rather than grip them. This allows your chickens to settle on their toes and keep their feet warm. Set some perches up in different parts of your coop if you’re using a supplemental heat source, allowing your birds to seek or avoid warmth as they see fit.
Stagger your perches so your birds can move up and down without heavy landings, and keep them clean through winter to prevent bumblefoot and other foot problems.
Plan your manure management strategy
Whether you plan to scrape out your hen-house or use deep litter bedding, get your coop set up for your chosen system now. How will winter weather change the way you move discarded bedding and manure? Do you need to use a garbage can for temporary litter storage? What’s easy in summer can be impossible with ice and snow on the ground, and these are all things you’ll want to consider when you’re getting your flock ready for winter.
Fall preparations impact your flock’s year-round health
When you’ve planned ahead, you’ll spend more time enjoying your flock and less time managing cold weather chores. Fall is the perfect time to plan for your flock’s health and production in the New Year. Strategic lighting and dietary adjustments help to ensure your birds have a healthy molt, and these decisions require you to choose and stick to a plan. Now is the time to make decisions and adjustments to your facility and routine.
Once all your chicken coop winterization preparations are complete, you’ll be free to hang out with your flock and a mug of hot chocolate. Watch your birds chase snowflakes (melty bugs!), peck at icy puddles, and take “snow baths”. When they have a draft-free, well-ventilated and warm place to go, they enjoy winter as much as we do!