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5 Steps To Get Your Chickens Ready For Winter (And Ensure You Still Have Eggs)

How To Get Your Chickens Ready For Winter – And Ensure You Still Get Eggs

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Preparing the chicken coop for winter should be at the top of any homesteading to-do list. A well-maintained coop will help prevent illnesses in your flock and keep your chickens happy enough to continue providing eggs for your table.

Winter often finds us with frozen water buckets, more cleaning than usual and cranky hens, but taking care of a few fall chores can make overwintering much easier – and make it far more likely your flock will continue producing eggs.

1. Prepping the coop

After every snowfall I am reminded there is a slight gap in the hinged door that rests on top of our coop’s nesting boxes. That results in a small snow drift that materializes and scares the hens from using the far west nesting box until I clean it out. A few minutes with a caulking gun will ensure that doesn’t happen again this winter. Seal crevices, tighten screws and make sure doors close flush with the coop walls.

Now is also the time to clean the vents that allow air to circulate through the coop and clean debris off the outside walls and roof. In addition to general cleaning and maintenance, determine if your building would benefit from extra protection from the elements in the form of wind breaks, wraps or extra insulation.

2. Cleaning the coop

Start winter with a fresh, clean coop. Remove old bedding from the entire coop, roosting areas, nesting boxes and runs. Before loading the hen house with fresh litter, dust the interior with diatomaceous earth (DE). This will deter unwanted pests from finding a home with your flock.

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Some homesteaders choose to use sand in the winter as bedding, because it is easier to spot clean every few days. Others opt for the traditional straw or wood shavings that need to be replaced weekly during the more confining winter months. A few poultry owners choose to use the deep-litter method, which works by adding a fresh layer of bedding on top of the old to act as an extra layer of insulation and requires fewer full cleanings. Those using the deep-litter method must be sure the enclosure is well-ventilated. Decomposing droppings release ammonia, which can cause blindness and other illnesses if levels remain high inside the chicken coop. No matter which method you choose to use during the winter months, you must be certain that the enclosure remains dry. Bedding that is retaining high amounts of moisture will cause your birds respiratory issues.

3. Watering the flock

How To Get Your Chickens Ready For Winter – And Ensure You Still Get Eggs

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Keeping the flock healthy throughout the winter months has much to do with water. Too much water in the litter will cause disease in the birds, but too little fresh drinking water will do the same. Chickens will not break through the ice with their beaks, so you must provide water containers that are free from ice. For the busy homesteader, heated waterers are quite a timesaver. A heated pet bowl with a pet-safe cord will keep your flock drinking throughout the day, although the shallower pet bowls may need more frequent cleaning. For those who do not have electricity in their building, or choose not to risk a fire, changing the water frequently, two to three times a day when temperatures are below freezing, should be sufficient. Use thick plastic containers to delay ice build-up.

4. Lights on or off

There is much debate on whether you should provide a light for your chickens, whether for the sake of heat or the sake of artificial daylight for egg production. Much of the debate stems from the risk of fire that arises when heating or lighting a hen house. It takes just a few moments for a heat lamp that has been knocked over to start a fire inside the coop. Heat lamps, or brooding lamps, should not be used in most chicken coops. They produce too much heat and also can stress the birds in the colder winter months.

In most areas, adequate lighting can be achieved with one 40-watt bulb with a reflector for every 250 square feet. Using a timer to achieve 10 hours of daylight will encourage your flock to keep producing eggs while also providing them adequate time to rest.

5. Boredom busters

Poultry cooped up in the coop all day will quickly become bored. That’s where the trouble starts. They will begin pecking at each other, to the point of death in some instances, while others will find mischief in the nesting boxes by destroying precious eggs.

Keep the boredom at bay with a few additions to the coop. A produce bag filled with fresh greens hung from the ceiling works as a healthy treat as well as a distraction from pecking at each other. Similarly, broccoli crowns, cabbages and other vegetables can be hung as a treat as can more traditional suet bags and seed blocks.

What advice would you add for taking care of chickens during winter? Share it in the section below:

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  1. For coop litter (and in the run), I’ve been using shredded autumn leaves. I’d used pine shavings, grass clippings (dried) and straw, but thus far, shredded leaves have proven the best. They’re super-plentiful this time of year, so as cheap as it gets. I used a leaf blower in vacuum mode, which shreds the leaves. I store the shreds in 3′ x 3′ x 5′ plywood hopper near the coop.

    Per the Deep-Litter method, I give the litter a deep raking once a week. The chickens stir it up daily, looking for scratch I toss in. After the deep raking, I shake on a new top layer of shredded leaves. The dead leaves (a carbon source) and the poop (a nitrogen source) seem to be a good compost balance, as the litter never seems to get deep. Instead, the leaves and poop break down to ‘dirt’. This gets scooped out twice a year (fall and spring) for the compost pile.

    Thus far, after a few years of using shredded leaves, there have been no problems.

  2. My girls stopped laying completely about a month ago. I can’t figure it out. They have continuous clean water, a good mix of food and no predators. They have a large area (about 800 Sq ft) to roam and there’s only 11 of them. They look healthy. Idk……

  3. Same here, I am getting 2 or 3 eggs a day and I have 16 hens. 2 or 3 days a week they get out to forage, they get table scraps in addition to their laying pellets and scratch. I did have a black snake getting in my coop but it is gone now but am still not getting the eggs I should. I gave them red pepper flakes and some chopped red jalapenos from my garden and was getting 4 eggs a day then but still not what I should be getting. What can be done to increase production?

    • I too am having a similar problem with egg laying. 16 hens and only 3-5 eggs a day. When I spoke to where I’ve gotten the birds from in the past, I was told the birds are such so-called hybrids these days for production purposes. He said after 2-3 yrs they are no good as layers any more and most stop altogether. He also informed me that most hens dont lay everyday, and they end up alternating days so you never get large quantity in one day. In my past, I have had each hen lay every day even in winter! He said most people turn them in for credit toward new birds and they end up in the soup pot! I don’t know about anybody else, but my girls are my babies just like any if my other pets. They are not just for production. How do you suddenly get rid of a hen u raised from chick that follows you everywhere and talks to you constantly??!! Is this what has become of the backyard hen?? What a shame they can’t separate residential from commercial production!

      • I let mine out to roam the yard about 2 hours before dusk and they always return to the coop when the sun go’s down. They love the extra freedom. Also gives them a chance to forage.

  4. After much changing of things – I no longer give them scraps. The only things I provide are: oyster shell, 16% crumble feed, scratch block, chicken scratch, and algae from the pond. I had no molting problems or decrease in laying. Lots of eggs each day. They do not go out of the fenced in pens due to dogs, coyotes, and chicken hawks.

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