Keeping chickens healthy and comfortable in cold temperatures is easy if you follow these simple tricks.
Chickens, of course, are not mammals. They are birds, and thus, they maintain their temperature very efficiently if they are not subjected to extreme conditions such as wind, rain, snow or ice.
The first step is to make sure your coop is adequate to protect them from the elements.
There should be no cracks or openings that will allow cold drafts to enter the coop. You want it to be air-tight, with the exception of ventilation, for proper air movement. Place air vents high in the walls or in the roof to allow proper air exchange and to avoid moisture build-up.
Condensation and high humidity combined with cold temperatures are the chief cause of frostbite to the wattles and combs of chickens.
Make the most of solar heat by placing windows on the south side of the coop or by installing clear panels in the roof. This will aid in warming the coop and especially the floor during daytime hours.
Make sure your perches are wide enough so the birds can sit on their feet while roosting. I like to use two-by-fours for perches, turned flat, so the chickens can roost flat-footed. Unlike many birds, chickens don’t like to curl their feet around a perch. Do not use plastic or metal pipe. It’s slippery, and metal gets very cold and could cause frostbite.
Allowing the manure and bedding to build up in the winter will create heat as the waste breaks down, just like a compost pile. If you smell manure and ammonia when you enter your coop it means you need more bedding. Keeping plenty of bedding in the coop allows the birds to scratch more, aiding the composting process as well as keeping them active during winter months.
To encourage your chickens to be more active in winter months, hang a head of cabbage on a string from the ceiling. They will love it and stay busy pecking and shredding it.
Feeding a high-quality protein feed in the winter helps to keep their metabolism running high and produces more energy for warmth. Giving them cracked corn in addition to regular feed in the evening provides them a good high-energy boost for the night.
Chickens need good supply of water at all times. If the water is freezing, you’ll need to give them warm water two or three times a day or purchase a heated water base to keep the water from freezing. Dehydrated birds have a very hard time maintaining their body temperature. And chickens that are low on water will not eat as much, and that only makes it harder for them to maintain heat.
I have kept chickens using these methods for years through many days of zero and even sub-zero temperatures — and you can, too!
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