10 ways to keep backyard chickens healthy and warm in the winter months
One would maybe think it’s cruel to raise backyard chickens in Minnesota. I wasn’t sure how that would work at first either. I mean, it does get to be well below zero in these parts! But thankfully, backyard chickens are still a possibility for those of us in the coldest climates. I’m here to give you some helpful hints for keeping your chickens safe and warm in the winter months, even though they do stay outside.
Check out the snow on the cute little beak…
First of all, one must keep in mind that it’s important to choose cold weather breeds from the start. That is, if you live in a cold weather region, of course. Learning more about breeds is as easy as googling, but to save you time, check out this link: https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/heavy_breeds.html
This will be our first winter with chickens. I’ve asked a few locals what they do with their chickens in the winter and the answer has been, for the most part, nothing. They remind me that chickens generate a lot of heat on their own and that they snuggle up together in the hay. Still, I was not satisfied. If you’ve been around here since we got the chickens, you know I’m a wee bit in love with them. So I did some digging by way of chicken magazines and online sites with chicken owning forums, etc. Here’s what I learned:
● Feed your chickens cracked corn in the cold months because it ends up making their body heat increase as they digest it.
● If you’d like, add a heat lamp in the coop, above where the chickens generally roost. (We did this by simply using a garage lamp, like the kind you put in the hood of a car if working at night. The bulb is only 40 watts and still does the trick of creating enough heat to benefit the already heat-generating chickens.)
● Make sure the chickens have a sufficient amount of straw or other nesting and roosting material such as wood shavings, like sawdust (you can buy large bags at farm stores).
● Many people keep their chickens cooped more in the winter months to be sure they aren’t exposed to the elements too much. It has already snowed here once and on the very blustery below freezing days, the chickens did spend more time in the coop. BUT, on a sunny day, the chickens love to remain free range birds, pecking around in the snow and taking frequent warm up breaks in the coop.
● Be sure your coop is spacious and comfortable enough for those increased coop hours.
● Just as in the warmer months, when sunburn is possible for chicken feet and combs, wind burn and frost bite are possible. Be sure to pay close attention to exposure and temps and shelter the birds if needed.
● Increase the amount of food the chickens are receiving as their bodies are burning through it faster.
● Make sure the chickens water is not frozen. There are excellent heated water servers on the market for this reason. We don’t have one yet, so for now, we go check on the water in the morning and the evening to be sure there is plenty of fresh non-frozen water. Chickens still need a lot of water in the winter.
● I noticed in a forum that someone who lives in a very cold climate, like ours, does have a caged area in his basement for the nights that will be extremely cold (like, way below zero cold). He stated that he rarely has to bring the chickens in, but does occasionally. For a short period of time, the chickens can be kept in something like a large dog kennel with straw in it.
● Don’t forget to clean the coop just as often as in the warmer months. Bugs are not much of a problem, but there is obviously still potential for the transferring of harmful germs in the winter months.
Our chickens are still making us smile every day. We love having them and continue to enjoy their bounty of eggs each day. It is common for chickens to stop laying eggs as frequently or all-together in the winter months, especially with daylight savings time and being in the coop more frequently. Don’t be alarmed, this is normal!