Winter Chickens – What You Need to Know Before Winter Strikes
The Diminutive winter chicken is a surprisingly tough bird and can handle weather extremes which would have most humans shivering in their boots. It’s all thanks to the layers of downy feathers hidden underneath the outer plumage, which chickens can manipulate and use to control their body temperature.
The Winter Chicken
In cold weather, the down feathers are puffed up to trap air close to the body. These pockets of air are then warmed up by the chicken’s body heat. The extra thick layers also provide a certain amount of protection due to the downs insulation properties.
With so much inbuilt insulation against the cold weather, a chicken can happily forage for food during the day without being overly affected by the chilly weather, but when the sun goes down temperatures can get a little too cold, even in Australia, and your flock may need some help keeping warm for the night.
Of course, raising chickens in Australia means you may not have to worry too much about keeping your birds above freezing, but there are still areas in Australia which can drop the mercury to uncomfortable enough levels that even chickens don’t appreciate.
Tasmania, for one, can get nasty levels of cold and so too can some parts of western NSW. The ACT and Victoria are also well known for their bouts of uncomfortably frosty weather, especially at night time.
So, if you live in an area of Australia where you wouldn’t want to be caught outside in your boxers in the dead of night, then your chickens will appreciate a comfortable place to bed down. Their coop should be warm and draught proof but still provide adequate ventilation. Let’s examine how you can keep your girls comfortable on a chilly winter’s night.
A Dry Coop is a Comfortable Coop for the Winter Chicken
A coop which gets damp and stays damp is going to be a chicken killer whenever the mercury plummets to uncomfortable levels of cold. Here are a few things to avoid which will help you keep their coop dry and warm.
Keep waterers outside the during the winter. Spilled water during the summer months isn’t such a big deal, but during the dead of night in the middle of winter, spilled water can quickly turn to ice. Your girls’ unprotected feet will freeze, and high moisture content in the coop limits the ability of the down feathers to maintain warm pockets of air.
A leaky roof can also create uncomfortable conditions during the wet seasons, so you will want to ensure your coop’s roof is waterproof and has no leaks.
If you live in an area where nighttime temperatures regularly drop to freezing, a heated waterer will be a necessity. Heated waterers apply just enough warmth to ensure water doesn’t freeze without making it too warm or hot. There are models available which can work on both plastic and galvanised models.
Chicken poop contains a lot of water content, which can get to dangerous levels inside the coop if it’s not cleaned out regularly. Another strategy for reducing moisture levels from chicken manure is to use highly absorbent hemp bedding.
Ensure the Coop is Free of Drafts
If you are new to keeping chickens, you have probably just purchased a shiny new coop, so the likelihood you have any holes to patch will be low. However, your chickens will appreciate your efforts if you find all gaps or holes and repair them as necessary, as there is the possibility that you may have loose fitting windows, or doors which don’t close up snug.
If your coop is a few years old, the elements will have started to take their toll. Wood may have rotted away in parts, and holes will be letting in the cold air.
Chickens hunker down over their feet as they roost on their perch, which helps to keep their toes and legs warm and protected from drafts. However, they can’t provide their combs with the same level of protection, which puts the combs at risk of frostbite if it gets cold enough and there is a draft adding to the chill factor.
Create Adequate Ventilation
While you don’t want any drafts blowing cold air through your coop, you still need to ensure that fresh air can enter and flush out the stale moisture ridden air, which is where a vent or two will come in handy. A completely airtight coop will allow humidity to build up, and, as you know, moisture and cold air can make a deadly combination for your sleeping chickens.
To stop air from blowing a draft directly over your chickens, you should strategically place vents in areas where wind can’t blow directly onto them. Hatches over your vents will give you the ability to open and close them as needed, which is handy on colder nights when you want to be able to control how much warm air can escape, but still allow some fresh air into the coop.
Other Tips for the Winter Chickens
Keep your coop full of chickens (but not too crowded). Chickens will naturally roost close together, fluff up, and share their body heat in the cold weather. If there is a lot of space in the coop, then get a smaller coop or add more chickens to your flock.
Increase the amount of feed over the winter months. As chickens’ metabolisms adjust to the cold, they will burn off more energy to create body heat, so add a little extra to your feed to account for the extra calories they will need to burn.
Ensure your coop is rodent and predator resistant. A toasty warm coop is just as appealing to rodents and predators as it is to your chickens, so you will need to ensure that only your chickens get to enjoy your hospitality.
Keep your chickens active during the winter months. Active chickens will generate body heat and stay warmer. One way you can inspire your chickens to action is to hang fruit and vegetables around the pen. Pecking at the hanging treats keeps your flock active and warm.
How you keep your chickens warm during winter will depend a great deal on the breeds of chicken you keep, how large your flock is, and where you live but the above tips are a good place to start for all breeds of chickens to ensure they enjoy a comfortable and healthy winter.