Chickens in Winter: How to Protect Them from the Cold?

 If you own chickens, it is natural to be concerned about their well-being and good health during the winter season. This time of year not only brings cold and dampness but also reduced daylight hours, all of which can affect the lives of your chickens.

Chickens in Winter: How to Protect Them from the Cold?
Chickens in Winter: How to Protect Them from the Cold?

 How will they adapt to freezing temperatures, snowfall, and strong winds? Will they continue to lay eggs? What kind of diet should you provide to help them through the cold season? As the proud owner of five beautiful and affectionate hens living in an area where temperatures can reach as low as -10 to -15°C, we offer some advice to help protect your chickens from the winter chill.

 Even though chickens are more susceptible to heat than cold, it is important to shield them from the harshness of winter. Chickens can suffer from moisture and air currents, so we offer some tips to help keep them warm and cozy throughout the winter:

1. Protecting The Chicken Coop From Moisture And Drafts

 Clearly, chickens do not fear dry cold weather. However, they absolutely refuse to play the role of a wet hen! In fact, humidity is extremely harmful to them, as it creates a favorable environment for the development of respiratory diseases and other bacteria. In addition to humidity, air currents are also fatal to your chickens, as they can simply catch a cold or bronchitis. Therefore, it is essential to protect your chicken coop from air infiltration and moisture.

Sealing and elevating the chicken coop

 If you have opted for a wooden chicken coop, it is important to insulate it from the damp ground. You will need to elevate it, for example, by placing it on cinder blocks, wooden pilings, or on a waterproof and stable surface. The installation of a ramp allows chickens to access the coop whenever they wish.

 The second priority in cold weather is to insulate the chicken coop from the cold and especially to eliminate all sources of air currents, without removing ventilation! You will need to seal and protect your chicken coop, starting with the roof, which must be completely waterproof. The simplest way is to place a tarpaulin on the outside. As for the interior walls, they can be covered with plywood boards under which you can slide polystyrene or cork sheets, any mineral fiber, or even bubble wrap. Be careful to hide these insulators that chickens will enjoy pecking at.

 A solid chicken coop with a good door is ideal in winter to protect chickens from the cold. However, sealing does not mean closing it hermetically! Leave the doors and windows clear to open during the day to ensure proper ventilation.

Spread a good litter

 To protect chickens from both cold and moisture, provide their little feet with a good layer of straw (or, if necessary, large wood chips). And don't skimp on the thickness! Count between 5 and 10 cm for a good and warm bed that chickens will enjoy scratching and pecking at.

 Of course, for perfect hygiene in the chicken coop, this straw litter should be regularly cleaned because if it snows, chickens spend more time in the coop.

To heat or not to heat?

 In stores and on specialized websites, there are heating lamps specifically designed for chicken coops that provide a little warmth while also providing light, which is rare outside. What to think of them? First, they must meet all the standards in force to avoid any risk of fire. Then, they are reserved for large, solid chicken coops. Finally, they are only useful in very cold regions because they risk destabilizing chickens who will lose their sense of time. Therefore, they should only be operated for a few hours a day.

2. Adapting The Diet Of Chickens To Withstand Cold Weather

 During the winter, chickens expend slightly more energy to combat the cold, and the insects and worms that make up a significant portion of their daily diet become scarce. To enable them to effectively fight against the cold, it is advisable to enrich their food with proteins, minerals, and vitamins. Therefore, we can add to their diet:

  • Dehydrated insects such as mealworms, soldier fly larvae, etc.
  • Crushed corn and oats, help them build up a layer of fat.
  • Beetroot or forage cabbage from the garden, harvested as needed and providing a significant source of greens.
  • Oyster shells for calcium supplementation (recommended throughout the year!)

 When the cold sets in, I prepare a mash that my chickens love. I mix cooked vegetable scraps with rice, pasta, couscous, or mashed potatoes, and occasionally add cooked chickpeas, lentils, dried beans, or peas for a source of plant protein. This mash is served warm in the morning to offset the cold of the night. However, I do not give them any leftover meat or fish. I also let them wander in the garden, devoid of any crops, to feast on pest larvae and earthworms, which are abundant in my soil.

3. Preventing Water From Freezing

 A chicken needs to drink water at all times for its survival, regardless of the season. However, in winter, the water in bowls can freeze easily, and a chicken's beak is not capable of breaking through the ice. 

 If you are present, you can either replace the water or break the ice layer. However, this can be tedious. There are a few tricks that chicken owners share secretly:

  • Choose a container that is large enough and place it in a sheltered area away from cold winds and preferably in a sunny location (if the sun decides to show up on a winter day!).
  • Use a plastic bowl where the water freezes less quickly than in a metal container.
  • Float a ping-pong ball in the water, which moves at the slightest breeze and delays the freezing of the water.
  • Use a heated bowl or plate for drinking water. The only downside is that you need an electrical power source nearby.

4. Allow Your Chickens To Go Out To Encourage Laying

 Chickens love to go outside, even in freezing temperatures, rain, or snow. Nothing can stop them, and they know how to find their way back to the coop if the weather gets really bad. If they are locked inside the coop, they will get stressed, leading to pecking and illnesses.

 It is recommended to provide them with a shelter that allows them to stay outside in any weather conditions. Whether you make it from recycled wood with just four wooden poles and a corrugated sheet or buy a tarp, place the shelter in a draft-free area.

 In regions where snowfall is heavy, it is also advisable to shovel a path for your chickens to their outdoor shelter. They will appreciate it!

 Finally, a last precaution is necessary for very cold weather: apply a little Vaseline to your chicken's feet, comb, and wattles. This greasy substance forms an insulating layer against the cold.

5. What do chickens fear in winter?

 Depending on the breed, these birds display varying levels of resistance to weather conditions. However, in principle, they can all withstand temperatures of -15 to -20°C and can tolerate snow or even a rain shower without too much difficulty. It must be recognized that nature has endowed them with feathers capable of constituting an effective barrier.

 However, this rustic poultry must still be able to take shelter, as they may fall ill if they are exposed for too long to air currents, and moisture, or if temperatures drop below -25°C or -30°C. As a result, an entire flock can be affected by a good cold, coryza, or produce far fewer eggs than under mild temperatures.

Do Chickens Feel Cold?

 You know the expression "to have goosebumps," which evokes the "piloerection" mechanism associated with a sensation of cold? An expression that would attempt to establish a link between cold and a chicken. However, as paradoxical as it may be, a chicken does not (really) feel cold. It can, in fact, overcome temperatures as low as -15 to -20°C without really suffering from the cold, just like small birds in the sky that also resist, more or less, the winter rigors. Indeed, nature does things well.

 To protect themselves from the cold, chickens have a natural down coat, namely their feathers. Indeed, their tight plumage traps air and forms an insulating layer. Chickens simply apply a thermoregulation system that maintains their body temperature at 40-42°C. Moreover, in late summer or autumn, hens over one year old molt, meaning they renew some of their feathers. Therefore, all the conditions are met to resist the cold. However, some do not change their plumage and still do well. On the other hand, the feet, comb, and wattles are more sensitive to the cold. In very cold weather, these "extremities" can even freeze.

 Therefore, if chickens can easily withstand low temperatures, they fear humidity and air currents tremendously, which can cause respiratory diseases such as coryza. Therefore, it is primarily against these conditions that one must fight.

 Similarly, if you live in a region with harsh winters, choose rustic and less cold-sensitive breeds such as the widely spread Rhode Island Red, Marans, Brahma, Wyandotte, Sussex... or chickens adapted to your region's climatic conditions.

تعديل المشاركة

Islam Khennoucha

Islam Khennoucha is an Australian author and chicken farmer who has dedicated his life to the study and care of these fascinating creatures. He was born and raised in Algeria, where he developed a love for nature and animals, especially chickens. After moving to Australia, Islam purchased a farm where he could fulfill his passion for raising chickens.
No comments
Post a Comment

Post a Comment