Winter Chicken Keeping, Tips and Common Concerns

Lets get one common question answered first… whether or not to add heat. Chickens have over 8,000 feathers offering them a nice cozy coat. They fluff up those feathers trapping air under their down and stay toasty warm even in temperatures below freezing. So, the answer is no, chickens don’t need added heat in the coop. However, it’s important they have a dry, draft free shelter.

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Windy conditions will ruffle their feathers and compromise their ability to stay warm. Even a spot heater in the coop defeats it’s purpose in the long run, not to mention it’s a major fire risk. Chickens would indeed huddle under a heat lamp, but when they move away from it their feathers are not fluffed up and they’ll be cold. They do better in a consistent climate, not fluctuating temps. So you have a choice, either confine them to a totally heated shelter all winter, or don’t provide them any heat at all.
Your chickens will roost together at night to keep each other warm, make sure they have enough space to do this. Check on them at night, you shouldn’t see any birds on the ground, or roosting alone. This is an indication they couldn’t find a spot with the others. If you only have one or two chickens, rather than providing a heat source, do them a favor and get another chicken.

Good Housekeeping
Keep the coop clean, change litter weekly. Damp conditions from droppings not only compromise chickens ability to stay warm, but contribute to the risk of respiratory illness. If your chickens are free roam during the day, it’s a wise decision to keep their water outside the coop. It isn’t necessary to provide water at night, it only increases unwanted moisture in the coop. Ventilation is good, drafts are bad. If there’s gaps in the coop walls, patch them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, be creative! Save those empty feed bags, they’re a great way to insulate a coop!

Broody Silkies 10-23-14

Bedding
My personal choice is deep pine shavings. Many people use straw, but it has a tendency to mold, be brittle, and pokey, which can cause irritated vents on your birds.
Grass hay is nice, it stays soft, but it’s a bit pricey. All hay or straw is bulky and takes up a lot of space in the trash can. This is something to consider if you are an urban chicken keeper.

Diet for Winter Health and Warmth
Greens are just as important in winter as in summer. A good way to introduce greens and break the boredom in the coop is to hang a cabbage. This will keep them busy and healthy at the same time. Offering your birds a little scratch feed before bed will help them stay warm, but remember, scratch feed should be considered a treat, not a complete food for chickens.

More Resources for Cold Weather Chicken Keeping:

Raising Chickens in Cold Country
Cold Weather Care
Chickens in the Cold

Got Chicks?

Managing Heat in the Brooder

Understanding Behavior, Traditional Heat Lamps, and the Radiant Heat Alternative

One of the biggest concerns most people have is keeping the brooder at the proper temperature. You’ve probably read the norm… 95 degrees the first week, then lower the temperature by 5 degrees each week until the chicks are fully feathered…. Continue Reading

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Chicks Ready to Leave the Brooder? Now What!

Topic: About Grow Out Pens

Chicks just out of the brooder aren’t ready yet to greet the world, and definitely not ready to join an existing flock. So, there needs to be a middle ground created. This middle ground is called a Grow Out Pen, which is really just a fancy name for a safe enclosure for young birds to grow up in!

Grow Out Pens 102015

Fully Feathered

The guidelines for transitioning chicks from the brooder to a grow out pen is when the chicks are fully feathered, which is between six and eight weeks. Allow young birds to mature in a grow out pen until they are around four or five months old.
This is important because in the chicken world, size definitely matters. Introducing small/young birds to a mature flock is a sure ticket to a drama show, and it could be a bloody one too! Grow out pens slowly introduce juveniles gradually to an existing flock, making the transition easier for future interaction.
You’ll want to keep your grow pen in plain view of the adult flock. They will be very curious about the youngsters for a few days, and then return to business as usual. The chicks will be timid, or hide for the first few days, then will accept their onlookers as nonthreatening and return to normal behavior.

Introduce Change Slowly
The whole key to enjoying chickens is to avoid those problems that cause chaos in the chicken yard.  Nothing good comes from rushing introductions or changes.  The pecking order is serious business, and it’s a given that feeders, drinkers, and nest boxes have already been claimed and will be protected by an existing flock. When your juveniles are ready to join the flock, add more of those sought after necessities so the new birds aren’t bullied.

Buff Silkie 2 2-9-15

Ready to Leave the Grow Out Pen?
No problem, the trick is to not over think it. Your existing flock is quite used to seeing the young birds already, and the juveniles are very unlikely to make a mad dash to freedom the minute the grow out pen door opens.  It’s all a process, one that will naturally go smooth if you let them exit the grow out pen on their own. They’ll take a few steps out, then run back in for days, even a week. That’s fine, just close them in at night, and in the morning open the door again.

Social ranking among your chickens will begin almost immediately. Sometimes it’s hard to watch the fuzzy babies you raised all these months get pushed around, you’ll want to intervene and protect them. My advice to you is to walk away and don’t look for problems. I guarantee, if you look for trouble you’re going to find it! The flock will work everything out on their own over time.  You’ll know when you have to step in, and when to let nature take it course.

FAQ's 8

 

Preparing the Coop for Winter

Winter with Chickens

It’s almost that time again and it’s time to get the coop ready for the cold weather. Right now is the perfect time to gather the materials you’ll need and prepare a plan.
Dealing with winter is strange territory for me, simply because here in Phoenix we barely have one!  It never snows, and rarely drops below 40 at night. But I’ve done the research for you and found an article that will walk you through the proper steps to keep your chickens happy and healthy through the winter.

I learned a lot myself from this article… mostly that I wouldn’t ever have chickens if I lived in a cold climate! I reach for a ski jacket, hat, and gloves when it’s 40 degrees and I’m still freezing to death! It was 80 here the other day, I turned off the AC because I was cold. Being raised in Chicago, I know just how silly that is, nevertheless, living in Arizona for so long  seems to have messed up my internal thermostat!

 

Hat’s off to all you guys that trudge through the snow to feed, tend to watering, pick eggs, and do chores in the bitter cold. You are my heroes!

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Cochin Chicks Trading Fluff for Feathers

Looks like another 2 weeks and the Cochin chicks will be ready to leave the brooder! They will be in a coop in plain sight of the existing flock for about 3 months, then set free to join the others. Sounds simple, unfortunately it’s not. We’ll see, my Silkies are very docile and have always accepted new birds with little confrontation. Fingers crossed!

Disinfecting Your Coop, Here’s How

Given your Coop a Thorough Cleaning Lately?

Disinfecting your coop is a crucial step which the small flock owner might normally overlook. Disinfectants should be applied only after the building and equipment have been thoroughly cleaned, ideally right after rinsing. Disinfectants can be applied by sprays, aerosols or fumigation.

Don’t be intimidated by the thought of “fumigating” your hen house: for most small flock facilities, using a garden type sprayer is the easiest method, and chances are you already have a suitable disinfectant around the house. The types of disinfectants generally used are phenolic compounds (e.g., Pine-sol, One Stroke, Osyl),  iodine or iodophors, (e.g., Betadine and Weladol), chlorine compounds (e.g., Clorox, generic bleach), quaternary ammonium compound (e.g., Roccal D Plus) and oxidizing compounds (e.g., Virkon S, Oxy-Sept 333).

Follow the manufacturer’s directions for mixing and dilution of these disinfectants.  A good rule of thumb is to apply at the rate of one gallon of diluted disinfectant per 150-200 square feet of surface area. For a more thorough disinfecting, soak waterers and feeders in a 200 ppm chlorine solution (1 tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of boiling water).

Source:  Cornell University | Small Farms Program

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