It’s time to talk chickens again. They don’t call me the crazy chicken lady for nothing! I’m just as crazy about my feathered beauties now as the day I brought them home in all their fuzzy yellow cuteness. (They grow up so fast!)
So, once the weather started to take a turn towards winter, I knew we needed to do a few things to help protect our flock from the elements of a cold, Wisconsin winter.
Chickens are surprisingly a lot hardier than most people think, especially in the cold weather. They really know how to keep themselves warm by fluffing themselves up and roosting together for heat.
But there are a few things you can do to help them stay extra warm and safe during the winter months. Here are a few of the methods we use for our chickens in the winter:
Feed Them Scratch
I feed our hens about a cup of cracked corn scratch every evening, in addition to their regular layer feed, so they get something in their tummies to digest before bed. This is another way they get added warmth naturally. Plus they really love a little extra something to eat when they are generating more energy to keep warm in the cold.
Deep Litter Method
This means we don’t regularly change out their upper coop shavings as often as we might in the summer months. I know it may sound gross, but the combination of their litter shavings and their poop actually builds up into a composting layer of bedding that gives off its own natural heat. I still like to add a little extra straw and cedar shavings to their bedding every other week or so, once it looks like it needs it.
Add a Heat Lamp
This is somewhat of a controversial topic among chicken owners – to add artificial light or heat to the coop during the winter months is frowned upon by many. However, here in Wisconsin, when the temperatures have a tendency to snap down into the negative degrees for days at a time, I felt like it was necessary to add one to our coop for the winter months.
If the temperatures remain steady around 30 degrees or so, I do not turn it on for them. However, if we get a sudden plummet in temperatures down below zero, then I will most definitely set it on a timer, and have it turn on in 4 hour intervals, mainly throughout the coldest temps at night, so they get the added warmth. It also helps so the egg don’t freeze and crack!
Add a Heated Drink Base
Even in the winter months, it’s still important to keep your chickens hydrated properly. Their water intake is significantly related to their egg production, after all, more than half of what makes up an egg is water! But how are they to drink when temperatures plummet to freezing? This is why we purchased a heated drink base for our coop, to prevent their water from freezing into one solid chunk of ice all winter long.
Here is an example of one we purchased at our local farmer implement store.
Protect the Coop from Outside Elements
Since we get an awful lot of snow during our Wisconsin winters, and our coop is primarily made up of open chicken wire walls, we wanted to give our hens some added protection against all of that. We purchased an inexpensive roll of plastic sheeting to wrap around the base of the coop.
This not only helps keep the snow and ice out of the coop, but it also acts as kind of a greenhouse effect, in heating up the coop naturally on sunny days. We still have about a foot left “open and exposed” along the top, which allows for some fresh air flow.
We’re about half-way through our Wisconsin winter, and so far, these tactics have seemed to be working great for our hens and they continue to produce a healthy egg quantity. The lessened daylight does impact their laying habits, but for the most part, we are still on average getting about 5 eggs a day (we have 5 hens total.)
There is certainly never an egg shortage at our house, and we have enjoyed quite a few quiches and scrambled egg meals at our kitchen table! Yum!
Despite the fact that we have tried our very best to make sure our hens are as comfortable as possible this winter, they too grow tired of the cold and long for spring. This look proves it all, as she seems to be thinking, “Get me the heck outta this muddy, frozen tundra!”
Hopefully, with Groundhog Day right around the corner, we’ll see an early spring this year and as a result, some happier chickens! Until then, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, cause they just might freeze!