Preparing Your Flock for Winter

It’s October and that means that cold weather is just around the corner. Now is the perfect time to make sure you have all the necessary supplies to keep your flock safe happy during the winter. Here are a few things you may want to double check:

The Coop
You want to make sure that there is sufficient ventilation in your coop. While the natural inclination is to keep your birds warm, you have to be careful. There is an increased danger of condensation in a coop because there is a high ammonia content in chicken manure. When condensation forms on the ceiling of the coop and drips down onto the birds’ heads, it’s an uncomfortable and unhealthy situation!

Another issue with the ammonia content is that chickens have finicky respiratory systems, so without proper ventilation in the coop they can develop breathing problems. Keeping the coop draft free, yet well-ventilated is probably the most important thing you can do for your birds during the winter.

It is not a good idea to heat the coop. Chickens have built-in defenses against the cold,and heating the coop can actually weaken the birds. If you decide to heat your coop, be very careful and do plenty of research first!

The Run
If you keep your birds in a run, you should make sure you have plenty of material like straw or hay to spread around. Keeping the birds’ feet dry is important, so you will want to keep the mud covered. The litter material also serves as a sort of insulation so that there is less risk of frozen feet.

You should also double check the security of both the run and the coop. Fat, happy chickens are especially appealing to hungry predators during the cold months. Double check possible weak areas and make repairs where necessary.

The Food
When it is cold out, you may want to adjust your feeding schedule a bit. It helps the birds stay warm if they have full bellies. Many people find a light feeding in the mornings and a heavier one in the afternoon does the trick.

In really cold areas, frozen water is an issue. Birds need access to clean, thawed water at all times. Some people use an electric water warmer to keep the water in a liquid state and some folks just change it more frequently. Either way, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your birds’ water when the temperature dips below freezing.

A Short Note About Eggs
It is natural for hens to lay fewer eggs during the winter. Fewer eggs means more energy for keeping warm and healthy. It also gives the hen a bit of rest so that her body can recover and prepare for the next season of heavy egg laying.

Some people put in systems of lights and timers to keep their birds laying all winter. It takes a good bit of extra work and effort to maintain such a system, but if it is essential for you to have lots of eggs during the winter it may be worth the effort for you.

Do you have any additional tips for preparing your flock for the winter? We’d love comments from anyone who has had success (or failure) in getting their birds to lay all winter or with bringing a flock through an especially cold winter safely!