Just what needs to be considered when preparing for the winter?
There are several areas that need consideration when preparing your flock for the colder weather to help keep them healthy and happy.
First, though, I'd like to begin with one of the most asked questions: should you be heating the coop? The answer to this will pretty much be dictated by where you live. I am not a big advocate of heating the chicken coop but I have had to a few times when temps have dipped to subfreezing for a period of days. If you live in a region where this is common, please consider some of the alternative heat sources that are out on the market now. Believe me, there is nothing worse than that call telling you that your place is on fire and you loose animals, your home or worse to a heat lamp fire.
Chickens, for the most part, are more tolerant to the cold than they are to the heat. Once the molting season is over they will grow back new feathers and down under feathers. They will roost at night, fluff up their feathers and cover their feet. You will be surprised how warm the coop actually is when you open up in the mornings.
Besides fire, another danger to the health of your flock by providing heat in the coop is a sudden change in temperatures. Ideally, you don't want the coop to be more than a couple of degrees warmer than it is outside. Acclimation to the colder temps is actually much healthier for the birds and reduces the danger of drastic temperature changes due to loss of power or going from the coop to the run.
One way to naturally help your flock self-regulate temperatures is by supplementing their feed with scratch grains. I start scratch treats in the fall if we get any particularly chilly weather and will provide nightly during the colder months. Scratch will naturally speed up their metabolism, keeping them much warmer.
Steps to winterize your coop
1. Clean your coop thoroughly. Now is the time to do a complete cleanout of old bedding. Look for wet areas, rodent holes and other structural problems. These are much easier to address in late summer/early fall before the colder temperatures begin. Clean the roosting bars, nesting boxes, feeders, waterers, equipment etc replacing or repairing anything in need.
2. Check ventilation and minimize drafts. Drafts are of concern due to the rapid loss of warmth during the night and with a dip in wind chill temperatures. However, you do need to have a good ventilation system in place to filter out the stagnant, warm, moisture-laden air and replace it with the cooler, drier air. Moisture collection can lead to frostbite on the combs, wattles and feet of your birds. Moisture trapped in the coop can also lead to mold developing in the bedding and dangerous ammonia buildup which can affect the birds respiratory system.
When developing your ventilation system it is important to keep the vents towards the roof so that the cold air isn't able to flow directly onto your birds.
3. Consider using the deep litter method during the winter season for added insulation. If created right, the deep litter method is a great way to manage the litter in your chicken coop adding a layer of insulation and developing a compost layer that will welcome the good microbes in, which allows the unhealthy bacteria of the waste to be neutralized.
To incorporate the deep litter method, start with a layer of pine shavings (do not use cedar shavings which are believed to be toxic to birds). Spray this layer with Chick Fresh to begin the microbe breakdown of the harmful bacteria. Instead of replacing the bedding, just mix it with a light rake and spray daily. Add another layer of pine shavings as needed.
4. Roost area - As a general rule you will want to assure that you have a large enough roosting area for everyone to be up off of the ground where they can feel safe and huddle together for warmth. This should be at least 2' off of the ground.
Of course, there are always those flocks who must do it their own way -- if you have silkies then you know exactly what I mean! For our silkie coop, the plan is to add an additional layer of straw and hay/grass clippings to keep their sleeping corner nice and toasty!
5. Provide a sunroom. Take advantage of the sun while you can and build a greenhouse style area covered in clear heavy plastic in the run so that the flock can still get out where they have enough space, fresh air and still be protected from the bitter weather.
6. Protect against frostbite - As mentioned earlier, making sure there are no drafts and proper ventilation will go a long way in protecting your flock from frostbite. In severe weather, you can also add a layer of petroleum jelly to their combs, wattles and any other areas of exposure to give an additional layer of protection. Reapply as needed and remember to be very careful around the birds eyes.
What other winter preparations can you share with our community? We'd love to hear from you!
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