Overwintering chickens is a little more complicated than keeping them throughout the warmer months. They aren’t terribly difficult to keep warm, but you still have some changes to consider. Let’s jump straight into my top 6 tips for keeping chickens in winter.
Tips for Keeping Chickens in Winter
Do you know what to expect with your backyard chickens throughout the cold winter months? These tips will help you prepare to make it through without issue.
#1 Expect Lower Egg Production in Winter
The first tip for keeping chickens in the winter is to expect a reduction in the number of fresh eggs that you collect each day. Chickens lay eggs according to the amount of sunlight that they receive each day. As the days grow shorter, their egg production takes a rest.
Many people suggest adding a light to the chicken coop to keep them laying, but I don’t recommend this. If you add a light, you are pushing them to continue to produce when their bodies need rest. You are also reducing the amount of time that they will be productive layers. This is because hens are born with every single egg that they will ever lay. The more you force them to lay, the fewer eggs they will have to give you in the warmer months.
My suggestion is to preserve eggs when they are in abundance and allow the hens to rest during the winter.
#2 Learn to Preserve Eggs
When your hens slow down on their egg production, your family won’t have as many eggs to eat… that is, unless you took the time to preserve eggs when they were in abundance.
There are several different ways to preserve eggs for the winter months:
- Freezing Eggs
- Water Glassing Eggs
- Freeze Drying Eggs
- Dehdrating Eggs
- Larding Eggs
- Salt Curing Eggs
- Pickling Eggs
#3 Know How to Keep Chickens Warm
Chickens really don’t need a lot of help to stay warm in the winter. They have layers of feathers to keep them warm and their internal body temperature sits between 105-107 degrees F.
As long as they have good ventilation and a wind break, they usually do just fine. However, if you have severe winters or chicken breeds that are not cold-hardy, you may want to check into some additional heating options.
Artificial Heat for Chickens in Winter
If you want to add artificial heat, I recommend avoiding heat lamps. They give off artificial light that messes with the chickens’ natural hormone cycles and they pose a huge fire risk. See my favorite heat lamp alternatives here.
Try the Deep Litter Method
Using the deep litter method can also raise the temperature inside the chicken coop. This basically means that you aren’t cleaning the old bedding out. Instead, you pile fresh bedding on top of the old bedding on the floor of the coop. The temperature of the chicken coop will increase a few degrees because the deeper bedding will hold in more heat.
I recommend not keeping water in the coop when using the deep litter. Watering outside the coop will help reduce the moisture content in the layers of bedding.
It is also important to use carbon-based materials like wood shavings or straw.
Winterize the Chicken Coop
Winterizing a chicken coop is pretty simple. Put up 6 mil plastic sheeting, shower curtain liners, tarps, or something similar on open areas of the chicken coop. This will reduce the wind chill inside. A windbreak and proper ventilation are all that is needed to keep a coop warm enough for chickens in the winter.
#4 Make Winter Chicken Treats
In the winter, chickens don’t have access to grassy plots filled with yummy bugs like they do during the warmer months of the year. Because of this, I like to give my chickens a few treats here and there.
Some good winter chicken treats include Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (BOSS), Nuts, Cracked Corn, Dried Fruit, Lard or Suet, Greens, Cabbage Heads, Pumpkins, Squash, and Mealworms.
You don’t have to feed these ingredients individually, try these different ways to treat your birds:
- Mix any of these ingredients together as a scratch mix.
- Make lard cakes or suet cakes.
- Hang a head of cabbage as a treat that doubles as a toy.
- Try cooking the pumpkin and squash along with feeding them raw.
- Try greens both cooked and raw.
Remember, these are treats and not daily food sources.
#5 Buy Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds
Frostbite is a big concern when it comes to keeping chickens in winter, especially in cold climates. If you live in a climate with severe winters, you may want to consider raising only cold-hardy birds.
Most important frostbite prevention characteristics:
These are traits to look for when choosing a chicken breed for your homestead.
Small Comb: Smaller combs (think pea combs and rose combs) are ideal because large combs are much more prone to frostbite.
Large Body: Heavy breeds typically do better in cold weather because their larger bodies produce more heat.
Originally bred in colder regions: It is important to choose a chicken breed that originated in a cold climate. This ensures that the birds you choose were bred to handle cold weather.
Feathers on Feet: Feathered feet on chickens can go either way when it comes to cold weather. The feathers can help keep feet warm when it is dry out. However, when there is snow on the ground, the feathers can become wet and increase the chance of frostbite.
>>Grab my free Chicken Breed Quick Guide<<
#6 Keep Chicken Waterers from Freezing in Winter
No one likes busting frozen water every morning, but if you don’t make preparations for keeping water from freezing in winter, then you will be doing just that. There are several different ways that you can do this, but first, you should decide whether you want to use electricity or not.
Electrical heating options for chicken waterers include:
If you are able to run electricity to your chicken area all winter, then winter watering can be a snap! These options will make chores easier, but they may also increase your electric bill and pose potential fire hazards.
The easiest way to keep water from freezing is to simply use a heated waterer.
Using a heated dog bowl is probably the most highly recommended winter watering “hack”. Just plug in the bowl, fill it, and clean it as needed.
Placing a heating element into the water bucket stops the water inside from freezing. This option works the same as a stock tank heater.
4. Heated Base
A heated base keeps the water at the bottom of the chicken waterer from freezing. It warms the water enough to stay in liquid form without making it hot.
Non-electric options for chicken waterers in Winter Include:
If you don’t want to use electricity, you can still slow the freezing of your chickens’ water with a few simple tricks. Even if you use an electrical option, it is a good idea to be aware of these in case of a power outage.
- Saltwater bottle
Fill a water bottle with salt water and let it float in the water bucket. The bottle will move around and keep the water from freezing. The water will eventually freeze if the temperatures drop low enough, but this method will keep your water liquid for longer.
**Do not add salt to the water that the chickens will drink. Only add salt to the bottle.
2. Apple cider vinegar
Pour a little apple cider vinegar into the water bucket. ACV lowers the freezing point of water a couple of degrees so it will take longer to freeze.
3. Rubber Pan
Switch from a classic poultry waterer to a shallow rubber pan. The water can freeze in these pans, but they make it much easier to dump the ice and replace the water. You can also place a tire around your rubber pan to help retain more heat.