Holy frozen tundra, it’s really cold outside. If you have a small flock of backyard chickens or even just a couple laying hens, you may be wondering how to keep them safe and comfortable in the blistering cold days of Winter. The key to remember when caring for most livestock is they are better off cold and dry than warm and wet. That doesn’t mean you don’t provide shelter or dry bedding, but it does mean you can close up their coop too tight and cause more problems with creating too much moist air in their coop.
Some breeds of chickens are more cold hardy than others. This should be a consideration when selecting your chickens if you live somewhere that has lots of snow, icing, and winter winds. A quick on-line search will net you descriptions of various breeds and their cold hardiness. Regardless of the breed, you need to keep their bedding dry so their feet don’t get damp and freeze.
Here are some simple rules to follow to keep your flock safe and comfortable in cold weather and provide you some peace of mind about their care.
- Don’t keep your chickens closed up in their coop when it’s cold. They’ll need fresh air and the opportunity to strut outside on sunny days.
- Don’t insulate your coop too tightly. You don’t want drafts in the coop but there should be some air exchange.
- Don’t heat your coop. That’s very expensive, can be dangerous to the birds, and remember the its better in the cold for them to be “cold and dry; not warm and wet”.
- Don’t forget to collect your eggs more often. Eggs can freeze in the nests. They’ll crack as they thaw.
- Don’t put off cleaning the coop. Clean dry bedding is a must.
- Make sure you have enough roost space for all the chickens to huddle together for warmth.
- Keep their water from freezing. This will probably be your major challenge in the cold weather. Heated dog bowls or heated chicken waterers work well if you have electric available in your coop. If no electric is available, you should take them fresh water every time you collect their eggs. Dump out any frozen water in the dish before adding more.
- For extended periods of cold and windy conditions you may want to consider protecting their combs from frost bite. A very thin layer of Vaseline can be applied to their combs for protection. Apply a very light layer- more is not better. Think of how much you would apply to your own lips; just enough to keep them moist.
As long as your chickens can get in out of the wind, have dry bedding, and clean fresh feed and water, they should be fine. Of course, like the rest of us, they’ll be counting the days till Spring gets here.