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Snow Birds: Keep Your Chickens Dry, Warm, Happy Over Winter

Even though they sport fluffy down coats, chickens don't like the cold! Here are four tips to boost your birds' health and comfort during the winter months.

buttercup chicken perched on a snowy fence

Photo: Jana Wilson

This Sicilian Buttercup hen is trying to avoid the snowy ground by perching on an equally snowy fence. Go figure!

I live in Indiana where winter can be cold and snowy. Since this winter has started out with a bang, it’s a good idea to take extra precautions to keep the cold out of your coop.

The basics — Make sure your chickens’ coops are dry and draft-free throughout the winter, don’t forget to increase your chickens’ food and to regularly check that they have plenty of clean, unfrozen water.

I recently discovered Fresh Eggs Daily, a blog that has some helpful tips for how to make winter a little easier on your flock, especially for those who live in snowy areas. I’ve combined those ideas with my own to make a list of the best ways to protect your birds from winter’s chill.

1. Stay Above It

Cold temperatures usually aren’t that hard on your birds — remember, chickens are wearing down coats all the time! It’s the snow that most chickens want to avoid. To give them a snow-free walking path, I shovel around the coop each time bad weather strikes.

Keep your birds’ feet dry by giving them something to perch on. I use upturned logs in my chicken yard, and while I haven’t actually witnessed the chickens using the logs, I’ve seen tracks leading to them.

Even when chickens are staying out of the snow, sub-zero weather can still take its toll in the form of frostbite on their feet and combs. Because frostbite is caused by dampness, it is essential to keep moisture out of your chicken shack. However, you may have trouble keeping the ground outside the coop dry, so be on the look out for early signs of frostbite. If the the tip of the comb or the skin on the toes or feet turns black, frostbite has set in. It can be quite painful and even cause bleeding.

Keep your birds’ feet dry by giving them something to perch on. I use upturned logs in my chicken yard, and while I haven’t actually witnessed the chickens using the logs, I’ve seen tracks leading to them. In addition to logs, use milk cartons or discarded benches or chairs. In the woods near my house, there are always small trees that have died and fallen down. Why not drag a few of the branches into the pen and criss-cross them to make a perch?

You can also spread some straw on top of the frozen snow to make walking easier. When the snow thaws and leaves you with a matted mess, the slightly-decomposed straw is a great addition to compost pile if, that is, you don’t mind the hard work of pitchforking it out of the pen!

2. Keep The Wind To A Minimum

In addition to ice and snow, wind can make for harsh winter conditions. You can create a windblock by draping a tarp or a piece of plywood outside the coop. Having shelter from the wind and the snow will make life easier on your birds and may encourage them to take more outings during the day.

Don’t forget to check your coop for cracks that let in cold drafts. While you need ventilation to prevent moisture, make sure your coop doesn’t have any openings that are letting out the body heat your birds are generating to keep themselves warm.

3. Give ‘Em An Extra Helping

In cold weather, chickens are using up extra calories to maintain their body heat, so supplement their diet with some suet or suet mixed with scratch grains. I also sprinkle cracked corn in the coop at night to get the birds to stir around the bedding. This not only gives them a carbo-load right before bed (which is when they need it most), it also helps keep the coop dry.

4. Get Hands-On

Inspect your chickens on a regular basis throughout the winter to check for frostbite and injuries.

Also, pick up your birds to make sure they are maintaining enough weight to stay warm. You can’t always tell just by looking because chickens fluff out their feathers to trap heat. Holding and feeling their bodies is the best way to check that they are in the peak of health.

Jana Wilson

Jana Wilson lives on 20 acres just outside of Bloomington, IN and writes her blog, The Armchair Homesteader. In addition to the chickens, she has ducks and a border collie named Winnie who helps her with her various efforts at becoming more self-sufficient.

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