When the leaves start to fall and temperatures cool off, I start thinking about the long winter months ahead and what I need to do for my birds before the snow comes.
A little preparation now will make your winter chicken-keeping a lot easier when the temperature is below freezing and daylight hours are few.
1. Out With The Old, In With The New
Now is the time to clean and disinfect your coops. Get your gloves, face mask (to avoid inhaling dust) and a good scraper.
Scrape the roosts, the floor under the litter, the walls and wherever else there are dried droppings. You can use soap and water or bleach, but make sure it's a sunny day so you can keep the coop open afterwards and let it dry.
2. Lay Down The Law With Bugs
Winter is one of the worst times for bugs in the coop, so now is the time to be especially vigilant. Sprinkle the floors with an insecticide of some kind -- natural or otherwise, depending on your methods. I usually coat my roosts with mineral oil to smother any mites or lice hiding in the wood.
One really pesky bug that hides on roosts is the scaly-leg mite, which gets under the scales of your birds legs and can cause disfigurement and even lameness.
Don't take any chances.
3. Heat Naturally With Deep Litter
A time-honored tradition among early poultry keepers is to start with about six inches of bedding and continue adding through the winter -- a method called "deep litter." The key is turning the litter over to keep it dry while allowing the litter on the bottom to begin composting slightly.
Decomposition gives off heat, which keeps birds a little warmer. I've read that if you throw a little corn on the litter in the evenings, the birds will scratch through it and do all the turning over themselves.
I like the idea of the birds doing some of the work around here!
4. Take A Walk Around
It's a good idea to look for unwanted cracks or openings in the coop that could potentially let water in.
Yes, you need ventilation, but you don't want rain or snow to get in, as an overly damp coop makes for an unhappy and unhealthy flock.
5. Make Sure You Have A Dependable Water Source In Sub-Zero Weather
I run an outdoor electric source to my coop, so I can plug in electric dog dishes (available at most pet or farm stores). Other poultry keepers I know use stock-tank heaters in a rubber water pans.
Of course, make sure you are using the appropriate cords for outdoor electrical use and never plug too many items into one plug. If you can, keep the cord off of the ground where it can get wet and dirty.
Let the cold weather begin!