Keeping a small flock of chickens in your backyard means they will need some extra attention to make it through the winter healthy, happy and warm. Where many large-scale farmers don't go that extra mile to pamper their chicks, those of us who have small flocks need to remember that a handful of chickens produce much less collective body heat than that of a large flock of 50 or more chickens. (You can tell if your chickens are cold if they fluff their feathers and stand on one foot...they're trying to stay warm.)
To help your chickens live through the cold weather, here are a few things for you to consider:
If you live in extreme climates, adding a brooder lamp is a way to keep your chickens warmer. Besides taking the chill off the coop, your egg production should increase, as chickens like to have about 14 hours of daylight for optimal egg laying conditions.
Chicken coop insulation can be as easy (and cheap) as sheets of foam or cardboard. I read of a lady who insulated her coop using scraps leftover from others cut and carry purchases at a home improvement store. It cost her less than $25 to insulate her entire coop this way. If you use regular insulation, remember to cover it up. Chickens love to peck at anything. Insulation isn't good for them to eat, but it does help keep them warm.
Patch up Holes
If your coop is drafty or has lots of open spaces, consider covering them up for the winter. Just don't cut off all their ventilation because they still need some fresh air.
Yes, this means.....PICK UP POOP! Don't neglect cleaning the coop out in the winter. Chickens tend to stay indoors more when it's cold, and if you close up the coop more than it is in the summer, all that smell can irritate your chicken's lungs. Keeping your coop sanitary is a must, not only during the warm months!
Keep Water Unfrozen
If freezing water is a problem where you live, consider getting a heater for the water. They actually make heaters for chicken water containers. Tuck it inside your water container and it will keep your chicken's water from freezing. I don't have a heated water dish, but it is something that I am looking into since we have already had the water freeze twice already, and it's not even winter! :> (
Chickens don't like to be wet or hang out in the wind. Adding plastic, a tarp, a shower curtain, or something similar to the outside of the chicken run, will cut down on those things significantly. I am going to staple 2 of the 3 walls of the chicken run, leaving one side exposed. This way they still have one wall uncovered so they can see out and still get fresh air.
Chickens need exercise! In the winter they'll be less likely to be running around foraging, so give them an incentive to exercise. Throw cracked corn or other grains into the chicken run and let them run around and scratch for it. Put their food and water containers at opposite ends of the coop so they have to walk from one place to the other.
Giving your chickens something to do will also cut down on them picking on each other out of boredom or grumpiness from being cooped up. One idea I read is to get a whole cabbage and drill a hole through it. Then, run a rope through it and hang it just out of the chicken's reach, making them have to jump up to get it, tearing off bits and pieces to eat. Not only is it nice to have fresh vegetables to feed them, they'll get their exercise as well.
Add Extra Bedding
In the winter months, add extra bedding to the coop and nest boxes. If you live in a cold region, add extra straw. If you live in a warmer region, add extra wood shavings.
Paying attention to some of these details will help ensure that your chickens survive the cold weather. As in most things with these easygoing birds, it doesn't take too much work to keep them healthy and happy. They will appreciate the extra pampering, and may even reward you with some eggs......even in the cold winter.
It's nice to know that with just a little extra pampering, your little sweeties will reward you nicely! :> )