1. If the ladies are laying at all, collect those eggs often to prevent Freezing. It takes about 30-35 minutes for eggs to freeze. If the eggs have not broken, they can still be eaten. Just place in the refrigerator to thaw, then use as soon as possible. If the eggs have broken, scramble them up, shells and all and give to the chickens for a protein boost.
2. Block the winds. Windchill is hard on chickens just as it's hard on us. Tarp, heavy plastic sheeting or bamboo shades all work well to block the prevailing winds. Make sure those are securely fastened down. Unless you have a very secure support do not use the tarp or plastic sheeting to cover the run. When those get loaded with rain or snow they will collapse and cause damage to your fencing and can harm your chickens if they are trapped beneath.
3. Seal off any drafts that enter the coop. Ventilation is required especially in winter, but that ventilation should be high above the head's of the chickens even on the highest perch. But drafts that come through windows, doors, floors or cracks in the coop wall, should be sealed off. Drafts from the floors can be covered with heavy bedding, or straw bales around the perimeter of the structure. Calking works if there are small gaps, insulation strips will work around doors and windows, but if there are large gaps, you may need to fasten plywood sheeting over those openings. You can staple plastic sheeting over those gaps as a temporary fix, but be reminded, loose boards can become entry for predators looking for an easy meal and it does not take them long to figure out that there is a breach of security. Predators are opportunists and always looking for a way of entry.
4. Speaking of predators, winter is most often the time of year when predators are most prevalent. Raccoons, Fox, Coyote and larger animals prowl at night and they know your chickens are in the vicinity. However in winter, if they are hungry, they may approach even in daylight. Make sure your gates, doors, windows and boards of the coop are secure. Add an extra latch to the doors and gates that are completely different from what you already have installed. Raccoons are very wise and will figure out latches and how to gain entry. By having two different types of latches, it will take them much longer to figure out, and even if they do get one unlatched, they will have to work harder to figure out the additional latch. They do not easily give up. They may come back another time to figure out the second latch.
5. Make sure any time you have an ice or snow storm, to clean off the roof of the coop or any covered run areas. That snow and ice is very heavy and will cause collapse or leakage. Be safe rather than sorry, by keeping tabs on the build up of snow or ice. In addition if there are any leaks in the roof, fix those immediately so melting ice, snow or rains are not entering the coop and causing extra moisture in the coop environment.
6. Increase the protein diet for the chickens. Protein helps build a little fat between the body and feathers to help the flock stay warmer. Higher protein can be provided in either a higher protein balanced feed, such as Game Fowl Feed, or in the form of high protein grains, meats, meat/bone broth, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, nuts or scrambled eggs. Even if the chickens forage during the day, you may need to add more protein to their diet during the winter months. This is especially important if you have late molters that are not re-feathered by the time the winter chills sets in.
7. Be on the watch for frostbite. Prevention is always the best cure. Bag Balm, Vaseline or other thick salve works well to coat the combs, wattles, legs and feet of the chickens to help protect them from frostbite. This should be applied nightly as the temperatures dip below freezing, however if the daytime temperatures are not getting above freezing you may need to apply the salve at least twice a day. It is much easier to treat before they get frostbite than it is after they've been affected. Frostbite is serious and can cause loss of limbs but especially those pretty straight single combs on some breeds of chickens such as leghorn. Roosters are most vulnerable, however even hens with larger combs are often affected by frostbite. Be especially mindful of any birds that may not perch at night and stay on the floor. Make sure you have deep bedding so those feet and legs are not exposed to the frozen ground. If possible, even a good layer of hay or straw in the run area will help during the day to prevent frost bite on the feet and toes.
8. Always provide plenty of fresh, non-frozen water throughout the day. Chickens drink as much water in winter as they do in the hot summer months. Water is a way of regulating their body temperature and preventing dehydration even in winter. If you cannot keep fresh water then consider investing in heated bowls or heated hoses, so you can provide that fresh water throughout the day.
9. Warm treats of cooked grains, such as rice, wheat, barley, or oats are welcome on the chilly mornings. Always provide their main balanced feed. Treats should only comprise 5-10% of their diet.
10. Keep the chickens active. Tossing fresh hay, straw or alfalfa into the run during the day will keep them scratching and foraging through the day to keep warm. Give them a high protein scratch grain just before they go to perch for the night. The high protein helps to keep them warm through the night. Free-ranging when possible keeps the birds active and allows them to find what morsels may be reachable through the snow and ice. Be mindful if you free-range, that predators are apt to be lurking during daylight hours if they are hungry, so always monitor the flock or have a good guardian animal on duty.
11. Monitor your flock throughout the day. If you notice any that are huddled off by themselves and not active like the rest of the flock, that chicken could be suffering from hypothermia and will need to be rescued. Have a pet carrier, bedding, water and feed available to place any stressed bird in and place them in a sheltered area to help them warm up gradually.
12. Provide wooden ladders, pallets, tires, plastic buckets, straw bales, limbs or other non metal objects so the chickens can get up off the ground away from the frozen ground. This will also keep them active, but more importantly will help prevent frost bite to their feet and toes. As the snow thaws and the rains come, the objects placed in the run will help keep the chickens out of the soupy mud, which is full of bacteria and possible parasites.
13. Consider keeping the chickens in the coop a little longer in the mornings when weather is at its coldest. Waiting until the sun comes up will help to prevent undo exposure to the elements and may encourage the ladies to lay early in the day to make egg collecting a little less tedious when trying to gather before the eggs freeze.
14. Keep extra feed on hand through the winter months. The weather can be unpredictable and you may not be able to just run to the feed store to grab what you need. Having extra feed on hand will offer a measure of security that your chickens can still be fed regardless of the weather.
15. Do not heat the coops. Chickens are equipped to handle the cold down into the very low digits and minus temperatures. By heating the coops the birds are set up for illness as they go in and out of the warm and cold. There are very few means of heating a coop that are safe. Anytime there is heat and flammable materials within proximity of each other there is high risk of fire. Cords become frayed and can short, causing fire as well, so it's not just the heat that is a risk. Heat lamps and other types of lighting are as dangerous to your flock as heating units. All types of lights get hot and those can ignite flammable materials within a few feet. If you insist on heating the coops, consider only enclosed heating units and make sure those are well away from any type of flammable material and away from the chickens so they are not able to roost on them and inadvertently get burned.
16. Make sure you have a poultry first aid kit equipped and handy to treat any and all injuries that can occur during the cold months. Having that kit equipped, handy and knowing how to treat wounds and injuries will help reduce the stresses associated, when there are no vets to treat chickens. Even a very basic first aid kit is essential, to prevent infections that may go undetected during the cold weather. To gather supplies for your own poultry kit, refer to our link:
17. If you have the option of where to place the coop; position the coop and run so there is a southern exposure during the winter months and that the back of the coop faces the north. Also bear in mind the direction of the winter winds. By placing the coop and run away from the wind to help prevent windchill. If there are no options for placement, plan ahead, so that you can put up wind barriers, and an area where the chickens are able to go into the sun for warmth during cold wintery days.
18. Though this is not specifically for winter, provide electrolytes any time chickens are under any type of stress, whether that be weather, predators or injuries. Electrolytes are needed by every cell in the body and when there is stress or injury the body is not able to regulate the natural electrolytes. You can purchase electrolytes in the baby section of most grocery aisles, however you can also make your own to have on hand as needed. Refer to our link to make your own Electrolytes. justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-coop-chatter-blog/1
Preparation for winter weather is the key to getting through the worst of the winter months with less stress for you and your flock. Though winter is officially only 3 months long, those freezing temperatures can start as early as September and last well into the Spring months and there is often snowfall in Spring and Fall as the weather attempts to transition through the seasons. So the advice given is just as applicable in mid fall and mid spring as it is for winter.
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