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If you live in a cold climate you may be wondering how you can keep your chickens warm through the winter. Here is how to keep your chickens warm this winter without using any electricity!
People often want to know if they should heat their chicken coop in the winter. The surprising answer is a resounding NOOOOOOOOOO!!!
Heating your chicken coop can actually cause your chickens to go into shock. If the coop is really warm and they step outside into the frigid air their systems won’t know how to cope. You can learn more about why you should not be heating your chicken coop here.
So instead of heating your chicken coop this winter, here is how I keep my chickens warm all winter without using electricity.
Choose the right chicken breed
This cannot be emphasized enough – you need to look for cold hardy chicken breeds. You cannot just choose any chicken to keep in your coop because some chickens do better in the cold than others.
Cold hardy chickens have smaller combs and wattles (less susceptible to frost bite) and they usually have more feathers. I really like my Salmon Faverolle Chickens and they can even lay some eggs in the winter without supplemental light.
Usually hatcheries will have a section of chickens that are labeled as cold hardy and you should choose some of those breeds. Here is a great list of cold hardy chicken breeds.
Point your coop south
Before you build your chicken coop you need to get a compass out. In the winter the cold winds will come sharply out of the north and you don’t want that cold air infiltrating your chicken coop.
To keep most of this cold air out you should point your coop so that the door is facing south or east. This will keep the cold air out and allow your coop to get sunlight in the winter.
If you already have a coop built and your door is faced to the north here is what you need to do.
- Make a new door that comes out on a different side of the coop and close up the old door.
- If you cannot make a new door, you will need to construct a tunnel using straw bales to keep drafts out.
Keep your chicken coop ventilated
The worst thing you can do in winter is seal up your chicken coop. People often think this is a good idea because it will keep the chickens warmer, but this just isn’t true.
While you should not have drafts in your chicken coop, if you seal everything off your coop will get humid. The humidity will then lead to frost bite on your chickens.
To prevent this from happening you also need to keep your chicken’s water dish outside of the coop, and allow ventilation (not drafts). A draft of air is where air can blow right onto your chickens. Drafts are not good to have and can make your birds sick. Ventilation (unlike drafts) allows fresh air into the coop while not chilling your chickens.
I have ventilation under my roof eave that allows air, but not breezes, to come through. This keeps the humidity levels low while not causing drafts.
Use warm bedding
While your chickens don’t sleep in bedding (they should be roosting), you should still offer them warm bedding that they can stand on during the day. Straw is the best insulating bedding you can offer your chickens.
The air pockets in the straw allow it to hold heat really well keeping your chicken’s feet warm. Another benefit of straw is the water repellence it offers. Straw will keep your chickens warm and dry in the winter.
I have found local farms that sell straw bales and every fall I stock up on bedding. I used to use pine shavings, but found that they were not as warm as straw and they took longer to decompose in the compost pile than straw did.
Use the deep litter method
I use the deep litter method in my chicken coop which generates heat for FREE! Here is how it works.
- After you clean your coop in the fall, add a layer (2-4 inches) of straw to the coop floor.
- When your chickens soil that layer with manure, add another layer of straw without cleaning the first layer out.
- Repeat this layering process and occasionally throw scratch grains on the bedding to encourage your chickens to stir the bedding.
This is basically composting in your chicken coop! The chicken manure and the bedding decompose creating heat in your chicken coop. You can learn more about the deep litter method here.
Keep your chickens off the snow
When it snows the best way to keep your chickens warm is to provide a barrier between them and the snow. You will find that chickens really (I mean really!) hate that white scary stuff and avoid it at all cost.
To keep your chickens warm and encourage them to come out of the coop, make paths in the snow. I will lay down a layer of straw so the chickens can run to and from the water and food dish without touching the snow.
Adding some perches along the way will also help your chickens stay off the frigid snow. This will keep your chickens outside where they can take advantage of the fresh air and sunlight.
Use petroleum jelly on their combs
Even if you have a chicken breed with small combs, there is still a chance they could get frost bite. To protect my chickens from frost bite I put petroleum jelly on their combs and wattles.
Right before we have a cold front come through I will go out to the coop and coat my chicken’s combs in petroleum jelly. I do this in the evening or after the sun goes down because it is easier when the chickens are roosting.
The jelly can offer an extra layer of protection for your chickens. I use this every time the temperatures drop below 0oF. I have even seen our low temperatures reach -20oF on our coldest nights, so frost bite is something I have to protect against.
You should note that this does not offer complete protection and your chickens may still get frost bite. I have had mild frost bite on my birds before and they have recovered from it. Here is what you should do if your chickens get frost bite.
Keep the coop draft free
While ventilation is great in the chicken coop drafts are not. Drafts of air in the chicken coop will chill your chickens and could lead to death.
Make sure that there are no strong drafts in your chicken coop. If you find any make sure to cover them, so that air will not blow through.
All ventilation and any airflow should be located above the roosts to prevent drafts in the coop. Remember good ventilation will keep your hens dry, but drafts are bad.
Cayenne pepper is known to increase blood flow and circulation in animals. Adding cayenne pepper to your chickens water or food could help prevent frost bite and improve their circulation.
You can add cayenne powder to your chicken feed or sprinkle some in their water. Chickens cannot taste spicy food; so don’t worry, they won’t need milk to help with the heat.
Feed your chickens whole grains
Feeding your chickens whole grains can help them to generate their own body heat in the winter. Chickens will need to work hard to digest the grains creating body heat within themselves.
Feeding them things like scratch grains right before bed will help them to stay warm through the whole night.
Keep enough chickens
You need to have multiple chickens so they can keep each other warm through the winter. In the winter when my chickens go to roost, they will huddle together so they are touching each other which keeps them warm through the night.
If you are not adding heat to your coop you should keep at least 5 chickens. Your chickens can then snuggle up for the winter.
Snow is insulation
Remember that snow in winter is your friend not your enemy. Even though snow is frigid it actually acts as an insulator.
Do not scoop the snow away from your coops walls. Instead, you should let the snow pile up next to your coop, so it can insulate your chicken coop.
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