How to Get Your Chicken Coop Ready for Winter

Know what to do (and what not to do) to get your flock ready for a chilly winter.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

The Chicken in Winter

When cold weather arrives, winterizing the chicken coop will keep the flock happy, healthy and comfortable. Make sure your coop is ready to face the elements before Old Man Winter comes to call.

Know Your Chickens

Chickens are surprisingly tolerant of cold weather, but just how tolerant depends on the breed. Single-digit temperatures don’t phase many breeds and some can survive in extreme sub-zero temperatures without a peep of complaint.

Inspect Coop for Damage

Walk the perimeter of the coop and run and inspect for signs of wear or damage. As the days get colder, predators like raccoons and foxes can become more aggressive in their search for food. Repair any holes or gaps to make sure chicken dinner isn't on the menu.

Nesting Boxes

Keep nesting boxes clean and lined with clean bedding like wood shavings or straw.

Check for Roof Leaks

A dry coop is a happy coop. Patch any leaks and make sure the roof is securely attached to the structure to avoid developing problems from winter winds.

Ventilation and Humidity

Closing up vents and reducing dangerous drafts is important, but don’t take it too far. Excessive insulation and lack of ventilation can raise humidity levels to dangerous levels in a winter coop. The biggest winter concern for chickens is frostbite, which is quickly exacerbated by high humidity in the coop. Use a hygrometer to gauge humidity in the coop. Humidity in the neighborhood of 50 percent is ideal for the health of your birds.

Deep Litter

In cold weather, keeping a layer of straw, leaves or wood shavings on the coop floor isn't just cozy, it can provide heat. As the bottom layers compost, they provide natural heat to the coop. Some keepers get a head start by skipping a fall mucking, but I prefer to head into winter with a clean coop and a full compost pile. Start with a fresh layer of litter about 4 inches deep in the fall and let nature do the rest.

Heating the Coop

Dangerous and difficult to monitor, space heaters are a bad idea in the confines of a chicken coop. It may not seem like much, but in cold conditions, a hundred watt bulb in a caged, mounted socket can provide plenty of heat to the flock. In extreme cold, a heat lamp or brooder bulb can provide ample heat without subjecting the structure or flock to undue fire risk.

Encouraging Winter Eggs

Egg production is drastically reduced in winter.  Shorter days mean it takes longer for a chicken to receive the 14 hours of light it needs to produce an egg. Some prefer to allow the flock a laying break, but leaving a light on for extended hours can help boost egg production during the lean months.

Chicken Feed

It is especially important to keep feed hoppers full in the winter. Digestion raises the chicken’s core temperature—plus, a fat chicken is a warm chicken.

Watering Chickens in Winter

Automatic waterers become problematic during winter months as water quickly turns to ice. Heated waterers are available, but taking fresh water to the flock twice a day in winter is good for them and an excellent routine for checking on the health of birds less likely to venture into the run or free range in cold weather.

Chicken Scratch

Providing supplemental nutrition by way of chicken scratch or other high-protein treats will raise the core temperature of birds as they digest.

Roosts

Adequate roosting space will allow chickens to sleep communally, fluffing feathers and sharing body heat.

Playing Outside

Allow access to free range or a run, even in the dead of winter. A little sunshine does the chickens a world of good and even a chicken has the sense to go inside when it’s too cold to play.

Monitor the Flock

For backyard chicken keepers, it’s usually easy to tell when a member of the flock is acting out of character. An unusually lethargic chicken may be facing health problems. Manic behavior may be a response to problem conditions in the coop. Combs and feet should also be inspected frequently in winter months for signs of frostbite.