The Sky is Falling

Winterizing: Part 1

 

Most of us in the Northeast have a basic handle on winterizing our poultry already, but there always seems to be those recurring winter battles.

 

Every chicken breed fares a little differently in winter. There are so many new and unusual breeds available in the US these days, most of us have mixed flocks with variable needs. Much to their own detriment, chickens do not complain much unless you are late with their breakfast.

 

How do you accommodate everyone universally when the snow flies?

 

Problems: Moisture, Exposure, Frostbite

 

The trifecta of misery. When the temperature outside drops down into the teens, your birds will likely not want to go outside. You should not force them to.

 

Unlike us mammals, chickens stay warm by standing still, puffing up, and using their digestion as a furnace from within to keep themselves warm. You can help them by feeding early in the morning when they rise, and right before they go to roost at dusk. A hearty morning meal staves off the hungriness so they can stand around and be fluffy and warm instead of running around looking for food. The meal at dusk does much of the same, but also gives them fuel for digestion overnight while they sleep.

 

All that food makes for a lot of pooping. All that poop combined with the birds respiring throughout the night increases the humidity inside the coop. Humidity is chicken enemy #1. It sticks to combs, wattles, and toes creating dangerous frostbite on otherwise healthy birds. Clean that poop daily in winter, and make sure your coop is ventilated properly.

 

Ventilation is confusing. How do you let air transfer and remove moisture, but keep the wind off your birds? If you find yourself asking this question for the first time Mid-January, you get a hearty helping of judgmental chicken eye. But here we are in late October, so this is the perfect time for a Fall clean-out and to start asking those questions. Your local hardware store is a great place to talk to a human and figure out if your coop needs an additional or different type of vent for winter.

 

If your coop is already well-ventilated, you clean the poop daily, and your birds still get frostbitten, we need to take a closer look at other culprits. Overcrowding is a common problem. My small flock of 10 shares an 8×8 shed that I retrofitted into a chicken coop. Can your coops vents handle the amount of moisture your flock produces? Always base your numbers on the worst-case scenario. How many birds could live comfortably in your coop with all doors and windows closed on a sub-zero degree night? For me, that number is right around 14. What is your number?

 

The outdoor space your birds occupy is just as important as the indoor. I have a small yard, so my birds have access to a large, sheltered predator-proof run when they’re not in the coop. Sheet plastic makes a great wind/snow barrier for chicken runs. Just like in the coop, make sure your run has air flow. If your chickens free-range year-round, provide them with sheltered areas where they can get their feet off the snow and ice.

 

Next week, we will look at supplemental lighting, heat lamps, and warmers just in time to bid farewell to Daylight Savings Time. Fear not, we may be cold and sad, but our chickens don’t have to be.