We’re in the middle of winter. The winter solstice is always right around Dec. 22nd, which means the days are slowly getting longer already!
Full of so much promise for gardeners like me. Not full of much else. It’s cold at night in January and February, that’s true for most parts of the good ol’ USA.
What To Do for your chickens when it gets cold?
Well, basically, you should have a ‘house part‘ of your coop where your chickens can go to escape the weather. Wind and rain, versus just the cold, are what you need to shelter your chickens from the most.
A lot of chicken articles that you read on the net will say just that cold temps don’ t really harm chickens as long as they are dry and out of the wind.
However, I want my chickens to be comfy, not just survive.
So I have a hook right above their perch. When it gets much below freezing outside, I hang my chicken heat lamp, a very inexpensive fixture with a 250 watt bulb, right over their perch where they sleep.
Well, not too close! we don’ t want to singe any feathers. Be careful about keeping the lamp fixture away from anything flammable. Some people say heat lamps are too much of a fire hazard to use, but they have been used for generations.
I run an extension cord from the deck to the coop. During the day, I unplug the cord. On really cold nights, I plug it in. You can also use an inexpensive Christmas lights timer.
I also like throwing a tarp over the whole chicken tractor when the rain blows sideways.
The other nice side-effect of having a light on in the coop at night is that it sort of tricks a hen’ s simple brain in to thinking that the days are longer, and this often keeps them laying longer in to the winter.
Some think this is ‘forcing’ a hen to lay when it should not, but from what I’ve read and experienced, it’s not harmful. Extra light isn’t going to create an egg if one really can’t be created.
One year when my hens started laying fewer and fewer eggs as the days got shorter, I hung a 6 watt fluorescent bulb in their coop.
Not for heat, but for light. This was all it took; within 48 hours I got an egg. Another wintertime chicken topic is frostbite of the comb and wattles of a chicken. Some say to rub Vaseline or zinc diaper ointment on combs to shield from frostbite.
Others say this is useless against cold but harmless either way. And some say frostbite isn’ t even a consideration until the temps start to go below zero.
How To Deal with Frozen Water
Another important cold-weather consideration is frozen water.
You can set your metal gravity waterer on this metal heated base if you want. Or buy an even fancier water heater for chickens. Here’s a a common water-container heater:
My routine is more low-tech; I just bring a jug of hot water out in the morning after a hard freeze and pour it into their water bucket. Don ‘ t let your chickens run out of clean water!
One more thing I like to do is to keep a bale of ‘compressed wood shavings ‘ in the garage.
When I see any standing water or mud in the coop, I put down a layer of the wood shavings. This absorbs water which reduces pathogens that thrive in wet conditions.
Do your best to keep standing water out of your coop, because standing water is a favorite nursery for a variety of chicken-harming bacteria.