It takes a little bit of work to get your chicken coop ready for winter, but we'll tell you what you need to have your girls snug and safe in cold temps.
We created a detailed list of important tips to help get your chicken coop ready for winter. Check it out below!
Set Up a Dust Bath in the Coop
When the ground freezes, your chickens need a way to take a bath. The solution to frozen or wet ground due to rain or snow is to set up a dust bath in the coop.
We use a galvanized tub from Tractor Supply that's wide enough for two chickens at a time and deep enough to prevent the dirt and dust inside from being tossed out into the coop by the chickens. Avoid cat litter boxes and small totes - they are just too small.
Give Your Winter Chickens Some Grit
If your chickens eat anything other than feed, grit is essential for digestion. Pellets and crumbled feed can be digested without grit. Free-range chickens will find grit on their own, but in the winter, chicken owners should provide a source of grit for their chickens.
If you supplement your chicken's feed with treats, corn, fruit, veggies, or leftovers, they definitely need grit. We put grit in a clay flower pot or in a milk jug with a side cut-out and our hens eat it as they see fit.
Ventilation Is Key
Ventilation is absolutely the MOST IMPORTANT thing you need to consider in preparing your chicken coop for winter. If you see condensation or water drops on the inside roof, the windows or walls, or on your chickens' combs, your ventilation absolutely needs to be improved.
Chickens need the proper amount of ventilation in the coop year-round, but in the winter, the moisture chickens produce through their breath and through their manure can collect inside the coop. This is dangerous because it will lead to frostbite, respiratory problems, illness, and serious health issues like frozen combs.
Even the most cold hardy breeds will do poorly if the coop has condensation and is wet when it should be dry. If you are raising chickens in a cold climate, pay careful attention to ventilation!
Our chicken coop has two gable vents (front and back), a ventilated roof peak, and a front door with hardware cloth on the sunny south side of the coop. An outer wood door closes over the hardware cloth inner door only when wind is blowing from the south. The roosts are set well back from the open ventilated door and are protected from wintertime drafts.
You Don't Need Heat in the Coop
Think about the birds you see outside in the winter. They roost out in the open, and they have fluffy insulating under feathers. With an adequate source of food, wild birds are fine outdoors without any heat source. Your chickens gradually acclimate to colder weather as the season moves from fall to winter.
Hardy chickens should not need a heat lamp or other source of supplemental heat even in a cold winter. Heat lamps are dangerous and can easily start coop fires. Chickens don't need a heated coop, but they do need a dry coop (see ventilation above). In freezing and subzero temperatures, it's more important for chickens to be dry than to be warm.
No More Drafts or Leaks
While you need excellent ventilation, you don't need cold drafts or water leaks. Drafts on roosting chickens in the winter will lead to health problems. Melting snow or rain can leak around doors, windows, and the roof.
On our coop, it has leaked where we cut into the side of the coop to add an automatic door, but some caulking fixed that. We also close the side windows near the roost bars and seal the cracks for winter with clear plastic sheeting (only because these windows are next to the roost bars; otherwise, we wouldn't cover them).
Go over your coop carefully and caulk and seal against water and air leaks. Add a tarp on the outside of your coop around the roosting area in the direction of prevailing wind (north and west in our area) to keep drafts away from roosting chickens.
Prepare Coop Bedding
We use the deep litter method with wood shavings in our chicken coop, so we have to plan ahead to clean out the coop well before the first snowfall. Add fresh shavings bit by bit to get a good carbon/nitrogen (wood shavings/poop) ratio for composting the bedding right in the coop. Our chickens help by turning over the bedding while they hang out in the coop during the winter.
If done correctly, the composting process will actually add residual warmth to the coop (like the actual warmth from a steamy compost pile), and it won't smell at all of ammonia gas. If you DO smell ammonia or anything stinky in your chicken coop, you need to tweak the carbon/nitrogen mix because it's off and your deep litter is not composting as it should.
Plan for Egg Collection
When the temperature drops below freezing, you should collect eggs more than once a day if possible because eggs will freeze and crack.
Depending on the temperature and insulation of your coop, you may only need to collect once a day, but consider checking every three hours if this is your first winter. To keep your hens more comfortable when laying in nesting boxes, add straw to nest boxes for insulation - adding straw will also keep eggs from getting as cold as fast and protect them from breakage.
Plan for Any Water Freezes
Chickens need access to fresh water at all times to keep up their egg production and for their general health. Frozen water is something you must plan to deal with in the winter if temperatures drop below freezing.
We use two standard-size buckets inside the coop in the winter. We bring the two buckets to the coop each morning filled with warm water, and we remove them after dark each night.
The depth of the water and the temperature of the chicken filled coop keeps the buckets from freezing, although in very cold weather we have had a thin layer of ice form across the top of the bucket. In extended stretches of below zero weather, we have to replace the water a couple times a day.
We used to use a five-gallon bucket with water nozzles in the bottom, but the nozzles leaked too much on the bedding to be useful in winter. In a smaller or less ventilated coop, it might not be possible to keep water inside the coop. Water heaters are available but require electricity. We have a large solar panel and a boat battery that we plan to keep the water from freezing, but we haven't yet found a good low-wattage water heater that will run for any length of time on a battery.
Let There Be light
We don't recommend adding light to the coop for laying, but it's good to have a source of light in the coop if you get home after dark. Add a safe light (a light bulb in a barn-safe rated fixture or a string of Christmas lights wired on a switch) or have a flashlight handy for those afternoons when it gets dark at 4 pm.
Secure Your Chicken Feed and Cracked Corn
Secure your chicken feed and treats from hungry vermin and damp weather, including rain and snow. We use galvanized trash cans with lids that fit an entire feed bag. One can is for feed, and another can is for cracked corn, which is useful as a warming treat before bed in cold weather.
Also, we don't pour the bags into the cans, we just set the entire bag with an open top inside the can.
So there you have it! Implement these tips and you'll be well on your way to getting your chicken coop ready for winter.
How do you get your chicken coop ready for winter? Let us know in the comments below!
All photos by Daphne Cybele.
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