The last two weeks on the farm have been filled with a lot of snow, wind and freezing cold temperatures.  It’s about this time of year that most of our friends and family start asking us how the “girls” are faring in the frigid conditions.  Our “girls” of course are our chickens, and surprisingly enough, with a few simple adjustments, they handle winter better than us!  Now don’t get me wrong, they are not particularly fond of the snow any more than us humans.  In fact, it’s funny to watch them when we open the doors to check on them.  They will run to the door, and the minute they see the white stuff on the ground, they stop, do an about-face, and decide to stay in the warm coop!

The Coop with it's winter blanket
The Coop with it’s winter blanket

The key to keeping healthy and happy chickens through the cold winter months is really quite simple.  Keep drafts out of the coop, keep the inside of the coop dry, give them extra insulation (straw), and make sure they have fresh (not frozen) water and food to eat.  If those simple needs are met – chickens stay happy and healthy even through the coldest of winter nights.

I think a lot of our friends and family are surprised that we don’t have heaters or warming lights in our coop during the winter months – but there really is no need if you have good shelter and it’s properly prepared for winter. Here are some simple basic strategies that we practice with our girls and their coop in the winter:

Keeping Out Drafts

Happy Chickens = Eggs. Here are 3 of our "girls" enjoying the warmth of the coop and their nesting boxes
Happy Chickens = Eggs. Here are 3 of our “girls” enjoying the warmth of the coop and their nesting boxes

We cover each of the windows in late fall with a 1/4″ thick piece of clear plexiglass. This allows the light to still get into the coop, but keeps out the cold winter winds and drafts that can be so detrimental to the chicken’s health.

We keep their attached covered run filled with thick straw as well during the winter months, and if it gets too cold we can cover the small opening to the run with some heavy plastic strips that keep out drafts.  Make sure if you do have an outside run attached – that the small opening faces away from your prevailing winds – this will also help to keep out drafts.

Deep Litter Method:

One thing we do not do during the cold winter months is clean the coop.  Instead, we practice what is called the “Deep-Litter” method.  In very late fall, we give the coop one final clean-out.  We then put in a good 6″ to 10″ layer of straw all around, and for the next few months, we will add a few inches of straw every week or two on top of the old.  The new straw provides a nice clean, dry surface for the chickens to roam about on.  More importantly – the old straw below, along with the chicken droppings that are mixed in, will start to slowly decompose, releasing heat that helps to heat the coop and keep the chickens warmer.  As the winter progresses, we keep covering the old straw with a few more inches of fresh straw to continue the process.  In the early spring, when the night temperatures begin to rise, we will clean it all out and start fresh.  This big clean-out has an added benefit – it’s a great start to a new compost pile each spring!

 Water and Food:

Happy Chickens Lay Eggs
Happy Chickens Lay Eggs

With the simple practices above – it is amazing how warm the coop actually stays.  In fact, it is usually at least 20 degrees higher than the outside temperature.  Even so, one thing we do keep an eye on is their water supply.  On extremely cold nights, it will have the tendency to freeze over by morning – we just make sure to switch out a new watering bucket in the morning, and all is well.  It’s important to also keep their feeder full of food through the winter months. Without as much access to scratch and dig outside for worms and bugs, they need a steady supply of feed.

I always remember the four words of advice an old farmer told me when we first started keeping chickens : “Happy Chickens Lay Eggs”.  He couldn’t have been more right, and if you keep them dry and draft free through the winter, they are a lot happier!

Jim and Mary



21 thoughts on “Keeping Our Chickens Happy In The Winter

  • February 24, 2016 at 12:25 am
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    We’ve kept chickens for many years now. We free range them year round and rarely lose one to other than predators. Our coop is a converted tack room in an old pole barn and we do little different in the winter than other times of the year (mostly have to provide more pellet food and ensure the water supply). We live in Texas so don’t get much of the extreme cold. We are expecting our first batch of “homemade” chicks any day now and have 3 hens currently nesting.
    Raising chickens is easy, fun, and we’ll never buy another store bought egg, they aren’t worth the money.

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  • August 16, 2013 at 10:20 pm
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    Once we move onto our farm and start raising chickens I’ll be growing my chicken food for the winter harvest. Vermicomposting, meal worms and growing fodder for them to eat in the winter with some supplements of feed. I’d like to feed them, as much as I can, what they’d normally eat in the summer months instead of the grain feed. I’ve read Harvey Ussery’s book, “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market”, he has excellent ideas for feeding chickens off your own land.

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  • March 26, 2013 at 11:16 am
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    I love your blog! I enjoy your stories so much, especially all the ones about “the girls”. Gives a lift to my day!

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  • January 14, 2013 at 8:48 pm
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    Great thoughts – With this warm spell this week, it’s been nice to see our girls out and about. We use the deep litter method as well, but on those cold nights, I always feel a bit bad when it gets REALLY cold (below 0). I think I’ll try some plexiglass over the windows.

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  • January 13, 2013 at 12:31 am
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    We use a heated waterer too made out of a metal cookie tin and a 40 watt lightbulb. We also use pine shaving as it’s better for our garden. I give the girls treats every day- veggie scraps, stale bread, rolled oats. Keeps them busy and gives them some mental stimulation.
    Little Homestead In Boise

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  • January 11, 2013 at 9:30 am
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    Good morning. We do the same except we use pine bedding instead of straw or hay. It’s easier to clean out in the spring and much better for my garden (we have a hard clay garden that is now the best dirt ever because of the poop and shavings). We are in Minnesota and our weather can be 20* one day and -20* the next. My girls give me 12-15 eggs a day. Happy girls. Excellent blog, gonna spend a bit more time ready. Schools closed today due to 1.4″ of ice everywhere (I’m a bus driver) so have time to relax and enjoy.
    Take care. Blessings!!
    P.S. I use a heated dog waterer for them. It is awesome to know they have water if I don’t get out first thing in the am. A brick on the egde keeps them from tipping it or roosting on it.

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    • January 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm
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      Wow!! sound like you have it a little colder than we do! Take care and love the idea of the heated dog waterer! Jim

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  • January 10, 2013 at 8:37 am
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    our coop stays warm & dry.. our 10 cks & one roo want to stay in too.. 🙂 we did clean a bit of the floor mess out yesterday & add 40#s of new “fluff” to the floor & boxes. even after a complete clean each fall we do find the amonia smell is a bit strong about Jan. SO every yr we replace a bit & add more wood shavings 🙂 we have been keeping cken 10 yrs . they are work , but sure worth it !!

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  • January 10, 2013 at 2:27 am
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    I do pretty much the same as you are doing except I have been using a 100 watt light bulb on colder nights. I merged two small flocks and they started pecking each other. Throwing some scratch on the straw and hanging bunches of Kale from the ceiling on some twine seemed to amuse them and they stopped fighting.

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    • January 12, 2013 at 9:24 pm
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      I love the idea of hanging the Kale from the ceiling! It is amazing what a little distraction can do to keep them from messing with each other.

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  • January 8, 2013 at 5:10 pm
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    Stopping by from the Winter on the HomeAcre blog hop! It’s our first time linking up and visiting blogs! We have a flock of 6 chickens and 2 ducks. I have been worried about them as temperatures have been pretty frigid, but they’re doing OK. We’re doing deep litter (but with the ducks sharing the coop with the chickens it’s been more of a challenge to keep dry this season) and we stuff hay under and around the bottom of the coop OUTSIDE. Our run is covered with plastic sheeting (used for houses) with the end 1/2 open and a flap near the top for more fresh air if needed. And then, until the snow came, we continuously put dried leaves in the run for cover, but now there’s some hay too. We also don’t provide light or heat. We’re all looking forward to spring though! LOL

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  • January 6, 2013 at 11:33 pm
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    I have never owned a chicken but I find it very interesting. My friend just told me that her son wants some chickens. I have got to tell her to come follow you and all your great experience! Thanks for sharing at I Gotta Try That!
    Hugs,
    Marcie

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  • January 6, 2013 at 8:11 pm
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    Oh I do hope I am able to build a coop and acquire our first backyard flock soon! Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge! I do enjoy your blog!

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  • January 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm
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    Nice blog. We live in Seward, Alaska and have 19 ladies. This is a new hobby and our first winter hosting chickens. Our flock is happy and healthy, laying almost one egg per hen per day. We experience crazy weather from 5 degrees and blowing to a -20 to 2′ a day snow dumps. The ladies love their insulated coop and being in their covered run watching the world go by. We are really looking forward to the compost for our garden.

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  • January 6, 2013 at 2:29 pm
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    We do all of the above too. We actaully built a winter “sun room” out of free recycled galss and plastic shower doors. It warms up, gives them extra floor space during the winter, is dry, and we open it every day. Nice and dry and sunny! In the spring we take it apart and store it until next winte. The girls love it!
    Nancy, Little Homestead in Boise

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  • January 6, 2013 at 11:56 am
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    Oh such good advice. So many new chicken keepers want to give them “human creature comforts” and they don’t need them and likely they are not good for them.

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  • January 6, 2013 at 10:48 am
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    Thanks for the tip about the decomposition keeping them warm during the winter. It makes so much sense, but I never thought of that before. We have six “ladies” in our coop and they are just starting to lay again. Thanks to your tip, I won’t be cleaning it out til spring.
    Happy Sunday!
    Beth

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    • January 6, 2013 at 11:40 am
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      It really does keep them a lot warmer – and soooo much easier to do! Good luck to you and the 6 ladies! Jim and Mary

      Reply

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