Your flock of chickens needs protection from all types of elements, including extreme weather conditions associated with the winter. Finding ways to keep your birds warm can be difficult especially for newcomers in this business. Whether you are a large-scale or small-scale poultry farmer, your chickens are a great investment hence the need to keep them comfortable during the winter season. So, what are the 5 tips to keep chickens warm in winter? The first tip is to keep your chicken run warm then followed by keeping the coop warm, feeding them well and adopting the deep liter technique and so on.
Even though chickens are hardy animals, they also need to be kept warm in extreme cold weather conditions. If they don’t get enough warmth, their productivity will go down. For layers, the production of eggs will stop drastically.
The weaker members of the entire flock will become sick when subjected to colder conditions. Failure to find a solution in time can lead to sudden death. Some chicken owners use lamps to keep their birds warm in the winter but that is not a good idea. Lamps are known to start fires if they are not properly maintained.
Learn more about the best five tips that you can use to keep your flock of chickens warm during the winter season in the following sections.
Tips to Keep Your Chickens Warm in the Winter
1. Keep the Run Warm
It is normal for humans to keep themselves warm especially in extreme cold weather conditions. For the chickens, their feathers play a crucial role in preventing the cold from reaching their bodies.
Feathers trap enough heat from the body and this keeps all birds warm regardless of changes in temperatures in their environment. Their insulation ability is something that has fascinated many people world over. No wonder they have been seen by many as nature’s minor miracle that keep birds warm throughout the winter season. This happens when birds fluff their feathers whenever they feel cold.
The fluffing process creates layers of warm air or an effective small cocoon of some heat to maintain body temperature. This feature enables your chicken to stay comfortable out there provided that the winds are not blowing strongly.
Also, the fluffing works pretty well when there are chilly drafts even if the temperature drops as low as -20F. For your hens to tolerate any form of frigid air, you are advised to keep chilly drafts to the absolute minimum. You can achieve this feat by fitting something strong such as tarpaulin sheets to one side of the chicken run to keep away harsh winds.
The insulating ability of chickens’ feathers is compromised when they get wet. With wet feathers on their bodies, chickens find it extremely difficult to fluff up their feathers as opposed to when they are dry.
Failure to fluff their feathers means that chickens become susceptible to extreme winter conditions. If this happens, your flock of birds will be in danger of frostbite. But you can save them from sudden death by taking them to warmer places until their feathers are dry.
When feathers are dry, your chickens will be able to fluff them in a bid to keep their bodies warm. To speed up the drying of feathers, you may use a hairdryer to get rid of moisture while providing some warmth to the affected birds.
Don’t just dwell on feathers alone. Other more sensitive parts need protection as well. Areas such as combs, wattles, and toes are more likely to show signs of frostbite if your chicken is subjected to colder conditions for long. In this case, you must treat the affected areas immediately to avoid fatality.
When it comes to keeping the run dry and warm for your birds, make sure that you spread out some leaves, straw, pine needles or any other material that will make the ground comfortable for your birds to move around.
2. Keep the Coop Warm
Chickens can generate some amount of heat on their own when confined in a small area. Usually, the temperature in such an environment can hover around 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. So, you may trap some of the heat generated by your birds by using materials such as extra straw in their nesting boxes and on the floors.
When adding these materials, you should always take care not to put more than enough because they can have adverse effects on the respiratory system of your birds.
Sometimes you may use some newspaper, cardboard or straw to add some extra insulation to your chickens’ nest boxes. Never use plastic or Styrofoam as chickens find these materials to be edible or suitable for pecking at. In addition to that, make sure their bedding stays dry or changed from time to time to keep the coop fresh throughout.
You can add several sprigs of herbs to your chickens’ bedding to make the coop smell clean. Herbs such as mint, lemon balm, catnip or lavender can also keep the coop smelling nice and fresh for quite a long time.
Another function of these aromatic herbs, when placed in the coop, is to control pests because most of the rodents and insects dislike the strong aroma associated with these herbs. All these features will make the coop safe and warm for your birds.
3. Feed Your Chickens Well to Keep them Warm
Once the coop and run are warm and secure for your birds, the next step is to provide your birds with the right feed to maintain their warmth. Good quality chicken feed is essential to their wellbeing, particularly in winter months. Foods rich in protein will help in promoting the growth of features in preparing for the colder months ahead.
Besides, extra treats from your kitchen can make a huge difference in their diet. Another good source of food that will keep your birds warm in winter is the cracked corn. You can feed them on this type of feed shortly before they get to roost. This is because corn is easily digestible thus helping their bodies release enough heat to keep them warm.
On top of feeding them right, you need to provide them with fresh, clean water. Being the most essential component, water plays a very significant role in the digestive system of animals. In winter, ensure that water remains unfrozen so that your birds can have it whenever they feel thirsty. The only challenge you will face during the winter season is keeping water unfrozen for so long.
But once you find a way of achieving this goal, your chickens will remain hydrated throughout. This is when heated waterers become an important part of your poultry equipment. Therefore, your heated waterers should be ready as the winter season approaches to help keep your birds warm and comfortable.
4. Deep Litter Technique
This technique is suitable for managing litter inside the coop as well as helping to insulate your birds in cold weather. The technique involves placing pine shavings or any other similar materials on the floor. With these materials in place, all you have to do is to stir them up using a light rake as a way of cleaning or replacing accumulated waste from your chickens.
If you make a habit of turning these materials properly and frequently, then the litter will start forming a compost layer. And this will be a good source of organic manure on your farm.
Once more, these decomposing materials will help in the insulation of your coop during winter months. However, it’s advisable to avoid using cedar shaving in deep litter technique because they can become toxic to your chickens.
5. Trap the Heat Using Sunlight
Even though the days are shorter in winter, you can still trap the heat from sunlight. This means you should take your time during the day to ensure that the coop stays warmer during the night or darker hours.
This method can work perfectly well if you use well-insulated windows to act as a sun trap. Better still, this technique can become effective if you have a dark slab or dirt floor in your coop. If you don’t have any of these types of floors, you may as well use the deep litter method.
Apart from that, you can allow the coop to retain more heat by increasing its thermal mass. This is a measure of the material’s ability to absorb and retain heat. So, the higher the amount of thermal mass in the coop, the more it releases heat after sunset. The best materials to use for this technique include the compost floor, concrete, or stone floors as well.
Which chicken breeds are suitable for the winter season? If you are planning to keep chickens that can adapt well to winter conditions, then you should consider keeping the following breeds: Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, Buckeye, Australorps, Wyandotte, and Dominiques. All these birds can adapt well to extreme cold conditions.
What happens when your chickens are subjected to frostbite for long? Frostbite can cause your birds to lose their feet and toes. This happens mostly when you let your chickens walk on the snow or ice for longer periods.
Some breeds of chickens can adapt to winter conditions better than others. But you can raise any breed in places with extreme cold weather conditions if you follow any of the tips highlighted in this article. These tips will help you keep your birds warmer and comfortable from the onset of the winter season to the end of it.
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