Snow on the mountains and frosty mornings can only mean one thing; winter is on its way!
Here are a few tips to help you get your backyard chickens ready for winter.
Choose a hardy breed.
If you happen to have a heritage breed of chicken, you’re already ahead of the game. Old breeds like our Barred Rocks have been bred for the barnyard. They are hardy and well adapted to deal with the weather.
This article has some great info on cold-weather friendly chicken breeds.
Modern industrial chickens have been bred for heavy production and a short life. They should be avoided. Heritage birds are more beautiful, anyway!
Your birds need access to fresh water. If you have a traditional poultry waterer, you will need to fill it with warm water at least twice a day.
If you’re feeling slightly ambitious, you can build yourself a drip-bucket poultry waterer. With its open-top design you can drop in a submersable heater which will keep the water from freezing.
Wind and Cold
Chickens aren’t the brightest creatures, but they’re not stupid, either. They will stay inside when the weather is miserable, fluffed up cuddled and cozy. You job is to provide them with a protected place out of the wind.
You can help keep your chickens warm in the winter and cool in the summer by insulating their coop with a solid sheet insulation.
Despite the fact that the insulation is bright blue and looks nothing like chicken scratch, they will eat it. We keep ours from chowing down by laying a tarp between them and the removable roof.
Be sure to place their roosting perch near the roof to make the most of their own body heat, which will rise.
During really cold, windy days and nights you should wrap up the outdoor run. With a big tarp and some bungee cords, wrap your chicken run up like a present. Be sure to maintain some ventilation and open it occasionally during the day. Without fresh air it will get mighty smelly mighty fast. No good for you OR your birds.
Mud and Muck
Lucky for us here in Vancouver, snow and negative temperatures in the double digits aren’t an all-winter-long affair. As for rain, that’s another story.
No one likes muddy eggs in the morning.
We cover the roof of our outdoor run with a tarp during winter for the chicken’s comfort, but the soil will still get saturated.
You can deal with winter rain by laying down clean bedding inside the coop and in the run on a regular basis. You should also turn it in regularly. We use wood shavings, but you can also use straw. The carbon in the bedding will help to balance out the nitrogen from the chicken manure. Turning it with a pitch fork on a regular basis will aerate the soil and keep it from becoming anaerobic. (That’s a fancy way of saying SUPER stinky.)
You’re chickens will likely stop laying during the shorter days of winter, so don’t be alarmed when your regular breakfast supply dries up. It’s only temporary.
The return of those bright sunny yolks is just one more reason you’ll have to look forward to spring.