Fall is the perfect time to answer the question: What does a chicken coop need for the cold weather? Now is the time to start preparations before the weather turns bad. With the proper preparations, backyard chickens usually weather the winter quite well.
Helpful Nutrition for the Molt and Winter
Many people ask when do chickens molt? The answer is fall and this molt hopefully draws to an end before the winter cold temperatures arrive. Feeding your chickens healthy, high-protein and vitamin-packed treats during the molting time will help when getting ready for fall and winter.
Many people ask: Can chickens eat pumpkins? You bet! Pumpkins are a great source of both high-quality food and extra protein in the seeds. Omega 3 fatty acids, Beta Carotenes, Vitamins C, D, E and the B complex vitamins make this a super food to feed to your flock. Additionally, cucurbitacin, contained in the pumpkin seeds, may act as a mild wormer, paralyzing tapeworms and round worms so they can be excreted.
Mealworms are always a welcome treat and these little goodies are bringing a protein punch. Great for helping your chickens recover quickly after a hard molt and a great training tool. Chickens will cooperate better when mealworms are involved!
Seed blocks, peanut butter treats and other commercially available boredom busters are good to keep on hand for times when the chickens have to be cooped up. If you don’t normally purchase scratch grain, fall and winter are a good time to have some on hand. Scratch grains help increase the chicken’s body temperature while being digested. I feed a small amount to my flock in the evening during cold weather to help them keep warm overnight.
Now that you have taken care of buying lots of pumpkins and treats for the fall and winter, what does a chicken coop need when getting ready for fall?
Preparing the Coop for Winter
Molting makes the dust and mess in the coop even messier, so I recommend making sure you know how to clean a chicken coop thoroughly which is best done while the weather is still nice. Scrape out old chicken bedding. Inspect for rodent holes, insect evidence and wet areas. Take care of any structural problems now so you don’t have to take care of building maintenance during a winter storm.
Clean the chicken roosting bars and treat with DE powder (Diatomaceous Earth). This is an excellent Diatomaceous Earth use because it will kill off any chicken mites trying to take up residence on the roost bars.
Check for leaks in the roof or other parts of the building. While you are checking for leaks, also check that your ventilation is optimal. Ventilation refers to the air flow circulates air inside the coop and keeps it from becoming stagnant. Ventilation is very important in winter because stagnant air can also lead to moisture collection. Moisture in the presence of sub freezing temperatures can lead to frost bite on combs, wattles and feet.
Winter Heat and Additional Light
Do chickens need heat in winter? I can’t speak about every area of the country but I will say this. Chickens are extremely cold hardy. If the chicken coop is draft free, has good roof ventilation, can be closed securely at night and during storms there is little chance that you need additional heat. After the chickens go through the molting, they grow in healthy new feathers and downy under feathers for winter. Chickens will go to roost at night, fluff up their feathers and cover their feet on the roost bar. It is amazing to me, how much heat is generated by my chickens during the night. The coop is usually very comfortable inside when I arrive in the morning. The chickens are happy and there is less chance of fire. Only once in our chicken raising have we used additional heat. Now, perhaps you live in a particularly frigid area during the winter. I can’t make this decision for you. Draft free goes a long way to keeping the chickens warm enough, though so don’t rush to heat the coop just because you are feeling the chill of winter. Another thing to consider is what happens during a power outage if your chickens have not been allowed to acclimate to the seasonal change in temperature? They are more likely to succumb to cold if it occurs suddenly and they are not prepared.
Adding light may in fact keep the hens laying eggs longer into the winter. I prefer to let them have a natural rest and we use lights only for a short time in the evening while we are cleaning up and feeding/watering the animals for the night. This extends their light by possibly an hour and is not really a factor in their egg laying. Naturally, egg laying slows down during the cold, darker months. This gives the hens a rest and allows energy to be used for warmth. I still collect enough eggs for our use during the winter.
Water in Winter
If your coop is a distance away from your home as ours is, planning for water should be part of your fall readiness. Emptying the hose after each use, or filling containers of water to keep at home will help you avoid frozen water when you are feeding in the morning. I will refill gallon jugs and sit them by my back door. In the morning, I grab the water jugs, dump out the frozen water in the coop and refill with room temperature water from home. The chickens all run to get a warm drink!
With some foresight and minor upkeep and repair during the fall, you, your chickens and the coop will be ready for winter weather.
What tips would you share with someone seeking to learn: what does a chicken coop need for fall?