I live in the Pacific Northwest on a small island off the west coast of Canada. We’re zoned temperate rainforest, so my concerns over the winter are usually how to contend with rainfall and muddy pens. We do get the occasional cold snap or short periods of snow. Last winter we had a couple of dips in the temperatures which reached -10c/14f overnight. We also had a few days of snow which, thankfully, had all melted within the week.
I realize that living in a Mediterranean climate means I don’t have to deal with scorching heat in the summer or freezing, snowy days in the winter. For some of you, summer might mean monitoring for dehydration or heat stress, while winter is about frozen waterers and preventing frostbite on your birds.
If you are building your own coop from scratch incorporate design elements that reflect the conditions in your area. Regardless of where you live you’ll probably have to make some adjustments to mitigate the issues associated with seasonal changes in the weather.
Buy Cold Hardy Breeds
- Various breeds have evolved to deal with the weather conditions of the areas that they were developed in. Breeds with larger combs and wattles are more at risk of getting frostbite. Feather footed birds can get hardened snow and ice around their feet and lose circulation.
- Cold hardy breeds include: Ameraucana, Australorp, Barnevelder, Brahma, Buckeye, Chantecler, Cochin, Delaware, Dominique, Faverolle, Icelandic, Jersey Giant, Marans, New Hampshire Red, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Sussex, Welsummer and Wyandotte.
- If you do have birds with large combs or wattles you can coat them with a wax or lanolin based product like Musher’s Secret or Bag Balm to help prevent frost bite.
- I would advise against using a heat lamp which can be a fire hazard. If temperatures are below -15c/0f you could use a ceramic wall heater.
- The issue with providing supplemental heat is that your birds can become dependent on it and need to be able to function outside when they are without it. I live in an area that has a number of power outages due to wind storms. The sudden loss of power could make your birds vulnerable without their heater.
- I don’t advise using sweaters to keep your birds warm for a variety of reasons: feathers are a bird’s natural insulation and clothing is unnecessary; they can get wet and freeze on a bird; they create an environment for external parasites like mites and lice to live in.
- Even though I live in an area without temperature extremes I opted to insulate my coop when I got a good deal on used fibreglass insulation. If you do use insulation make sure it is well covered as chickens will peck and eat it (especially the rigid type). My main coop is double walled – cedar siding on the outside and plywood on the inside. My grow-out coop is made of ¾” plywood with no insulation and my birds are fine.
- Make sure your nest boxes and coop floor are well padded and dry.
- Some people use sand or the deep litter method on the coop floor in winter. I prefer shavings which are easier to remove on a weekly basis when they get wet and dirty.
- You can use bales of straw around the perimeter of your coop and run. Don’t use it inside in case of mold.
- Hens require 14+ hours of light per day to stimulate them to continue laying over the period of less natural light. I opt to give my flock time to recover from molting and give them a much needed break from laying.
- If you do use artificial lighting ensure the lamp is well secured to avoid a coop fire.
- Bars should be made of wood, not metal.
- Wide enough that their feet can sit flat and be covered by their breast.
- Positioned so that they can huddle together for collection heat.
- Not located by open windows.
Secure Your Birds
- I have an automatic coop door which has been totally reliable. I still go out every night and check that all my birds have made it safely back to the coop. A tardy bird who misses night time lock up over the winter could suffer frost bite or death.
- Chickens produce a lot of heat which can lead to condensation in the coop. Moisture can contribute to moldy bedding, ammonia build up and frostbite of your birds’ combs and wattles.
- If possible, crack opening windows and ensure that you have adequate roofline ventilation.
- Roof vents are recommended.
- To minimize drafts cover your run with plexiglass, hard plastic sheets or plastic wrap.
Water & Food
- There are only a few days of the year when my waterers freeze up. In those cases I store their water containers in the house overnight and set them out in the morning. Of course, that also requires taking fresh water outside midday if it has frozen again.
- There are a number of different styles of heated water containers, including DIY ones. Always be careful with electrical devices in your coop which could be a fire hazard.
- Make sure your birds have access to food throughout the day because digestion increases their core temperature. Some people feed corn in winter for the same reason.
- My birds are averse to going outside when it snows and have been known to stay in the coop all day rather than letting their feet touch the snow (i.e. 2″-4″ of the white stuff). Their feeders are located inside the coop, but their waterers are placed outside. If I don’t clear a path from the coop door to their water they won’t have access to water all day.
If you’ve got ideas on how to winterize your coop please add them to the comments section. If you’ve got photos please send them my way and I’ll try to include them in this post.
Featured Image: Backyard Chickens