Chickens are hardy birds and are found the world over in all types of climates. Many home owners raise chickens in their yards and gardens and you may wonder can chickens stay outside in the winter?
Chickens have thick feathers and a weather resistant coat which can help them to withstand the worst of the weather. With a few basic tips your chickens will be able to stay outside in the winter and will stay fit and healthy.
Make sure that they have a good hen house
Chickens are hardy animal and will tolerate cold weather providing that they are not exposed to damp and draughts.
Their feathers provide good levels of protection and insulation against low temperatures.
Damp and draught are the main enemies to chickens in the winter and you should make sure that they have a solid, damp and draught free place to live and shelter in.
Before the bad weather sets in make it your job to inspect the hen house, check the roof for leaks and make sure that doors and other panels fit snugly and don’t let rain and wind in.
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Keep the outside area as dry as possible
When the weather becomes cold and wet, the outdoor area that your chickens use can quickly become muddy and a real mess.
Your hens won’t enjoy the mess and will quickly become miserable which can lead to a loss of condition and them stopping laying.
If you have a moveable run and hen house then you can move this around to keep mud to a minimum.
Otherwise you can put a layer of straw down to reduce the levels of dampness and mud. You will need to replenish this regularly if the conditions are bad.
What to feed chickens in winter if they are outside
If your chickens are normally fed a complete hen food such as layers pellets, crumb or other, then they are unlikely to need any other form of food or supplement over the winter.
Chickens are surprisingly resilient and will get through even the hardest of winters on their normal feed.
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Make sure that feeders and water are not frozen
Your chickens will need more food and water when the weather gets cold and one of the more frequent problems that many chicken owners experience in very cold weather is that of food and particularly water dispensers freezing up.
You may have to inspect your chickens’ water several times a day in cold weather to clear them of ice so that your birds do not suffer.
One option is to use a heated water dispenser or to get a heated base, which will prevent the water dispenser from freezing up.
Provide some cover for the outside run
If you are in an area where there are cold winds during the winter months then make a windbreak on the windward side of the run.
This will provide your chickens with some shelter from the wind and will make them more likely to spend time outside getting daylight and scratching around, which is important.
Windchill can quickly make conditions difficult for many animals and a simple windbreak made from carpet, tarpaulin, straw bales or even cardboard, will help your chickens to be more comfortable.
Keep your chickens entertained while they are in the hen house
As well as making sure that there is plenty of insulating litter on the floor of the chicken house you should also aim to keep your hens busy as they will spend more time indoors during the winter.
- Make sure that they have enough roosting space
- Put some things in that they can explore – some old logs, a chicken swing, sticks
- Give them a whole cabbage or cauliflower or other tough brassica– they will peck at it
- You can add a flock block to keep your hens busy – we found a great one on Amazon
Chickens don’t need additional heat in winter
Mature and healthy chickens don’t need any extra heat during the winter.
They are hardy birds and will huddle together when they are in the hen house to keep warm.
Adding an artificial heat source can create problems for chickens as they can struggle to regulate their body temperatures if you put heating into their home.
Housing chickens from the cold
Housing your chickens is the first step to keeping them warm.
The coop should be sturdy and draft-free, with good ventilation for all year round clean air circulation.
There are many types of chicken coops – but here are some tips on what you should look out for when choosing a house:
A house with a slanted roof will allow the snow to slide off easily.
To prevent draughts have one solid wall to block the wind.
Chickens need 6-8 inches of bedding for insulation.
Try to avoid using straw, unless you are certain that it is dry and clean, because it can harbour moulds which are bad for chickens’ respiratory systems. Use wood shavings or sawdust instead.
Or you could try The Happy Trees Hemp Bedding as an alternative which you’ll find here on Amazon.
Ensure your hen house is protected from heavy rain, as this will lead to dampness within the house. A watertight roof, guttering downspouts and ventilation are ways you can help prevent this.
There should be enough room for all of your hens to stand up, stretch their wings and lay their eggs in private even though there is space for them all huddled together during the night.
If you have a free-range coop, make sure there is a run attached that is the same size as the coop and gives your hens space to dust-bathe.
When creating a house for chickens in winter remember they will need more insulation – which means extra heaters and more bedding. They also need a windbreak because they are particularly vulnerable to the cold.
Feeding chickens in cold weather
When chickens eat, their bodies produce a lot of heat, which means that any food you provide will generate more warmth in their coop and keep them warmer for longer.
Chicken feed is perfect for this – so ensure your hens have plenty during winter.
If your hens have a period without laying during their yearly cycle, then feed them a protein-rich diet to stimulate egg production.
Another good tip is to ensure your hens always have fresh water available as this will keep them from dehydrating and losing condition during biting cold days.
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General winter chicken care tips
During the cold months your hens will need a good quality, easily digestible and nutritious food to keep them in tip-top condition and help them maintain their body warmth.
Ensure that your coop has an area where the chickens can shelter from the wind and rain, and enough clean space for them to dust bathe if they feel inclined.
If you want to bring your hens inside because of the cold, make sure there is enough room for all of them to share comfortably and that there are no drafts.
Cold related problems
Chickens don’t cope well with sudden temperature changes.
They need time to adjust to new weather patterns so ensure your hens can get shelter if the temperature drops quickly.
Also, insulated houses help to maintain the chickens’ body temperature and stop them from getting too cold or too hot.
There are a number of illnesses which chickens can catch if they are left outside in the snow for too long – including frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot.
This is why it’s important to keep an eye on the weather forecast and take your hens inside if severe weather is expected.
Also – always ensure that your chickens have access to clean water in cold temperatures, just like you would in hot weather.
Keeping chickens warm at night
Chickens will huddle together to keep warm at night – so if you have less chickens in your flock it’s a good idea to give them more bedding.
This will allow them all to move closer together and generate body warmth.
In colder weather, it is important to clear out any dirty bedding from the coop every day because otherwise the chickens will get too cold – especially their feet.
In particularly cold weather it is a good idea to put a lamp in your hen house – but make sure to use one which doesn’t get hot enough to burn the chickens if they touch it.
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The bedding will also help protect them from drafts and keep them warm at night.
If you don’t have enough bedding, you can spread a thick layer of straw on the floor, which will insulate your chickens from the cold and hold in some of the warmth.
To sum up
Adult, healthy chickens will easily tolerate living outside during wintertime.
Providing that they have access to a good, solid chicken house with plenty of bedding, food and water, your chickens will be able to stay outside in the winter.
Winter care for chickens is not that different from summer chicken care.
You just need to be a little more careful and take some extra measures during cold spells.
Chickens don’t like extreme heat or cold – so make sure they always have access to clean, fresh water and somewhere out of the wind if it’s particularly bitter outside.
Don’t let them out in the snow for too long – and clear any dirty bedding out every day so they don’t get cold.
Keep an eye on the forecast to make sure you take your chickens inside if it’s going to be freezing outside during the night or early morning.