If you live in the Midwest, it can be challenging to keep chickens warm and insulated in the winter. The fact is, learning how to keep chickens warm in the winter is NOT the same as how we would keep ourselves warm. Heat lamps, space heaters, and candles are not a good idea in a dry chicken coop full of hay, straw, and feathers. For some reason though, many people try to heat nature the same way we would our house, however we forget that these birds have survived for thousands of years without electric heat lamps.
Here are 5 simple ways to keep your chickens warm during the cold wintery days:
1 – Feed extra calories and protein
Keep feeding the chickens their regular food, but add a little cracked or crimped corn to their diet on the colder days. If you know the night is going to be extra cold, feed the cracked corn later in the afternoon, so they can digest it a little before roosting that evening. This will give them the extra calories needed to produce body heat in the coop. Don’t overdo the corn, just like with everything else, you can easily get too much of a good thing. If you are local here in Kansas City, you can go to a local Mill (I use May Milling in Grandview) to get organic / non-gmo cracked corn for around $17 per 50lb bag.
2 – Allow proper air flow, while minimizing drafts
As a general rule, do not have any vents open in the winter that are within 18″ of your roosting areas. This will allow the birds to comfortably roost together and share their body heat. Maintain good airflow in the lower levels of the coop though, because you do not want the air to get stagnant. Remember, do not create an air tight coop. If you are using the deep bedding method in the winter, maintaining proper airflow will also keep out the smell and keep things dry. In Kansas City, I open extra vents in the summer to keep the coop cool, but cover them with cardboard in the winter to insulate the coop.
3 – Feed a little extra fat
Around the holidays we all like to have a little comfort food to help us cozy up in the winter months. Your chicken are the same way. Here are a few easy comfort foods for your girls.
- Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (great protein, healthy fats, etc.)
- Suet Cakes (use ones with >6% protein)
- Meal Worms (great protein source and especially helpful just after molting season)
- Left Over Spaghetti (trust me, this occasional treat is hilarious to watch)
- Left Over Meat / Fish (any cooked meats that you have for dinner are generally ok for the birds)
NOTE: Do NOT use chicken sweaters. These are a novelty and are horrible for the birds. They damage feathers and prevent the birds from “fluffing”, which creates warm air pockets in their coats.
4 – Use extra bedding
Extra straw or wood shavings in the coop provide insulation, reduce smells, and absorb excess moisture. If you are in doubt, add another sleeve of straw just in case. Not only does this provide insulation, but it helps chickens have something fresh to scratch through, which prevents winter boredom.
5 – Keep water and food fresh
Using a heater in your coop is always a bad idea, unless you want fried chicken. Just suck it up and change their water 2x a day. Using warm water and keeping it fresh helps keep the birds hydrated and warm. I typically use two waterers and bring one inside to thaw while leaving the other one out until it is frozen. Then all I have to do is switch them out during the day. Adding a weekly tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and honey in the winter can also help boost their immune system. Always keep the water out of the coop when possible, though. The spilled water will create moisture in the coop, increasing the risk of frost bite. Food should always be kept dry, so either feed inside the coop or create a “lean-to” outside of the coop to keep the snow and rain out of the food container.
So there you go, a few easy tips to keep those birds warm in the cold winter months. If this was helpful to you, be sure to like the article and share it on your favorite social media outlet. Keep warm and drink some extra coffee!
Short Video: chickens in cold