These days, many people keep chickens as pets, so it is no surprise to see chicken coops popping up in suburban backyards. The question foremost on chicken owner’s minds is how they can keep their birds warm in winters. Thankfully, there are many ways to winterize a chicken coop and its run in order to ensure keeping one’s hens safe and healthy through the cold winter season.
Here are some ways to insulate a chicken coop and keep the birds warm this winter.
1. Ensure proper coop placement
This is the first thing to do in order to winterize a chicken coop. Chickens are naturally equipped to withstand cold weather and as the temperature goes down, their body temperature naturally rises. So the best thing you can do for your chickens is to keep the coop sheltered from drafts, cold winter air, rain or sleet. If your coop is portable, make sure you keep it in the driest part of the yard. If your garage has space, you can even move the coop there for the winter.
2. Equip your birds to withstand the cold
Chickens are hardy birds; they rarely need a trip to the vet and can usually withstand cold and hot weather stress quite well. The best thing you can do in order to keep them healthy during the winter is to feed them a healthy diet. Your vet or breeder can guide you about the right diet for your particular species. When your birds are properly nourished, they can alter their core temperature to withstand the ambient temperature.
During winters, chickens tend to eat a lot. Their activity also diminishes and they tend to get bored as they have nothing to do. So, it is a good idea to give them some frozen vegetables to peck at for hours. This will keep boredom at bay and give them something to do. The vegetables are also a great treat and can nourish the birds.
Chickens love cracked corn and a mixture of grains called scratch. In winters, these ‘treats’ can help keep your chickens warm. The downside to feeding corn and scratch is that these foods are not rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins. So, do not feed too much of them. Too little protein can impact egg production. As stated before, check with a vet about the right chicken feed to keep your birds healthy.
3. Know when it is too cold for the birds
As a chicken owner, it is a good idea to know what temperature is too cold for chickens. Well-feathered and well-fed birds can remain comfortable at an air temperature of 50 F or 10 C. Still air and sunshine are naturally welcomed by healthy birds so make sure they spend some time outside the coop during the day. On the other hand, a malnourished, poorly-feathered bird may be uncomfortable in the rain, and wind and could be miserable even in an air temperature of 68F or 20 C. So keep an eye on your chickens. If needed, bring them indoors if you find them shivering or looking sick. Contact your vet right away if a bird seems off.
4. Provide them with warm drinking water
Water is as important as food for the chickens and this is true all year round, not just winters. Fill up your birds’ drinkers with warm water several times a day. This will ensure they get their fill. As long as chickens drink adequate water, they will also eat enough to stay warm in the cold weather. When the temperature drop below freezing, ensure that the water is not frozen.
5. Insulate the coop
The best way to assess if your coop needs insulation is to use the ‘tissue test’. Hold a strip of survey tape or tissue paper in the roosting area of the coop. If the paper moves, then you know that your coop needs insulation and it is too drafty. Here are some ways to insulate the coop against drafts:
- Place hay bales along the walls for natural insulation.
- Straw on the floor of the coop is the best natural insulation. Straw is safer than electric lamps and helps the birds retain their body heat. However, straw can be a fire hazard.
- Snow is a great insulator as well. If you live in an area with lots of snow, then leave snow-banks along the coop and also some snow on the roof (assuming that the roof can handle the snow’s weight). Like igloos, your coop will remain warmer and insulated against drafts and chilly air.
6. Reduce the humidity inside the coop
The indoor humidity in a coop is always higher as the birds breathe and poop. When the air is humid, the birds have to expend more energy to heat their bodies. Frostbite also becomes more common in damp coops than dry ones. Therefore, an important part of winterizing a chicken coop is to reduce its humidity. Here are some ways to reduce the humidity inside the coop:
- Ventilate the coop – Good ventilation increases airflow and allows the stale air to leave the coop while letting in the fresh air. Unlike a draft, ventilation does not stir up a breeze. One way to ensure good ventilation without draftiness is to place windows and air vents higher than the chicken roosts.
- Let the chickens out during the day. This will reduce coop humidity in winters. Just make sure that they have a way of getting back inside when they want. Encourage your chickens to find a sunny nook where they can use the winter sun to warm them up a bit.
- Run a dehumidifier if possible.
7. Winterize the run with wooden panels
Use wooden panels to winterize the chicken run. Wooden inserts provide protection from the rain and wind and keep the run warmer.
8. Use chicken coop heaters with caution
Chicken coop heaters are only advisable when the temperature drops too fast for the birds to acclimate to. In most cases, coop heaters are a fire hazard. Also, the routine use of heaters could interfere with the birds’ ability to acclimate to the cold. If you insist on using chicken coop heaters then use buy ones with an infrared panel specifically designed for pets. You can also go in for wall-mounted heaters which do not pose a fire hazard and will not singe your birds. Flat-panel radiant space heaters are also a good idea. Heated pads, heating bases, and heating perches are also available. Place these directly beneath the roosts.
If you choose to use an electric chicken coop heater, do ensure using one with a thermostat so that it only heats the space when necessary. Never combine blankets with heaters as this could overheat the area and also start fires.
9. Throw a tarp or blanket over the coop
A passive strategy to keep chickens warm is to simply cover up the coop loosely with a tarp or old blankets. At least these are safe and not a fire hazard.
10. Use hot water bottles or compost piles
Traditional hot water bottles or heated compost piles under the coop can also keep your birds warm for a bit without the use of electricity.
11. Go for solar chicken coop warmers and infrared brooder lamps
Energy-efficient brooder lamps or solar warmers are a great option to keep the chickens warm. Many products are available online and offline and they are proven to keep your chicken coop warm without electricity. This way, you can save on your electricity bills.
12. Place an artificial daylight source in the coop
As daylight diminishes, the egg-laying activity might also diminish. One way to tackle this is with artificial light in the coop. Christmas lights look pretty and they are not too bright that they interfere with the birds’ sleep. You can string some Christmas lights around the coop to give a cheery feel to the environment.
We hope these tips help you winterize your backyard chicken coop easily!