We had a very late start to the cold times here in St. Louis, MO, so I didn’t do the full winterizing until this past week. I’ll explain what I mean by full and partial later in this post. I tend to not do full winterizing until the temps are below 40 degrees on a regular basis, because I don’t want to over heat them.
Chickens are little furnaces with body temperatures of about 103 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also able to fluffy up their feathers to catch air which acts as an extra layer of insulation. Just think of the birds you see flying around, they don’t have a warm coop all winter, so birds have skills and traits that keep themselves warm.
However, chickens like to have some extra help to stay warm. When winterizing, there is a hard and fast rule to live by: block drafts, but keep the coop ventilated. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it will make more sense soon. Drafts are cold air that fly across the coop and tend to hit the birds bodies. Drafts can disrupt the air insulation the chickens have added by fluffing up, which can make them cold. Ventilation tends to be smaller openings at the top of the coop near the roof or even built into the roof. Ventilation allows moisture to leave the coop. Moisture can be the death of chickens. They are very prone to frostbite, which can be harmful, even deadly.
Chickens, when they breathe, they let out air and moisture. If the coop is not ventilated, the moisture can settle on their heads, combs, feet, etc. Not safe at all. Again, ventilation is very needed, drafts are not. Also, NEVER use heat lamps. These are a huge fire hazard and have killed many, many birds from fires.
To prevent drafts, I hang clean shower curtain liners around the coop and run. This blocks all the locations where drafts would enter. It also keeps strong cold crosswinds from freezing out the girls while they are in the run. I screwed in weatherproof hooks and hang the shower curtain liners from there all the way around. I overlap the liners at various points to ensure there are no gaps.
I also add extra straw to the coop. The straw is good and cheap I insulation. I added enough straw to the coop to push it up the walls a few inches to really insulate and block and potential drafts. I added extra straw to the run as well. The girls also love to scratch and peck at the straw, so that’s an added benefit.
Chickens also need a constant supply of fresh, clean water. During winter, when temps get below freezing, the water is the first thing to go. You’ll have a brick of ice after just a couple hours. Your best bet is a heated waterer. I love mine. However, I have the luxury of having outlets that I can connect to. If you don’t have this luxury, making sure the water doesn’t freeze can be difficult.
Some unheated options I have seen work are:
- Using a black waterer. This will hold natural heat and hold off on freezing for longer than clear or metal waterers.
- Add a tennis ball or some other item in the waterer to bob around in the water. This will move the water, which doesn’t allow freezing on the top layers.
- This one is no fun and isn’t great if you work out of the home, but filling the waterer with hot water every few hours. The heat will hold off the freezing, but it will eventually freeze and will need to be changed every couple hours, depending on the outdoor temperatures.
Another fun winter trick that your chickens will love is feeding them a little cracked from right before bed. The girls will love the snack, and the corn has the added benefit of warming the chickens up from the inside as the corn slowly digests.
Full versus partial winterizing:
- Partial: added straw to coop and run, feed some cracked corn before bedtime, adding the heated waterer
- Full: all of the partial items PLUS wrapping the coop and run in the shower curtain liners
I hope this helps you understand ways to winterize your chicken coop. As always, feel free to contact me with questions. Enjoy your birds and happy winter!