Chickens in a Cold Winter

It’s pretty cold here at the moment, last night the temperature dropped to -8ºC and it’s hovering around freezing in the day. Usually we have a mild winter because we’re quite near the sea but on the other hand, because we’re 600 feet above sea level, we’re around 3 degrees cooler than the coast.

Chickens in a Cold Winter

Chicken Run in the Snow

The Chicken Run in the Snow

This very cold weather can be dangerous for hens. It’s not so much the cold, remember hens have a built in feather duvet, but wind and wet. At night it is important that the chicken coop has adequate ventilation even in this weather but draughts are a danger. A well designed coop allows for air flow above the birds but not across them.

Chickens will huddle up together at night, sharing their body heat and keeping each other warm. They’re hot blooded with a body temperature around 41ºC (106ºF) against our body temperature of 37ºC (98.4ºF) so they give off a fair amount of heat which helps to keep the coop warm. Interestingly, they give off a little less heat at night – presumably to conserve their body heat.

Their high metabolic rate that fuels the high body temperature means it is important they go to bed with full crops of high-value fuel. In cold weather I like to give them a bowl of mixed corn around an hour before dusk so they’ve plenty of high octane fuel for the night to convert into heat.

If your coop doesn’t have any insulation – most don’t – you could consider draping an old duvet or blanket over it. Don’t block air vents though and don’t let it get wet as that could be counter productive.

Our Omlet Eglu Cube, as with all the Omlet range, is as good as they come for insulation being double-skinned. Cool in summer and warm in winter. You can buy insulating blankets for the Eglu range but generally it’s not necessary.

Beware Winter Wind and Wet

Chickens Eager for Corn

Chickens Eager for Corn

These are the real killers. You’ve probably seen ‘feels like’ temperatures on weather forecasts. They’re based on a combination of the air temperature and wind speed. Add being wet into the equation and the evaporation further drops the temperature.

An easy way to see this is to blow across the back of your hand. It’s cooling. Now lick the back of your hand and blow across it. Really cold.

Our chickens’ secure run keeps the worst of the rain or snow off them with the polythene over the roof and windbreaks along two sides by the feeders. When it’s windy though some rain and snow still gets in which is a concern. Happily Choccy leads them to shelter under the coop – the daft Charlies literally haven’t the sense to come in out of the rain.

Water for Chickens in Winter

Chickens will drink cold water and even break a thin layer of ice to get a drink but solid blocks of ice mean no water. At night I bring the water bowl inside and take it back up in the morning. When it’s really cold it can freeze in the day, so I check and change the water if need be every 3 hours or so.

Don’t be tempted to fill the water bowls with hot water – hot water actually freezes faster than cold! Room temperature is fine though. I keep a watering can in the house for them at the moment.

Incidentally, you can get a heater for drinkers which may save you some work. Very useful if you’re out in the day.

Feeding Chickens in Winter

Breakfast Time

Breakfast Time

As I said above, I give them high-energy mixed corn before bedtime. On really cold days I’ll feed it in the day as well. It’s more expensive than layers pellets and layers pellets are a fully balanced food but its no biggie for a week or two.

A warm mash helps them as well. Do make sure it’s not too hot though, you don’t want them to burn themselves.

Because they’re not able to roam and get greenstuffs I’ve been giving them brassica microgreens and we picked up some very reduced lettuce and cabbage last time we were shopping. I let them have some greens after they’ve had breakfast and well before their evening corn. I don’t want their crops filled for the night with low-calorie leaves.

See also: Winter Jobs Around the Hen House

Posted in My Chicken Diary
2 comments on “Chickens in a Cold Winter
  1. Geoff Barnes says:

    I have a large covered run 20ft x 6ft with a hen house on stilts insulated with bubble wrap. Does any body leave the sliding door open 10 inches square, 24 hrs in the spring till Autumn?

  2. John Harrison says:

    I must admit to hating early mornings as I’m a night owl so opening the coop is a chore but I wouldn’t leave the door open on cool nights or windy ones because of draughts.
    I’d also be a bit concerned about rats and weasels etc. Depends how secure your run is, I suppose.

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