Winter Care for Chickens
Here at our farm, we do our best to provide healthy offspring to our customers. You cannot have healthy offspring if you don’t have healthy breeders, and there is no way around that. Our breeders are usually here at this farm for the long run. They tend to slow down laying eggs around 3 years old, but they will continue to lay eggs nonetheless, even if only 2 to 3 times a week. With that in mind, they will earn their place with the layer hens used for eating eggs only. We endeavor to keep our guys healthy and with good health comes a productive and long life for our chickens.
Keeping our flocks healthy is more a challenge in the winter months. I’ve read lots of material stating how hearty chickens endure the cold with a grain of salt, but honestly, they need our help. Winter can be just as challenging for a chicken as for anything else that lives outdoors in the cold winter.
Of course, there are chicken breeds that do just fine in cold winter months, but not all chickens are created equal. The way a chicken handles the cold is in-large dependent on the breed. Some breeds, such as Silkies, cannot handle cold damp temperatures well because they are not equipped with the right feathers. Silkies alone with Frizzles cannot handle wet, rain, or snow in the winter. They become like little sponges holding moisture, because their feathers will not repel water this can be deadly for these breeds in the winter. Wind is also a concern. Without sturdy outer feathers to block cold gusts, these fancy chickens get chilled to the bone.
Chickens of most breeds trap air in between their feathers which insulates them and keeps them warm during cold weather. Pullets and hens will tuck their head underneath their wing while sleeping which also helps them to retain heat that is lost through the comb. Their feathers function as a bubble to hold warm air near their body. One of the worst thing you can do for your chicken is to put a chicken sweater on them. Sweaters can cause all kinds of health issues. With sweaters they can’t dust bath to get bugs off, instead the bugs are trapped next to their skin making a nice snuggly place for lice and mites, but a miserable place for the chicken. If they try to scratch their claws stuck in the sweater and the sweater can get hung on all kinds of things. Sweaters make a nice carrier for chicken hawks to carry them away with. Sweaters are not a good idea at all for chickens. Feathers are made to keep chickens dry and warm.
The number one thing that we watch out for at our farm is moisture. Chickens generate moisture just by breathing, and 85% of their manure is liquid! Also, moisture can come through drinking water, rain, and snow. Depending on how cold your climate gets, if wet conditions are left unchecked moisture can cause mold and mildew that causes respiratory problems, frostbite, diarrhea, and freezing conditions that can literally cause their toes to freeze completely off.
It’s important to keep coops clean, dry, and well-ventilated especially during cold winter months. Damp air must have a way up and out. Beginner chicken owners make the mistake of battening down their coops so tightly that not any air can get out. Then manure, which is mostly water, p