What Does a Chicken Coop Need for Winter?
Your Guide to Winterizing Your Flock, Coop, and Chicken Pens and Runs
With winter setting in, you’re probably wondering what does a chicken coop need for winter. To keep your backyard chickens safe and comfortable this winter, make sure the coops are secure, parasite free and any structural damages repaired. Winter brings about its own set of woes. The temperatures obviously drop, the winds are bitter, and foraging food becomes more challenging. It also means parasites will be looking for a warm spot to winter over and predators will be getting hungrier. It’s important to learn how to protect chickens from hawks, owls, raccoons, dogs and other predators.
If the rains come and the snow falls, that means puddles, muck and a less friendly environment for the chickens, and less opportunity for dust baths for chickens to keep parasites under control. With the winter winds comes wind chill, drafts and loose material can become missiles, causing damage and injury. Heavy snowfall can cause collapsed structures, and the heavy rains cause leaks in the roofs.
Making repairs now is important to prevent problems when winter does arrive. Check the roofs for any leaks, check the side walls of the coops for holes, loose boards and air gaps. Make sure the buildings are structurally sound to withstand the weight of snow. If you have been using tarps to shade the chicken runs during the warm months, remove them, unless you have a secure support under them. When tarps fill with water or snow, they will collapse, which may cause injury or suffocation to your flock.
If the coops or runs are in the line of water run off, divert the water with a ditch around the perimeter to keep that water from running into those areas. If possible divert the water toward your garden area to aid in summer and late season gardening. If you are not able to divert the water, setting up sandbags around the perimeter will help divert the runoff from the coop environment. It is also helpful to place objects in the run so that the birds can get out of the mud and water, making it easier for you to get around as well. Wood pallets, board walks, upside down crates, old tires, stumps and ladders are ideal for the birds and keeps them active during the chilly weather.
If the chicken pens and runs are in the prevailing wind, put up wind blocks. The cold is not nearly as hard on the chickens as the wind chill. At Just Fowling Around, We use bamboo shades as wind breaks in the winter months, which are inexpensive, and come in a variety of lengths and widths. The bamboo shades are not only effective, but when secure, they stay in place without worry of blowing away or becoming deadly missiles.
If you have trees near the coops and run, make sure any dead limbs are cut off, so they are not so apt to be blown down in the winds, causing damage and injury.
Make sure your fencing is completely secure. Repair wires, posts and boards to prevent predators from making entry. Winter time can be an especially wicked time for predator invasions since they are looking for a ready meal.
Check all your birds for any parasites. Treat accordingly or there will be a much bigger problem to deal with come warmer weather. If you use the deep litter method, add hydrated lime/agriculture lime to the litter to keep odors and parasites down.
Worm the chickens now or before cold weather sets in. There are preventatives, such as pumpkin and squash, but they are only preventatives, they will not rid the worms if the chickens are infested. There are organic products on the market, but those will only rid the most common round worm. When using any wormers, antibiotics or medications, read the labels carefully, many require use for several days and warn about eating the eggs during treatment. Research the products, through the manufacturers for accurate information on administering. Do not take the advice in random comments you may read on the social networks, use only reliable information from trusted sites such as your local County Extension Centers and State Universities or ask an experienced farmer not just a backyard enthusiast.
Many people wonder: Do chickens need heat in winter? Opinions vary on the subject, but we do not recommend heating or insulating chicken coops. Chickens are equipped to handle the cold. We do understand some of you have show birds that you might keep in a controlled environment, but our reasons for not insulating are legitimate. Insulation harbors parasites and moisture, which are both detrimental to your chickens. You do need good ventilation, but no drafts, so sealing any drafts with calk or new boards will aid in keeping your chickens warm.
If you use water warmers, lights or heat, check all the cords for frays and plugs for damages, you do not want the risk of fire. The few minutes it takes to check these units the better. Replace any damaged units immediately and discard any that are damaged.
If you have not already done so, prepare a first aid kit to be available and handy for illness, injury and special needs. It is helpful to keep supplies in a tote, tackle box, cooler, or container so it is all together in one convenient place. We cannot predict winter storms, that may make it impossible to run out to a feed store for needed feed or supplies. Having extra feed stored in a dry environment, having extra water in the event power is lost and having your first aid kit will make all the difference when these weather events occur. Refer to our suggested supplies at this link.
The repairs and preparations you make now will bring about a measure of security when winter storms sweep through, when parasites look for hosts, when illnesses become more common and predators are coming in closer to a food source. I hope this answers the common question: What does a chicken coop need for winter?
— Sis for Just Fowling Around
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.