– Sabrina Schirtzinger, OSU Extension AgNR Educator, Knox County
Raising chickens during the winter has challenges; decreased egg production, frozen water, and possible frostbite. Winterizing your chicken coop will help to keep your flock healthy, happy and warm. There are several breeds of chickens that winter better than others. These chickens are: Ameraucanas, Ancona, Black Australorps, Black Giant, Brahma, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, Delaware, Dominique, Langshan, New Hampshire, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Red, Speckled Sussex and Wyandottes. Realizing that not everyone has these breeds; here is a list of possible strategies to be successful.
Block Drafts: Check the doors and windows for drafts. Simply locking the windows can help with drafts. Inspect your coop for holes. Turn the lights when it is dark, walk around the outside of the coop inspecting the structure for visible holes. If you have a store bought coop with several open fenced sides; consider purchasing heavy plastic, or a tarp to cover the fenced sides.
Increase Bedding: Add a large quantity of bedding for the winter. Check the moisture level in the coop daily; when adding large amounts of bedding you find yourself cleaning the coop more often.
Feeding: Chickens eat more in the cold months to keep warm. Egg laying chickens need more carbohydrates for warmth and egg production. Providing cracked corn once a day, or increasing feed protein will help to increase egg production.
Egg Production: A decline or stop in egg production is natural. By providing 12-14 hours of light will help increase egg production. Put a light in your coop on a timer.
Frostbite: Occurs on feet, combs, and wattles. Gray/ blacken and brittle areas are indications of frostbite. Simply remove the snow from the chicken run (if possible), or straw areas to protect their feet when outdoors. Inside the coop make sure that all the chickens are able to roost up at night. Roosting allows the chicken to lie on their feet avoiding standing all night.
Frozen Water: With winter weather frozen water is inevitable. Change the water once a day, be sure to change the water often on colder days to prevent freezing. Heated water bowls or containers help to keep water from freezing. Be cautious as these devices have the ability to malfunction and cause a fire.
Even though your chickens may not be exposed to the harsh winter conditions with a little preparation they are very hardy animals.
Sources: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Tractor Supply Online Resources