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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Getting Chickens Ready for Winter Part 1

It's that time of the year. Zombies and vampires have been roaming the streets. Turkeys have lost most of their hope and have reached the "acceptance" step of the 5 stages of grief as they approach their demise. Santa is gaining weight getting ready for his 2011 Holiday tour. It's also time to consider what you are going to do to get your chickens ready for winter.

First things first. Most chickens will be OK in the cold winter. My Swedish ancestors had chickens and I think it gets cold there. Chickens have been raised and bred to withstand cold. You don't need to do a lot to protect them. If you wonder whether or not your chickens are going to survive check out your breeds and their hardiness here.

So why do we need to help them during the winter. It takes energy to stay warm and survive. We have found that by taking a few measures we can help them stay warm, which in turn gives them more energy to make eggs. It doesn't take much to keep your egg production decent throughout the winter wonderland. The next two articles will cover some of the things to keep your chickens laying.

Check Your Chicken Coop

Your chicken coop needs to keep your chickens dry. When it rains in the fall I go out to the chicken coop to see if there is any water leaking into the coop. If there is, I note where it is and then fix the roof on a dry fall day. Her I am replacing shingles on the roof last weekend. Check the walls for openings or weakness. Essentially you want to batten down the hatches.
reshingling the roof
Another coop issue that a lot of people don't think of is ventilation. You need to keep moisture out of your coop, but at the same time let moisture escape. Chickens create moisture. Your chicken coop can't be an airtight box. Make sure you allow for some airflow in the coop through windows or natural openings. We cover all of our openings with chicken wire.


Bedding is important during the winter. It helps your chickens insulate themselves when they nest, and it absorbs moisture and smells. We prefer to use pine shavings for our chicken nesting boxes. We can get a huge bale of pine shavings at the local feed store for about $12. We spread it out in the lay boxes and on the ground of the coop.

Nesting box with pine shavings
You can also use hay or straw as bedding. This is another cheap way to line your coop. In our previous home, Marisa and I noticed that a lot of the neighbors would decorate their porch with straw bales during the fall. Since we lived in suburbia, they had no use for the bales once they were done using them for decorations. We were able to get them for free and rarely had to buy any. Both the shavings and hay break down through the winter. As they decompose they will add some heat to your coop to keep the chickens more comfortable.

We also shred our junk mail, and bills that don't have a lot of ink in them and put it in the coop mixed with the straw and shavings. Its is additional insulation, and it breaks down enough once we put it in our compost pile that we are able to use the junk mail to grow vegetables.

Our next article will talk about additional things to do for your chickens, including what we have found to be the most important in helping chickens deal with the cold, a heat lamp.



nancy said...

we just gave our coop a good cleaning and this weekend we are reshingling the coops. I have never heard of the shreaded mail for nesting boxes before good tip. Thank you

brooke said...

How often in the winter do you scoop out the coop and put in all fresh bedding? Basically - how dirty is too dirty?

Anonymous said...

Do you use artificial light in the winter months to keep your egg production up? We had chosen to let nature run it's cycle but I'd love to hear other people's opinions.

Victoria Williams said...

I like the idea of adding shredded paper to the nesting boxes. Good tip.

Mike said...

Brooke: We clean out the nesting boxes every month or so. We have a dirt floor so we just add pine shavings to the floor throughout the winter and then shovel it out when it thaws in the spring.

Girl Rural: We don't use artificial light but I have heard it works really well. It might be something we have to do.

Stoney Acres said...

Thanks for a great post. We live up in Salt Lake County so your advice fits in well for us. I hope you don't mind but I added a link to this post from my blog so that some of my readers could read your post.