Keeping backyard chickens warm during the winter

by admin on January 13, 2014

The news reports started about a week before the winter storm and bitter cold were to hit the first weekend of January. Forecasters were calling for 12+ inches of snow followed by two or three days of sub-zero temperatures – for the high. Nighttime temps were estimated to hit around 30° below zero with the windchill.

My little backyard chicken coop is insulated and for the last four years I have never put a heat lamp out there. Egg production would slack off a bit during the winter, but my hens were a hardy lot and didn’t mind the cold.

This deep freeze was a different matter though.

A few days before the snow and cold hit I set up a heat lamp just above the chicken’s water supply. At that time I was having to swap out the frozen waterer twice a day. While a fresh batch of water was being enjoyed by the chickens, the frozen one was thawing out in my basement.

I really didn’t want to have to swap out water every hour and I was concerned that I would lose a chicken or two with such extreme cold. That’s why I broke down and finally ran a heat lamp in the coop.

It worked better than I could have hoped. It was keeping the chickens so toasty that the snow on the roof was melting and forming icicles. When I went to check their water on the first below-zero morning I felt a blast of heat and was pleasantly surprised to see their waterer had not froze solid over night.

One of the best parts? After about 6 weeks of molting (what a bad time of year to lose feathers, eh?) and hardly getting any eggs, the hens started laying again during the polar vortex. That’s when I knew I had a flock of healthy, happy hens.

Another thing I am doing this winter is giving them extra protein in the form of mealworms. My wife raises mealworms to feed the pet Gecko and she now has enough surplus to share with the chickens. Needless to say, the hens love them and I wonder if that was what helped them to start laying again.

My Tips for keeping your backyard chickens warm and happy in the winter

  • Heat Lamp (or even a 100 watt bulb on a timer so they have more light in the winter plus a little extra heat).
  • Add more protein to their diet – I prefer to give them mealworms.
  • If you have snow on the ground, bank it around the base of your coop for extra insulation. Otherwise, straw bales work great, too.
  • Never let them run out of fresh water.
  • I let the litter get deep and add fresh pine shavings as needed – the manure generates heat as it breaks down.

I gave the hens a big ‘thank-you’ this morning when I went to check on them. For the first time in nearly two months, we had more than 1 egg in the nesting box. That’s what happens when all but one of them molts at the same time – little to no egg production. Yay!

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