Autumn is upon us and that means pumpkin spice lattes, bonfires, and prepping your backyard coop for cooler weather! Now is the time to begin creating a winter wonderland to keep your chickens snug and warm before the cold weather arrives. Whether you’re new to owning backyard chickens or a chicken aficionado (cat ladies were so 2018), take a look at our short list of essential care tips for raising chickens in the winter months.
THE COOP & RUN
Get your fall projects underway by patching any holes, gaps, or cracks in your coop. This will minimize drafts and fortify the enclosure against rain and snowfall.
Although no one likes a drafty coop, it’s important to maintain adequate air flow, even during the cooler months. Lack of appropriate ventilation can lead to ammonia build-up and respiratory ailments for your friendly flock. Mold can also grow in bedding due to warm, moist environments.
A good way to manage temperate while reducing humidity is to place vents near the roof so that the chickens are kept out of direct air flow (brrr!). Try a mesh vent with a hatch for easy venting during the day and convenient closure for the chilly night hours.
Looking to upgrade your coop to a chicken mansion? Consider adding a sunroof! Well insulated windows are great for trapping heat in the winter months and keeping your birds comfortable.
If you’ve never heard of the deep litter method, you’re in for a game changer. This technique provides a sustainable way of managing litter, while insulating your flock. Layer pine or aspen shavings over the floor of the coop. Stir the litter daily with a rake rather than removing or replacing the soiled bedding. This creates natural movement and aeration and the dispersal encourages scratching and pecking as well.
Top the litter off weekly until a healthy compost layer forms. This allows good microbes to flourish in a self-cleaning environment while bad bacteria is readily consumed, keeping the coop insulated all year round.
Chickens, like humans and other animals, expend more energy in the cold. This means more calories are necessary in the winter to maintain health and wellness. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to feed 1.5x more than you would over the spring and summer. In cooler months, chickens are recovering from egg laying and require extra carbohydrates and protein.
Supplement your chickens’ normal feed with tasty snacks like oatmeal, mealworms, scratch, nutrient dense leafy greens, and even a drop of yogurt. Healthy treats are a great way to show your chickens some extra love while looking after their seasonal needs. Tis the season after all!
BEST BREEDS FOR COLD WEATHER
If you’re in the planning phase of your backyard coop, consider the top 5 chicken breeds best suited to cold climates:
Not only does this breed have a thick plume of feathers to ward off the chill, but Australorps are excellent egg layers that will provide you with year round omelettes for breakfast!
Everyone loves the fluffy, crazy haired Silkie! These chickens aren’t just adorable; they’re even tempered, easy to care for, and perfect for beginners.
Plymouth Rocks are the classic chicken that remind us of white picket fences and country fields. These chickens are a solid choice for colder climates and sure to delight owners with their goofy antics and colorful personalities.
The Dorking is the dolly of the flock—they are sweethearts! Dorkings are extremely friendly, great mother hens, and feel right at home in chilly climates.
The first thing you may notice about Cochins is their built-in “snow boots.” Like the Silkie, they’re cute, fluffy aesthetic and sweet personality makes them a favorite for backyard coops. They aren’t the best egg layers, but they’re ideal for a small, family flock.
Backyard chickens molting can be stressful for both owners and hens. Don’t be alarmed if you enter your coop and see feathers everywhere – your chickens are just molting. Most chickens molt in the cooler fall months, in response to decreased light as summer ends and winter approaches. During molting season, your hens will generally stop laying eggs and redirect their energy to regrowing quality feathers for the winter season.
If you notice your girls are looking patchy, increase their protein supply with mealworms, peanuts, dried grubs, or treat them to a fun and tasty seed mix like Pinata Party Mix. Next, fortify their straw and bedding. This will ensure your chickens are comfortable while she rebuilds her feathery coat.
Looking for more great backyard chicken tips for the fall season? Learn more about why pumpkin isn’t only great in lattes — it’s great for chickens too!