Raising chickens is fairly simple; however, the cold winter months can be a challenge for most homesteaders. In most cases, egg laying decreases with the chilly temperatures. But with a little preparation, it can be a lot easier to keep your chickens healthy and laying eggs. Here are some tips to help you take care of your chickens in the wintertime.
1. Provide Water All Winter Long
The most important thing for healthy chickens in the wintertime is to keep the water from freezing as much as you can. Hens that don’t have water for 12 hours may not be able to lay eggs for as much as two weeks. You can buy a heated waterer for your chickens or just add warm water to melt the ice layer away from the top. To keep their water as accessible as possible, use these tips:
- Place the water bucket inside an old tire. This will keep ice from forming around the bucket. Also, it may even hold in the heat of the day better. Believe it or not, your chickens will learn how to climb up onto the tire to get a drink. This will minimize spilling and keep the ice from building up.
- Make a float to prevent ice from forming. Take 16 ounces of water and add a half cup of table salt to it. Pour it into a bottle and cap tightly. Add it to the water bucket and let it float freely to keep the ice from freezing over.
- Protect the base of the bucket. Pile dry leaves or straw around the base of the bucket, covering up to three inches of it. Replace it often with dry materials, composting the old.
2. Feed Chickens in the Cold Weather
Chickens need to eat to stay warm all winter. While scratching for bugs isn’t a possibility, you can provide chicken feed. Chickens still need grit, too, so add that to their feed. Also, add 1/4 of a bag of oyster shells to each 50-pound bag of chicken feed. To help keep your food bills down, add some home-grown fodder, too.
3. Keep Your Flock From Getting Bored in the Winter
Chickens aren’t able to scratch around, so they often become bored in the wintertime. So, here’s how to keep your flock busy:
- Make or buy a flock block for your chickens to peck at and get treats.
- Hang a head of cabbage to peck at.
- Build or purchase a chicken swing.
4. Make Your Chicken Coop Warm and Draft-Free
Chicken feathers can handle rain, wind and cold, but their chicken coop still needs to be free of drafts, especially at night. While you can close your coop at night, you need to make sure some air can circulate through to prevent bacteria growth.
However, keep the air from blowing directly on your flock when they are roosting. If you have brooding chicks or experience a serious cold snap, consider the short-term use of a heater. Be sure to use all the safety precautions associated with chicken coop heaters.
5. Give Your Chickens Enough Daylight Hours
In the shorter winter months, chickens may stop laying eggs and may even molt. Some chicken owners add artificial lights to their coop. Although it’s fairly simple, you can also add a timer, so you don’t have to worry about turning it on and off.
Keeping your flock warm and happy all winter doesn’t have to be a worry. Use these tips and learn all you can about your particular climate to care for your chickens in the wintertime.