ChickenCoopGuides’ Fall and Winter Checklist




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Whether you’re new to chicken raising or an old hand, just knowing that winter is near can be a bit intimidating . . . unless you live in Florida where that’s the only temperate time of year. If that’s the case then you can probably tune out most of the following. Many farmers fear the cold more than the heat, when it really should be the other way around since most chickens are more susceptible to dying in extreme heat versus extreme cold.

unnofficial arrival of fall

That said, it doesn’t mean that fall and winter can’t be difficult times for your flock. Domesticated fowl started off thousands of years ago in Europe and Asia as birds who lived in the forests and fields, flying only to low hanging branches. Eventually someone got the bright idea to start keeping these wild critters since they tasted so darn good and lay eggs almost every day! But we have to remember that it wasn’t too long ago that these birds were fully able to look after themselves. So I say unless you live in Siberia somewhere (and perhaps even then) your flock should be able to keep themselves warm enough provided they have friends to cuddle with (one reason I feel it is very cruel to only keep 1-2 hens at a time) and a place that is reasonably free of drafts.

Surviving is one thing, but thriving is another and the goal of most farmers I know is for their flocks to thrive in the winter and hopefully even make some eggs. It’s my belief that nature intended the colder months to be a time for all egg-laying birds to rest and recover from the constant cycle of egg production. Also helps prevent prolapse caused by too frequent laying. For truly healthy birds, I always suggest letting them keep to their own natural cycle. You’ll have better birds and better eggs at the end. I know that many still use lights to force hens to lay and that is a choice you’ll have to make on your own after research. At the White homestead, we don’t do this and have followed a more seasonal eating pattern barring the holidays where my wife usually saves up the fall eggs so she has enough for Thanksgiving and Christmas baking.

So how do you ensure that your hens are healthy all winter long as well as comfortable?

    1. Much like when you get ready for spring, cleaning out the chicken coop is a must. Shovelling out any pine shavings or raking the sand bed – whatever your litter control method is – it’s very important that this is tended to and set up for the next few months. Do this as late as possible in the season and as soon as you have a warm break in the weather ensure that freshening up the coop is one of the first things on your list. One reason this is important is because your hens will ‘flock’ together and if you have a draft free environment then they are going to be susceptible to moisture-based illnesses, especially if you consider that the bedding will break down and create more moisture and heat. The heat will help the flock, but the moisture won’t. Depending on where you live a fan might help with this, just like it does during spring and summer. But if you live in extreme northern climes then a fan may not be prudent.
    2. Create an environment free of drafts that is well insulated. Patch any cracks or holes in the chicken coop. Break down any parts of the coop that could blow off in extreme winds or collapse with too much snowfall. While you’re at it, go ahead and knock on the flooring, walls, roof, etc. to make sure everything is secure. Poke at the siding and roof shingles so you know everything is good to go for a harsh winter without a leaky roof or walls. Look at any wiring you have set up to make sure your girls haven’t pecked through or scratched it since a frayed wire is an awful way to make fried chicken.
    3. If you have your coop wired up, then it’s likely you live in a place where you have at least one or two zero degree days per year if not more. When you live somewhere where the temps dip to zero then you need a heater in your coop, even if it’s just a small heat bulb. Do some asking around to see what farmers or chicken keepers in your area do in order to keep the flocks warm in winter. You may even have to have a water warmer for part of the year so your girls have fresh water instead of icicles.
    4. My wife likes to spoil our hens like they were extra kids or something, so our flock often enjoys warm oat groat mash and a lot of green vegetable scrapings as well as all the seeds we’ve saved from the lambsquarters to fatten them up. Fat hens are warm and generally healthier hens which equals less intervention from us and possibly a few more eggs over the darkest months. Extra corn if you feed your flock corn (we usually give extra peas and lentils since we don’t give our hens corn) is always a good idea during the darkest part of the year.
      Go and visit your hens when the weather permits over the winter and fall months. It’s a good morale booster for you and the chickens.

Do you have your own fall/winter checklist or recommendations? Please share in the comments field below 🙂

Until later,
John

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21 thoughts on “ChickenCoopGuides’ Fall and Winter Checklist

  1. Here in the foothills of San Diego, (Ramona) we are at a mere altitude of 1600 feet. We are still regarded as part of a desert or Mediterranean climate. Most of our weather during the year never falls below 40° and that is at night. We will occasionally have a winter in which a few nights will fall into the 20’s, but this is rare. There have been the two occurrences in which we got snow in the past 25 years. For the most part our weather situation is warm and hot. Hot being our primary concern from July through October with temps ranging between the high 80’s to 110. For most of our chickens we have an open air arrangement; chain link yards, reinforced with hardware cloth on the bottom half, completely covered overhead with wire and partially covered with a waterproof covering, for shade and the occasional rain. Most of the roosts are at the 5 to 6 foot height, near the roof and crisscross back and forth. We find that not confining them in a hen house, in our part of the country, to be more healthful for them. On the other hand, we do confine our roosters in individual small enclosed roosts, within their respective yards, during the night, to ensure they do not crow at all hours of the night. Even in winter, we receive much more sunlight and sunshine, on average, than the northern climes our hens continue to average 4 to 5 eggs a week compared to 6 per day during the summer months.

  2. We live in NW Montana and have four laying hens. Last winter was our first with chickens and they continued laying their eggs all thru the cold season. Each day I fixed a salad for them consisting of organic red leaf lettuce, kale, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds (raw, unsalted). Some days I would add chopped hard boiled eggs or scrambled eggs, plain yogurt, chopped apples. This was in addition to their regular organic feed that comes from a local farmer. We had their lights set so they would receive 13-15 hours of light per day. We had at least three but usually four eggs per day all Winter.

    • I agree. I have 9 that are going into the stock pot. First I make enchiladas from the meat and then roast the bones with carrots, potatoes, celery, onion, etc then add water and make my own stock and then can it in a pressure canner. That way, nothing goes to waste.

  3. Thanks for the information. We are finishing building and contemplating getting some before winter but we weren’t sure about the winterizing. In the okanagan bc, it does get to -17 regularly. Always a cold spell of – 30’s at some point. I think we will wait until spring to get to know our birds better but this gives some food for thought.

  4. Back here in NZ[New Zealand] it can get really cold and I am thinking of getting some chickens. Winter is over now but do you think that I would need some heaters for my 18 week old chicks.

    P.s Great info

    from Isabella

    • As long as your chicks have feathered out and snowy weather is gone you should be okay. Just keep the coop insulated. If they haven’t fully feathered (some breeds are weird so you never know) then you’ll want to go ahead and keep them in a closed, warmed garage or something until they do.

  5. I live in Tampa florida This is my first whole year with my Chicken’s 7 hen’s and one Roo. he is only 8 months, I had an older roo but he had to go he was an older Roo. and he was too mean for my taste lol. What tips does anyone have for Florida?? Thanks for your help…

    • My wife is a Tampa girl, Donna. She never liked it much down there because of the sticky heat almost year round. For that reason, make sure you’re getting birds that are heat tolerant. You’ll probably find that otherwise they’ll be too miserable to lay eggs. Just keep your hens dry and feed them plenty of green stuff. I remember the grass in Florida, especially Tampa, being pretty brown so give them something green like leftover salad and such. They should be happy eating lizards and those scary palmetto bugs for extra protein. 😀

  6. We are in southern Maine and have five layers (lost the sixth to a hungry hawk this summer). We are first-time chickeneers and from what we’ve heard, they should start laying in the next few weeks. The problem is, it is already getting cold, mid 30s at night. I will be draft-proofing the coop, cleaning the litter and putting a lot of extra pine shavings and straw for insulation. I will definitely get a heated water bowl. I’m concerned it is getting cold and the daylight hours diminishing right when they are getting old enough to start laying. Disappointing after waiting and watching all summer.
    I have also heard that increased light is not necessary as hens lay based on caloric and/or carbohydrate intake, but most of what I read promotes lighting for that goal. Also we typically get enough snow that there is no exposed ground. One friend says he leaves them in the coop for several weeks straight during the coldest, snowiest part of winter. I guess my question(s) are, what is the best winter diet; is a light on a timer recommended (although you answered that one in your article); would a dimmed light for heat seem necessary, or are there other options for heat during the coldest nights?
    Great article by the way.

    • Make sure you provide plenty of greens. Look through past blog entries for tips on that one. As for heating, go to your local farmer supply store and ask what they are using. Get a few answers and then decide what you think is best for your little flock.

      John

  7. I like the helpful info you supply for your articles.
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  8. Very informative. Thank you. I live in central Alabama. Just got city hall permission for a small flock within my city limits (alas, no Dominick!)

  9. I live in Northern California and we get rain pretty much all winter. What can I do to keep the area where the chickens tend to spend most of their time a little more dry? It tends to get really muddy.

    • I had 20′ by 30′ that stayed muddy after rain. I covered the area with common top soil and a mix of coarse sand keeping it damp
      and it become firm. Works great.

  10. I live in Tucson, AZ so winter has a different meaning for us and provides a great climate for spending time outdoors. My concern is the summer months. The summer heat is very tough on wood structures in the desert, and that’s not mentioning termites. I have considered building a metal coop, but would such a structure create too much heat in the summer? The sun can warm the metal to the point where you could burn your hand!

  11. New fo raising chickens. We live along thd NC coastbut it does get down into the 20’s on some winter days. I purchased acoop with wire a wire floor and some gap between the wall boards. Should we cover the floor with something else and insolate the walls to keep out wnter drafts?

    • Hey Roxann!
      I’d imagine with the wind on the coast you definitely want to do something to protect them from the cold drafts in the winter yet you want to make sure there’s ventilation: too insulated means the ammonia from droppings and condensation can build up inside. A nice think layer of bedding on the floor will definitely help. You could try a seasonal covering on the sides that get the most wind of heavy duty plastic sheeting which you can then take down as the weather warms. Meanwhile, enjoy the summer!

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