Many chicken breeds are remarkably resilient, but extreme cold climates can wreak havoc on your flock. No one wants sick birds, frozen combs, or frozen birds. What can one do to protect their chickens from the elements?
Keep Those Birds Cozy
Your first line of defense against cold temperatures is your chicken coop. Add some insulation to keep temperatures steady. Make sure that there is still plenty of ventilation! Check for leaks. Add extra straw or wood shavings for bedding. Just as people like to snuggle under a blanket for warmth, chickens enjoy a nice, thick litter 6-10 inches thick to burrow into for warmth on cold days.
Some chicken owners put a tarp over their coop to keep out drafts they may not even be aware of. Keep those birds warm! Not only can too much cold and dampness lead to frostbite, but stressed out birds stop laying eggs. If snow and ice keep your birds cooped up inside, indoor artificial lighting may help them continue laying and may reduce stress.
Make Fresh Water a Priority
Chickens drink a lot of water. In the winter, water freezes. It’s easy to overlook this and so important to keep fresh, unfrozen water available to your birds. Temperature-triggered outlet timers work wonderfully. Once the temperature falls past a certain point, a heat lamp turns on to keep the water from freezing. They switch back off once the temperature raises to keep the coop from getting too hot. How great is that? Heater bases are also commonly used to help keep water from freezing.
Vaseline Your Birds
This may sound crazy at first, but multiple chicken sites recommend applying Vaseline to your chickens’ combs and wattles to keep them from catching frostbite. Catch your bird, apply a layer of Vaseline to its comb and wattle, and allow it to continue on its daily business. It’s a simple and inexpensive solution to a very big problem.
Do Not Use a Heater or Close off Vents
The craziest question I’ve heard about keeping chickens through the winter is, “Should I use a heater to keep the chickens warm?” Please don’t. It’s a huge fire hazard and you can cause your chickens great harm. With a bit of common sense and some basic precautions, you’ll be able to keep your flock toasty and warm throughout the winter without risking burning the coop to the ground.
Another common misconception is that one should close vents to keep the chickens extra warm. While this may make sense in theory, it creates a whole new problem. Along with heat, you also trap in humidity. Humidity leads to frostbite. Smell will quickly become overbearing if ventilation is cut off for long too. Warm but well ventilated is the way to go.
Some Breeds Fare Better Than Others
If you live in a cold climate, keep in mind that some breeds are more cold-weather hardy than others. Wyandottes, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Buckeyes, Dominiques, and Sussexes are a few breeds that do well in cold places. Birds with large combs are much more susceptible to frostbite. Chickens with thick, heavy feathers generally do better in cold climates.
With a bit of planning and some simple preventative measures, your chicken flock will thrive during the cold months.