How to Winter Your Chickens

Winter can present some challenges for Utah homeowners who are new to keeping backyard chickens. Here are some pointers to help your chickens survive the winter.

Adequate shelter is the most important consideration to keep your chickens safe, warm, and healthy in cold weather. The shelter doesn’t necessarily need to be heated, but it should be dry and have adequate circulation. An airtight shelter can become too humid, which can lead to frostbite. Chickens don’t sweat. Their combs are their way to regulate their bodies’ temperature. Because the comb doesn’t have a layer of feather, in winter, they can freeze, turn black, and fall off. This can lead to infections and overheating in hot weather.

Dry bedding like straw, hay, or wood shavings can help insulate chickens from the cold, but it must be replaced regularly with clean bedding. Additionally, a proper shelter can protect chickens from predators. In Syracuse, dogs and cats are common predators, but occasionally, a foraging raccoon or skunk can prey on chickens.

Chickens need fresh water daily. In winter, buckets or water dishes can freeze solid in a few hours. To avoid this problem, there are a variety of electrically heated water dishes at feed stores.

During the warm months, chickens can forage for food, but, during the winter months, additional supplemental food will be necessary so that your chickens can burn the calories they need to stay warm. You can supplement their food with food from your own table. Stale salad, vegetable peelings, left-over cooked rice, pasta, and stale bread can feed chickens. Chickens also need extra calcium during winter. The easiest option is to offer ground oyster shells, which is available at farm and feed stores.

Regarding egg-laying, due to the shorter days, egg production can decline significantly. Providing additional light can boost wintertime egg production.

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