Overwintering Your Chickens
With autumn upon us, it is time to prepare your poultry for winter. Chickens (as well as turkeys, ducks, and geese) can generally handle Ontario’s winters quite well, but there are some important considerations and steps to take leading into the cold months of the year.
- Ensure your chickens have appropriate housing and it is prepared for winter
- Chickens are tolerant of the cold if they are kept dry, away from drafts, and given a space to roost together off the ground.
- Provide deep bedding for your chickens to help keep them warm and dry.
- A heat source (heat lamp or space heater) can be provided, especially during very cold snaps. This is a topic of debate, and some prefer to go without it. In some cases, the extra heat can be beneficial – contact your veterinarian if you have questions about what is best for your situation.
- Insulate your coop – it will help keep in the heat generated by your chickens and/or your heat source
- Close off windows and limit the size of any doors or openings used by the chickens to minimize heat loss. If you have been using a full-sized door to let your chickens outside during the summer, consider installing a small door in the wall of your coop or adding a pet door to your existing door.
- Ventilation is very important! Ensure your coop is ventilated to maintain adequate air quality and decrease moisture in the coop, both of which are important for the health of your chickens.
- Access to feed and water
- Provide access to high-quality feed – this is especially important in the winter when a lot of the energy chickens consume will be used to keep themselves warm.
- Always keep excess feed on hand should bad weather or road conditions prevent you from getting to the feed store – you don’t want to run out of feed and have the chickens go hungry on a cold day.
- Make things easier on yourself and try to store feed in a waterproof container near the chicken coop so that you’re not having to carry bags of feed a long-distance during bad winter weather.
- Ensure there is a clean water source free of ice – you can purchase heated waterers or use a heating block or pad to keep their water from freezing. There are also a number of different designs and strategies available online to keep your waterers ice-free, just make sure to prevent any risk of fire or overheating.
- Know your chickens
- Certain breeds and traits are more tolerant of cold weather. In general, chickens of smaller size and those with larger combs and wattles are more susceptible to chilling and frostbite.
- If you are concerned about your chickens’ combs becoming frostbitten, you can apply petroleum jelly regularly to help protect them from the cold
- Avoid keeping only one or two chickens over winter if possible – chickens will huddle together for warmth so having a few more birds will help keep the group collectively warmer.
- Unless you provide supplemental lighting, your chickens will likely drop in egg production during the winter months. If you would like to keep production up, supply your chickens with a light source to extend their “daylight” up to 16-17 hours.
- Daily routines
- Give yourself some extra time for daily chores to ensure waterers aren’t frozen, feeders are topped up, all of your chickens look healthy and well, and to collect eggs in a timely manner (the can freeze and crack on you if left out in the cold!).
As always, if you would like more information on how to prepare your chickens for winter or have any other poultry health questions, we are happy to help!
– Dr. Mykolas Kamaitis
If you have any questions on these or other topics, please do not hesitate to contact one of our Veterinarians.