Managing a chicken coop involves several problems to solve, not the least of which is the cold weather that accompanies winter. What does a farmer need to know to defend his animals in the winter months?
Chicken coop for hens in winter: what to know to best manage it
The parts of their body in which hens suffer most from the cold are the feet, wattles, and crests-all areas of their bodies exposed to the cold and not covered by plumage.
To prevent hens from suffering damage in the vulnerable parts due to the harsh weather, we can rub glycerin-based ointment on them.
Increasing the number of roosts in winter is a good idea to allow poultry specimens to shelter their feet more easily and keep warm.
Eggs also suffer cold damage, and if left too long in the roost they may freeze. Better then to collect them more frequently than in the summer months, to prevent them from becoming inedible or no longer producing chicks.
Which chicken coop is suitable for winter?
A suitable chicken coop for housing hens in winter and keeping them healthy is one that keeps them safe from sources of moisture and drafts. This requires removing all traces of snow, possibly setting up a layer of straw on the ground to prevent the animals’ feet from catching cold.
The enclosure can be insulated, but care must be taken to ensure that there is sufficient ventilation to allow gases from the poultry’s digestion to escape.
If necessary, a heater can be installed in the poultry house to be used when outside temperatures fall below 5 degrees Celsius (above that, it could lead to the poultry suffering from heat shock).
What chicken breed is the most cold hardy?
Hens tend to be animals that withstand the cold well, warming each other in the chicken coop unless they experience very cold temperatures. In fact, thanks to their own feathers, they are able to retain body heat by heating the air under their feathers (they have a heart rate of 400 beats per minute, which shows that their metabolism is very high to hold up well in the harsh climate).
Laying hens can stay healthy in temperatures between 5 and 30 degrees Celsius. Consider that larger specimens, such as Brahams and Jersey Giants, withstand the cold better than dwarf species.
Among the most cold-hardy breeds of hens that can sleep outdoors are:
- the Chantecler
- the Dominican
- the shod Siberian
- the barred Plymouth Rocks
Hens with very light plumage or plumage that does not cover the neck and abdomen generally do not tolerate cold weather well.
Lower or higher temperatures can affect egg production.
With experience you will be able to select chickens that are comfortable frolicking in the open air even in snow and those that need to stay warm.
Chickens have a temperature of 41/42 degrees centigrade: since they lack sweat glands, they use the emission of steam through their respiration to regulate their temperature.
In any case, a hen that feels cold can be recognized at first glance: it has ruffled feathers and will probably stand away from the ground with one leg raised.
However, it is dangerous to leave wet hens around when temperatures are low, since in severe cold they could end up hypothermic.
If you see hens cold to the touch, with eyes closed or wide open and stiff-bodied, they are probably suffering the effects of severe cold. In this case, bring them indoors to wrap them with a warm towel and let them rest in a box in the warmth.
Chickens tolerate low temperatures well, but not on their toes.
You can apply a layer of plastic sheeting or reed mats to reduce exposure to cold and frost.
In general, hens can live where humans do, but being subjected to cold and damp can have very serious, even fatal, consequences for their health. Therefore, care must be taken that they do not walk around damp in the winter months, and if they do, dry them out.
Also, it should be remembered that because of the cold weather, chickens are more easily attacked by parasites.
Tips on how to protect the chicken coop from winter
Repair the chicken coop if it has damage or drafts
It is essential to check the chicken coop before the arrival of the winter months to ascertain if there is any damage that needs to be repaired so that it provides a cozy shelter for our little feathered friends.
Disinfect and clear the chicken coop of pests
When the weather is nice, take steps to disinfect the rooms with appropriate pest control products and to clean up walls and the ground: in this way you will reduce the risk of the proliferation of germs and bacteria when the hens are forced to hole up in the coop during the winter months.
A good practice is to dig sand holes in the chicken coop to allow the animals to bathe in an amalgam of ash and sand in order to rid themselves of outside pests.
Ensures air exchange
The chicken coop must benefit from appropriate air exchange, but without this leading to drafts. Forced residence of the hens could lead to an accumulation of moisture produced by feces and ammonia fumes that could undermine their health.
Spread a layer of straw in the poultry house
Unfortunately, the chicken coop is a veritable collector of germs brought in by mud and moisture: in fact, chickens collected in a given area end up shedding all the surrounding grass and end up with legs and shanks aching from the cold. As mud accumulates, the poultry’s feet become red from the cold, they are sore and the animals become weak. Therefore, it is better to arrange a layer of wood chips, sawdust or straw at least 10 cm thick to limit the exposure of poultry limbs to mud and cold. You can also apply a layer of gravel so as to prevent the poultry from crawling their feet in bacteria-filled mud.
Obviously, however, such protection tends to deteriorate and must be replaced regularly, especially before new animals are brought in.
Make sure the water is not ice-cold
Hens are animals that drink very frequently. In winter, due to cold temperatures, the water in the hens’ water troughs may freeze. It is good, therefore, to check and replace the water. A good solution is to relocate the water troughs indoors and away from the chicken coop door and drafts.
Ensure a protein diet for your hens
To help hens cope better with the cold weather, you need to modify their diet: add corn, oats, sorghum to the grain mixture, grinding everything with the help of an electric grain mill. A protein diet provides a huge caloric intake, which will raise the level of body fat in the hens. This helps maintain a constant body temperature, acting as an insulator against the cold.
To distribute food in the chicken coop, you can use chicken feeders, which allow poultry easy access to food.