Who knew that Missouri winters would be so stinkin’ cold? Probably a lot of people, but I had no clue. When we were deciding where we wanted to settle down and homestead, we had narrowed it down to two choices: Maine or Missouri. Missouri won out because as much as I love, love, love a good snow storm, I am not particularly fond of six months of winter. Missouri may not get as much snow as Maine or even as much as back in Pennsylvania, but it sure does get cold and windy here. The last two nights we had temps in the single digits and with the wind howling, it felt subarctic. So keeping chickens warm in the winter has become a priority of ours.
I want my chickens to be happy and I’m pretty sure you want your’s happy too. Warm chickens are happy chickens and happy chickens are laying chickens. And that is what we want isn’t it? Laying hens?
Keeping Chickens Warm In The Winter
Cozy and Comfy Coop
A cozy and comfy coop is one of the main keys in keeping chickens warm in the winter. During late summer or early fall take the time to repair any holes or gaps that cold air (and predators) can creep in through. Check the roof for spots where it may have been leaking or could start leaking soon and repair those. Remember, your chickens do need ventilation and some airflow to keep them healthy, but don’t leave any hole or crack that is so big it would cause your chickens harm.
Deep Litter Your Coop
Before we even had chickens I began learning about deep littering the coop and I loved the idea! If you’d like to know more, you might be interested in reading this article by Vicki Mattern of Mother Earth News. She gives the complete breakdown on how to get started and what to do.
I love the idea of less work, but what is even more exciting is all the amazing compost I get for my garden that comes from a deep litter system. Chickens are kept warm and cozy and my garden gets a little compost. It is ingenious! Also, once a week when you turn it over, if you throw in a few handfuls of cracked corn or if your chickens enjoy another favorite treat, they will scratch and dig around, working the litter for you.
Winterize Their Yard
We have been free ranging our chickens, however, with plans to expand our flock this year, I’m thinking it is time to put the fence up. We currently only have five layers, mainly due to the idea that we would eventually be non-chicken owners. God totally changed my mind, because He has planted a seed deep inside my DNA that is labeled “Self-sufficient Homesteader” and it is just in my blood to live this homesteading lifestyle.
So with the fence going up, we’ll be doing the deep litter method inside the chicken’s yard as well. Mainly we’ll throw leaves, leftover vines, and stalks from the garden, wood chips, grass clippings, etc. into the chicken yard, creating a nice thick layer for bugs and other goodies to take up residence. Our chickens will scratch around and keep themselves quite busy, and toasty warm throughout the colder months.
Keep Their Water Warm
I’ve been putting off purchasing a heated waterer for two years and I promise you, this will be the last year we thaw out our chicken’s water. I used to think, “If Ma Ingalls could thaw out her chicken’s water, well I can too!” Except, I’m pretty sure that if Ma Ingalls had access to a heated water bucket, she would absolutely have figured out how to get her hands on one of those! I have so many more things I could be doing with my time than changing out the chicken’s water because I’m too cheap to buy a heater.
To Light or Not To Light?
That seems to be the hot question right now. There is a lot of great information and excellent arguments on both sides of the fence here. Some say that lighting to prevent full molt and extend the laying season is unnecessary and dangerous. Others say that the benefits outweigh the cons and it is the only way they will raise their chickens. Ultimately, the choice is your’s and only you can make the decision that is best for you and your homestead.
We have not been adding any lighting to our chicken coop, but after this year that may change. With the flock expanding, so will our coop size, and we were not prepared for the cold months here in the Midwest. So it is something we are discussing and our initial decision may be changing for next winter.
Okay! So maybe this isn’t only for cold weather, but…..changing up how those treats are offered is the key. My girls get a lot of our kitchen scraps, but there are several things you can do to offer your chickens a warm meal. Warm oatmeal, warm scrambled eggs, chicken noodle soup, leftovers from your kitchen heated up in a microwave safe or oven safe dish.