The main thing is to keep them happy. Here’s an easily doable checklist to keep your chickens happy and healthy.
Chickens needs fresh water every day. When the temperature drops, they require extra water to stay hydrated. Periodically check to make sure the water has not frozen or use an electric heated chicken waterer. If you use electricity, for safety reasons make sure the extension cords are heavy-duty outdoor cords, not light-duty indoor cords. The water should be kept outside as chickens tend to upset the waterers and that makes for wet bedding.
Moisture is a killer to chickens. The coop must be kept dry or the chickens can easily get respiratory diseases. When the bedding gets very soiled, change it. Plain straw tends to get messy and slippery with chicken poop faster than shavings. I use 4 or more inches of cedar or pine shavings with a thick layer of straw on top. I use this combo in their nesting boxes as well.
Heat lamp in their coop? Only if it’s below freezing. Chickens will clump up on the roosts and in the nesting boxes to keep each other warm. They’re good at that! If a heat lamp is used, make sure that fresh air can circulate through the coop as this discourages diseases. Keep wind from blowing in the coop, but have some circulation going from the south side of the coop, if possible.
Extra food, especially protein, when it’s cold keeps their little furnaces going. Consider cooking up some ground meat or scramble some eggs to give to them. I always offer warm protein when it’s extra cold. Hang a big cabbage outside above the ground to give them something to do and prevent boredom.
Chickens don’t like to walk about in the snow, so throw down a thick layer of straw for them to encourage them to go outside and take in the fresh air.
My favorite chicken care book: Recipe For Raising Chickens by Minnie Rose Lovgreen was one of the very first books I read on chicken care. I fell in love with the delightful Minnie Rose and chickens directly after reading the words on the cover, “The main thing is to keep them happy.” Minnie Rose was born in 1888 in England and emigrated to Montreal in 1912. She was to board the Titanic, but its sailing time was delayed, so she traded in her ticket for another ship. Talk about fate! She moved to Bainbridge Island, WA in 1920, married Danish-born Leo Lovgreen. Leo worked on a dairy farm and together they saved until they could build their own dairy.
Her simple yet effective advice on keeping chickens is not only a charming read, but incredibly informative. The beauty part of this book is that it’s both easy and fun to read and it was written by a woman who kept chickens for decades and spent an infinite amount of hours observing their behavior and needs. Her wise advice on keeping chickens healthy still serves today.
So there you have it–a recipe for keeping your chickens healthy and happy during the winter months! See you around the chicken coop!