Keeping Chickens in Winter


Each winter at Nature’s Hatchery, our customer service staff gets calls from concerned poultry owners who are looking for tips and guidelines on how to successfully keep their poultry through the winter. Although there many questions and concerns, we offer the following advice to cover some of the most frequently asked questions, and help folks tide their birds over until spring production begins.

Winter, although it can be harsh at times, especially in certain parts of the country, should not be detrimental if your flock is prepared and properly monitored. Birds already prepare themselves by cutting back on production, molting (getting in new feathers) and increasing feed consumption. As long as you do your part, your poultry should be just fine.

The general guidelines and specific pointers below are primarily for first-time poultry owners. These pointers contain several little-known facts, recently confirmed by science, about feeding and supplementing your birds with necessary nutrients. While the main part of this information will be most relevant to backyard poultry owners who have small- to medium-sized flocks, the principles laid out here apply whether you have one bird or hundreds.

Starting a Flock

Different age groups of poultry have unique requirements and abilities to survive cold weather. Day-old chicks are the most fragile. One of the most important things to remember when starting a flock in the winter is that the information most hatcheries and books give is often confined to raising chicks in warmer weather. In addition to the guidelines suggested, precautions must be taken for power outages, extreme weather and unexpected circumstances that can arise during the winter. Something minor in warm months, such as a heat lamp failing, could quickly affect your whole flock in colder weather, making it necessary to start over.

We recommend starting with a minimum of two heat lamps for any number of birds. Red-tinted, 250-watt bulbs are best as they produce the most heat but reduce brightness, so they’re not as hard on the chicks’ eyes. A good rule of thumb is to use one heat bulb per thirty chicks, keeping in mind that a backup bulb must always be burning as well, to make up for the occasional failure of a bulb. You can wean the chicks off heat easily by elevating the heat lamps a few inches per week, reducing the temperature by 5 degrees Fahrenheit until the birds are comfortable with the temperature outside. Make the transition over a 10-week period, and the birds should be ready to range outdoors.

Another important thing to remember is to check on the birds as often as possible, with a recommended minimum of three times per day. If birds are cheeping loudly, or huddling in groups, they are most likely too cold. Chicks that remain in the same place or are lethargic usually need immediate care. Try feeding them warm water and placing them under the heat bulbs. Damp or wet patches of bedding should be replaced with new material daily. We have found straw to be the best bedding material. It retains and radiates heat from the bulbs, and can’t be eaten by the chicks.

9/29/2015 10:42:56 AM

We just got a new visitor to the cabin, a chicken, not sure where he came from but is staying around, we want to provide winter shelter, but not sure what or if he will use as he must be a free ranger who got lost! Any help on keeping our new guy fed, dry and happy during the winter would be great!

4/4/2010 7:53:46 PM

We live in a very small town on a large piece of land. Ten minutes ago, we were positive that we were going to build a coup and get a few chickens and a rooster for eggs and to help up a bit with garden pests, etc. I'm not so sure now. We live in New England on the Canadian border and winters are very harsh here. I had thought about predators such as raccoons and coyotes but I hadn't thought of hawks. I suppose there isn't much we can do about hawks (or owls) in daytime during the warm months. Thank you for making me think more about this.

12/8/2009 6:23:28 PM

I have one ginny. He perches on my metal porch swing. He will not go into the shelter I have built for him. However, he does go into the pet carrier I put the catfood in to keep it dry. I have since put straw in carrier and Clydde's food. He doesn't spend much time in the carrier. He is on the metal porch swing and on the roof. I use a giant patio umbrella above swing to keep harsh elements off him and to block as much wind as possible. He perches on the very top rung of swing. I feel it is unsafe to dangle a heat lamp from an umbrella spine to hang above him. If placed below he will poop on the lamp. He will not perch anywhere else. He is about 2 years old. This being his first winter roaming the countryside. I have two questions: First-How do I keep my crazy bird warm in very cold conditions? Second-How can I keep his feet from freezing if he wont let me touch him?

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