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How to keep your chickens warm in winter

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As winter approaches, the chilly air and shorter days bring about a significant change in your backyard. Unlike in warmer months, high-protein bugs, worms, and frogs become scarce, altering the diet of your chickens. But, did you know that an adult hen has a resting body temperature between 40ºC and 43ºC and a heart rate of around 400 beats per minute? Their high metabolic rate is a natural mechanism to combat the cold. Here, we explore the inherent behaviours chickens exhibit to stay warm and share practical tips to ensure they remain healthy and comfortable during the winter months.

Built-in Behaviours to Keep Chickens Warm:
Chickens naturally adapt to colder temperatures through various behaviours:

  1. Feather Fluffing: Chickens puff up their feathers to create air pockets that trap warm air, providing an insulating layer.
  2. Unipedal Stance: To minimise heat loss, chickens often stand on one foot while tucking the other within their plumage.
  3. Head Tucking: To prevent frostbite on their combs, chickens tuck their heads beneath their wing during sleep.

Practical Winter Care Tips:

  1. Outdoor Time: Even in cold weather, chickens benefit from exercise and outdoor time. Allow them to roam a bit during the warmer part of the day to help maintain their body heat.
  2. Diet Adjustments: Increase the protein intake by adding high-protein treats and supplements to their diet. Foods like cracked corn, poultry porridge, and black soldier fly larvae are excellent for keeping them warm and well-nourished.
  3. Proper Coop Ventilation: Ensure the chicken coop is well-ventilated to prevent moisture buildup without letting in cold drafts. Use simple materials to cover any gaps where cold air might enter.
  4. Avoid Heaters: Avoid using heaters to reduce the risk of fire. Instead, ensure adequate roosting space to allow chickens to huddle together, which is a natural way to keep warm.
  5. Insulate Windows: Well-insulated windows can help retain heat during the day and slowly release it at night.
  6. Check Water Supply: Ensure a constant supply of fresh, unfrozen water throughout the winter.
  7. Bedding Material: Using hemp or pine shavings as bedding in the coop can provide additional insulation during cold months. Ensure that the bedding is deep enough to trap warmth but also dry to prevent moisture accumulation, which can lead to cold conditions and potential health issues.
  8. Sunlight Exposure: Maximise the coop’s exposure to natural sunlight. Positioning the coop to receive direct sunlight during the day can significantly increase the ambient temperature inside.
  9. Coop Upgrades: Consider installing double-glazed windows to minimise heat loss. Additionally, adding insulation panels to the walls of the coop can help keep the internal temperature regulated.

Deep Litter Method:
One effective method to keep your coop warm is the Deep Litter Method. It involves laying down a thick layer of litter, which is turned regularly to help decompose chicken manure and organic material. This process generates heat, maintaining a warm environment within the coop. Learn how to implement the Deep Litter Method here.

Seasonal High-Protein Treats:
During the colder months, it’s crucial to supplement your chickens’ diet with high-protein foods. Here are some suggestions:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1: Can I use a heat lamp in the chicken coop? A1: While heat lamps are commonly used, they pose a significant fire risk. It’s better to rely on natural chicken behaviors and proper coop insulation to keep your flock warm.

Q2: How often should I change the bedding in winter? A2: Bedding should be monitored for dampness and changed if it becomes wet or soiled. Using the deep litter method can reduce the frequency of complete changes, but still requires maintenance.

Q3: What are the best high-protein snacks for chickens in winter? A3: In addition to cracked corn and black soldier fly larvae, consider offering cooked eggs, small amounts of meat scraps, or a special winter blend of feed that includes increased protein levels such as Spice Blend.

Q4: Is there a risk of frostbite on chickens? How can I prevent it? A4: Yes, combs and wattles can get frostbite. Apply a thin layer of vasoline to these areas to help protect them from extreme cold.

Keeping your chickens warm and healthy during winter doesn’t require drastic measures. By understanding their natural behaviours and making a few adjustments to their environment and diet, you can ensure they thrive even in colder weather. Remember, a happy chicken is a productive chicken!

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