One of the most common questions we receive is, “What do I do to keep my hens warm during the winter?” The short answer is “not much.”
It is a perfectly reasonable question and it is easy to understand our concerns. Our hens give us great eggs and great compost and in many cases they give us great entertainment. And despite the emotional hazards, we sometimes even name them and pamper them and treat them like family.
It is important to remember that chickens are essentially live-stock. Sure they are cute and funny but they are also tough birds and can handle some harsh conditions. Many of the breeds that we sold originated in the Northeast, upper mid-west, and in England. Oregon winters are temperate compared to some of those places. Set your alarm for 4:00 some morning and go out to the coop and pick up a hen. You will see them huddled together and you can feel the heat radiating off them.
But there are a few things you can do to make things more comfortable during the winter. Change their water more often so it doesn’t freeze. You can even paint your water container black or cover it with some sort of sweater. We will even sell water heaters for the dead of winter.
You can also give them some cracked corn about an hour before they go to bed. The extra corn increases their metabolism and will give them something to burn during the night. You can even put the scratch in that chick feeder that you haven’t used since they were 2 months old.
Some backyard farmers do add a light in the coop during extremely cold nights. If doing so, use extreme caution as you run the risk of a fire hazard. One trick is to shine a light bulb into a ceramic pot. This will create a long-term radiant heat and will also keep it dark enough for the hens to sleep.
Another popular heat source is the deep bedding method. With this method, you do not clean out the droppings but rather add a thin layer of pine shavings. As the droppings compost, they create a natural heat that can add ten degrees to the inside of the coop. If you do this method, be certain that your coop has plenty of ventilation (there is a difference between ventilation and draft. You want the air to circulate but you do not want gusts of cold air). A lack of proper ventilation can cause respiratory health problems in your flock. The composting process can also wear on your coop floor and you will have a bit of an odor issue. The deep bedding method is popular and effective but it does come with a few drawbacks.
Some breeds have combs and waddles that are susceptible to frostbite. In extreme cold conditions you can treat a comb with bag balm or petroleum jelly.
If you are still concerned you can always knit them a sweater. But putting them in front of the fire with a cup of cocoa or a snifter of brandy is unnecessary.
Do you have any tricks to keep your hens warm all winter? Feel free to add a comment.