Five tips to Keep your Girls Comfy in the Cold.
It seems every winter we get a few cold snaps that can have even the seasoned chicken keeper concerned for his or her flock. The good news is, chickens actually fare better in the cold than they do in the dreadful heat of our summers.
Some would think the quick and easy fix would be a heat lamp, strategically placed in the coop. I highly discourage this, due to the potential fire hazard. Also, as our nights begin to cool in the autumn, our hens are acclimating to the colder weather. If you heat your coop, you throw off their natural ability to adapt to the cold.
Here are five tactical measures you can take to keep your girls happy and healthy (and actually warmer) during our area’s frigid temperatures.
1) Protect your chicken’s feet from getting frostbite while they are sedentary (ie: when they go to bed at night). Give your girls a wide, flat roost. The best roost is a 2×4, oriented on the 4” side. This enables the girls to splay out their toes and as they settle in, their breast feathers cover their toes.
2) If temperatures dip into single digits, put a thin coat of petroleum jelly on your hen’s comb and wattles (hens with single combs are most susceptible to frostbite). It is best to do this just after your hens have gone to roost, because they are more docile at this time. Apply the jelly nightly until the outside temperature increases. The petroleum jelly acts as an insulator, and keeps humidity from attaching to the comb, which would lead to the perfect environment for frostbite.
3) Good ventilation is more important than insulation. Make certain your girls are protected from the wind, but the coop should have adequate ventilation. A humid coop is recipe for poultry disaster. Provide lots of bedding/litter. It should be dry and fluffy so that it acts as a ground insulator.
4) Always provide your flock with fresh water, that is unfrozen. Water is their most important nutrient. This is non-negotiable. If you have to use some sort of heating device, do so. Chickens will NOT break through the ice to get to the water.
5) Finally, feeding the girls some cracked corn before they go to roost will boost their body heat through the night as they burn/digest the corn. Also, increase the amount of protein you are feeding your birds to 20%. Get above or as close to that as you can. I have even been known to offer a little puppy food to my girls. The puppy food has a terrific amount of protein and fat that sustains them during colder times. I would just avoid chicken flavored puppy food—for obvious reasons.
How to Winter Your Chickens Class, part 1, 2 and 3.