How to Protect Your Backyard Chickens in the Winter

Ensure your egg-happy fowls are secure and nourished when the temperatures drop.

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You don't have to live on a farm or ranch to welcome more animals in your life. A well-equipped, spacious backyard can allow you to make like Martha and raise livestock, like chickens, for years to come (she breeds Araucanas, Polish, Cochins, Speckled Sussex, Jersey Giants, Mille Fleurs, Silkies, Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, and Minorcasto fowls). "If you're interested in keeping chickens, keep in mind that each bird will need at least two square feet of ace in the coop, and plenty of room (at least 10 square feet each) to roam freely outside," Martha has said. "There are so many rewards from raising these birds. You get delicious eggs, and the joy of caring for them is great for you and your family. I highly recommend it."

As you prepare to care for your own birds, it's also vital to consider the necessary precautions you will need to take when winter approaches; you need to ensure they thrive, even as the temperatures drop and the conditions harshen. Ahead, discover several expert-approved ways to protect them during this chilly season.

small chickens outdoors near coop
Nickbeer / Getty Images

Prepare for the winter conditions.

Even though chickens have feathers that help them self-insulate, they can still suffer from extreme weather, especially the cold. "Once winter hits, chickens, as well as all our animal companions, are relying on us to protect and care for them," Jay L. Weiner, the co-founder of The Gentle Barn Foundation, says. "They can get frostbite on their combs, feet, and legs, and they can even die of cold." If you spot your chickens shivering, then they are too chilly. And if the tips of their combs are black and swollen, they are in the throes of frostbite. In general, chickens can maintain their warmth until it's about 50 degrees outside. If the temperature dips lower than that during the winter, then you will need to take extra measures to ensure they stay safe in their environment.

Provide proper nourishment.

"For laying hens, depending on the breed, they generally lay less in winter months, which is normal, as it's linked to the amount of light during the day," Françoise Foucher, an agriculture and breeding expert based in France and a sitter with Trusted Housesitters, explains. "Some breeds do continue to lay, as long as you feed them enough." She explains that as the chickens use more energy to cope with the cold, they need more energy to lay. In turn, this means giving them enough food with plenty of vitamins and minerals. "You can add a scoop to their usual grain or feed amount and give them extra-fresh leftover greens from the kitchen, which are good because they have less herb to graze outside," she adds. Since the winter brings freezing conditions, make sure the water doesn't go that route, too: It should always be fresh and drinkable.

Equip the coop.

To protect your chickens, you must safeguard the coop. First things first: The chickens will need to be in a well-insulated, four-sided barn or coop that can shield them from the wind, rain, snow, and cold air, Weiner says. Closing any holes or cracks is key and using insulation foam will go a long way to keep them warm and healthy. Plus, consider adding even more covering to make sure they are guarded from inclement weather. "Don't hesitate to double the wall and the roof with wood, like plywood, or cork-tile, which is even better," Foucher says. "If the coop is in a windy spot, it's better to build a wind-break half a meter from the coop to prevent a draft, which can be worse for chickens than the cold."

Don't forget the flooring.

A closed in, draft-free coop can become humid—which is a major issue from a flooring perspective. "Humidity in winter is the main problem for poultry; it can affect the chicken coop, make the manure very humid (which is bad for their legs), and cause pests to develop," Foucher says. "It is important to clean the coop's floors more often during the winter and add more straw for insulation." Also, consider elevating the flooring if your area experiences icy winters (this can protect them from frostbite and other cold-weather conditions. At the very least, you should lay a foot-worth of fresh straw all across the floor to keep them warm. "Chickens should also have a fire-safe coop heater for warmth," Weiner adds. "They sell flat screen, nonflammable, coop heaters at feed stores or online which can be installed next to them where they sleep." Try the Cozy Products Flat Panel Chicken Coop Heater ($45.33,

Keep an eye on your chickens.

As an attentive owner of chickens, it's natural to constantly check in on them as the weather drops, but Foucher says as long as they go outside and do not lose weight, they should be fine. "The main takeaway: Cold is not a major problem for hens and chickens. The problem is humidity and draft." If you don't have a four sided insulated and heated barn or coop readily available, consider taking them inside. "Bring your chickens into the house for the night in a crate and let them back outside during the day once the sun is shining," Weiner says. "That'll get them through the winter safe and sound!"

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