Whether you live in the north where winters can get pretty brutal or in the south where things just tend to cool down a bit, taking time to learn how to prepare your chicken coop for winter is a chore that is probably on everyone’s to-do list.
It is a good habit to have even if you are not preparing for frigid wind chills since it gets things cleaned out and cleaned up which is key for a healthy flock of chickens.
It also helps to keep us more aware of our animals living conditions on a regular basis. Routine maintenance is key in all areas of our homes. By checking our property and our homes, we will more easily find issues before they become full-blown problems.
This habit is even more important if you raise any animals. Checking their housing and shelters routinely is vital and can keep you ahead of the game. By keeping a seasonal checklist you will ensure you are always watching out for issues before they become problems.
If you are new to raising hens this list will give you a good overview of what needs to be done. As you gain more experience you will learn what items to add and what items you can skip over. It really all depends on where you live and the type of shelter or chicken coop that you have.
This list will, at the very least, get you started off on the right foot.
Preparing your chicken coop for winter is just like preparing your home. You are basically looking for any issues, fixing them if you find any, including any improvements, and above all making sure your animals have a clean and comfortable home. And trust me on this one, fixing them now while the weather is still good is much better than fixing them later when it's blustery outside.
Our goal is to make sure our animals are safe and healthy at all times. The first step to doing this is to perform routine checks on shelters, waterers, and food setups. This will alert you to any weak areas where predators might be able to enter the coop. It will also show you if you have a bully issue because your feed and water set up isn’t sufficient for your flock.
All of these things may not be noticeable when you are simply feeding but will stand out when the coop is emptied out, cleaned and a walkthrough is performed.
Start your winter out with a clean and secure coop and you will save yourself from headaches come winter.
The first step to prepare your chicken coop for winter is to give things a good cleaning. There is nothing worse than dealing with parasites in the winter, so take the time now to debug things a bit. I like to take everything out. This includes the chicken roost and nesting boxes (if you are able), all of the bedding, chicken waterer, and feeder. All of it.
Use a good large shovel and get all of the bedding out. If you have kids at home, now is a good time to call in the troops. This part can be a bit hard on the back.
Once the chicken coop is emptied, get a good broom, and sweep it all down. The floor, walls, and even the ceiling. You want to remove any cobwebs that can trap dust and debris.
I also use a paint scraper to get anything off the floor or walls that a broom or shovel can’t get.
If you have a garden this is a great place to toss your bedding in the fall. Soiled bedding is a great compost and will do wonders for your veggies come spring.
If you do not have a garden find a spot out of the way to dump your bedding for now. Come spring if you let your neighbors know you have chicken manure they will gladly get rid of it for you.
Hopefully, you are near a water source because having a hose close by will make this job 10 times easier. If not, tossing buckets of water up onto the walls will do the trick as well. The goal is to use the water to get what the broom missed.
Make sure you get the walls, corners, and even the ceiling. Chickens are dusty (incredibly dusty!) and you will be amazed at how quickly things can get dirty in a coop.
I like to use the broom once more to get anything I may have missed the first time around. Again starting with the ceiling, then the walls, down to the floor using gravity in my favor.
I like to use a mixture of white distilled vinegar and water mixed at about ½ and ½. This will do just fine cleaning the coop out. If you have a problem with parasites or mold you may want to add some bleach. you may need to do more, such as a commercial disinfectant, but more often than not this will do the trick.
It is extremely important to make sure your vents and windows are completely clean of all dust and cobwebs. Even in the frigid winter good airflow is extremely important.
I suggest using a soft-bristled brush for this so you do not damage the vent while cleaning.
Once you have it all scrubbed and disinfected, grab your hose once again and give it a good thorough rinse. Get the floors, corners, ceiling, walls, vents, door frame…..all of it.
At this point, things should smell much better than when you started. A good sign you are doing a thorough job of it.
If you do not have drains in your chicken coop to help with the excess water then you can use the broom to push the excess water out.
Hopefully, you have a place for your flock to hang out until things dry up. I just let my gals roam in the garden while we are working to clean out and disinfect their chicken coop. Then, once I add in the bedding from the chicken coop I can have them get to work moving that dirty bedding around for me while I am cleaning.
It really helps to get your animals involved as much as you can around your homestead.
When you prepare your coop for winter you will need to make sure things are in good shape. Drafts are a big no-no in the north, sure you want airflow, but no drafts. Why? Because drafts can cause lung issues in your animals such as Pneumonia or flu which can kill your chickens quickly. Because of this, it is important to make sure your coop can withstand the winds of winter.
Also, a small crack in the dead of winter can let in a surprisingly large amount of snow. Trust me…I know.
Another reason we want to watch for cracks or holes is to keep predators out. Your chickens may not be the only ones looking for a warm place in the cold of winter. We had a weasel break into our coop using the smallest of holes to get in. He was able to kill my best hen and we learned a tough lesson that day. I am now careful to look for any cracks no matter how small and seal them up.
Prep your chicken coop to protect your hens not only from the cold but also from other animals.
Take this time to give your nesting boxes, feeders, waterers, and roosts a good cleaning as well. Scrub things down with your vinegar/water spray and let dry in the sun. Remember to add bleach if needed.
I like to put down a light layer of food-grade Dematiaceous Earth before I add anything else. This extra step just ensures that I am doing all that I can to deter pests and parasites.
Next, goes a nice layer of wood shavings. (Do not use cedar) While our winters aren't as brutal as other places, I prefer to use the deep litter method in our chicken coop. It not only saves me from cleaning when it's cold and raining or freezing out, but it gives a nice warm barrier between my hens and the cold frozen ground.
I have tried out different types of bedding in my coop. Sand, sawdust, and wood shavings being the three I have tested and I find wood shavings work best.
The pros of wood shavings is they are lightweight, work well to soak up the urine, and are low dust which is important to keeping your flock healthy especially in the winter.
Since I use plastic crates for our hens they are super easy to clean and do not hold the smell of the coop.
Still, a nice layer of straw makes it more comfortable for my gals during laying time. I also started tossing some fresh basil in as well and the girls really like it.
I have raised chickens going on 10 years and I have used a heat lamp for the first 3. I live in a very cold climate right in the middle of the snow belt. And let me tell you, we get cold with dangerous wind chills and a crazy amount of snow.
I have found that my girls do better WITHOUT the heat lamp.
Trust your animals to adapt to the cold especially if you have chosen winter hardy hens. As long as you have adequate housing that is free from snow and drafts with ample bedding inside, your hens will do just fine.
WARNING: The number one cause of fires in a coop/barn is a heat lamp or other artificial heat source. Make sure to use every single precaution if you feel you must have a heat lamp to your chicken coop.
If however, you feel you need something to help them cope with the cold weather, there are a few things you can do to help.
If egg production slows way down for you, you may want to add a light to extend the day. I have found this DOES work, although I do not use it. When a chick is hatched she already has a set number of eggs she will lay in her lifetime. If you speed up the laying of those eggs, she will slow down quicker.
I prefer to let nature take its course with my hens.
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