Winter is here! Well it was here last week. And it did freeze this weekend. It's going to be 71 tomorrow.. and then 40 something the next day. So I *think* winter is here.
How do we winterize?
Number one, bucket heaters!!! I LOVE bucket heaters. There are several kinds available. I prefer a flat round one that fits in small rubber bowls. I put a hook over the bowl, so when I change waterers, I can just hang up the heater and take out the bowl to scrub it down. Yes, I scrub out my bowls every day. I know. I'm weird that way. I think it happens because I have a terrible mold allergy, so seeing algae build up makes me think of mold LOL.
Next, plenty of bedding. I make sure to really pile up the pine chips for extra insulation if the weather dips below freezing. I'm pretty sure that happens a couple of times a year around here. <grin>
CLEAN - if windows are closed and chickens are pooping, that ammonia starts to build up. And that makes your chickens more susceptible to lung damage. Ten minutes per coop keeps that from happening. If your chickens are lucky and have a huge barn, do what you like - you have plenty of ventilation!
Hmmmm what else? Plenty of vitamins and probiotics to keep those immune systems built up! Plenty of interesting things like cabbage, pumpkin, etc on really cold days when everyone wants to hunker down - keeps them from pecking on each other.
Watch for parasites - crowded dirty coops can hide some nasty little crawly things, so keep crowding to a minimum, keep coops fresh, and check your birds!
Tarps - we breed little bantams, so many of our coops have tarps on the runs that can be rolled up or down and secured. I don't completely wrap anything - corners, tops, and bottoms all have small gaps to keep the air fresh. They really help on windy, cold, rainy days! You can see a coop with tarps in the back left of this photo.
Drainage - make sure you have good drainage to deal with wet, cold, snowy weather. Wet cold conditions can result in frostbite! We have ditches, french drains, berms, etc to deal with water re-direction.
Heaters - ooooooh a hard one! To heat or not to heat! In general, do not heat. Unless you live in the snowy north where it gets super cold. If you must heat, DO NOT USE HEAT LAMPS. Let me repeat. HEAT LAMPS CAUSE FIRES ON A REGULAR BASIS. Seriously. Be careful. Also, don't keep it so warm that if the power goes out, your chickens cannot deal with the cold. Just keep them from freezing. Birds are NOT mammals - they deal with heat in a completely different manner, so believe me, if they have a dry place out of the wind, they will be perfectly fine down to quite a bit below zero. We have never used heaters until this year, and our birds have been totally fine at 11 degrees at night. Here is an article that explains a bit about birds and the cold.
And yes, we tried a heater this year. Why? Two reasons. One, I have a small group of very young birds and it went below freezing. They would most likely have been fine without it. In fact, they were fine without it as it turns out. But I got a Black Friday deal on the Cozy Coop Heater, a radiant panel heater, so I tried it. Did it help? Maybe. My giant blue cochin got her big self up on the roost and plastered her enormous rear end in front of the heater, effectively covering almost the entire heating region. So I'm not certain anyone else got any heat. But the cochin adored it. I've had to kick her off every night since then - of all of my chickens, she is the one who LEAST needs supplemental heat! Second reason, I'd like to hatch a couple of chicks in early spring, so I need some breeders to be laying eggs. Supplemental heat and light can help them get into the swing of things, so it is possible that I will use a heater in the early spring breeding pens - if the girls don't have to use as much energy to stay warm, they can use it to produce eggs instead. But again, use a coop safe heater to avoid fires.
Last but not least... Christmas trees. Collect them, use them. They make wonderful windbreaks. Chickens like to nibble on them and climb them. If it snows, roll them over the next day - the chickens will have paths where the trees blocked the snow, and they can "roost" in the trees. If you live in a place where you have lots of snow that doesn't melt, bless you. I have no idea what you can do other than put down boards for paths and wait until spring - I am a clueless southerner. In the spring, babies use the trees to hide from bigger chickens and as a playground. When summer comes and you have nothing left but trunks with spiky branches, burn them and add them to the dust baths!
So that is all I can think of for winterizing. Stay warm and have a Merry Christmas!