The first question most people ask when they find out we have chickens is, “How do you keep them warm in the winter?” We have serious winters here. It has been known to drop below -50 Celsius (sometimes even -60 with the wind chill). The normal temperature in January is about -25 C. Getting stuck outside during a Saskatchewan winter can kill you.
So I totally understand why people are concerned with how our chickens stay warm. I certainly was when we first got them.
Then I realized . . . they’re chickens.
The pioneers and homesteaders did not have electricity, but they had chickens. Also, chickens are not mammals. Just because you wouldn’t want to be outside in the winter wearing a feather sweater doesn’t mean that a chicken is freezing to death, or even uncomfortable.
We winterize our coop, but we do not heat it. Some people do, and that’s totally their choice. We specifically chose cold-hardy breeds of chickens that can handle low winter temperatures. If you do choose to heat the coop, and the power goes out, the chickens will die for sure. We decided to not take that risk. Also, having a heat lamp in the coop is a fire hazard.
Here’s what we’ve done to make the girls comfortable for the winter:
- insulate the coop and fill the bottom with a thick layer of wood chips;
- give them lots of straw in the nesting boxes to snuggle into;
- use a flat 2×4 as their roosting bar so that they can cover their feet with their feathers when they sleep;
- put a fluorescent light in the coop on a timer so that they get 16 hours of light per day;
- use a heated water dish to keep their water from freezing;
- staple a plastic barrier around the bottom of the coop to give them a shelter from the wind;
- tarp the run to keep the snow out;
- feed them cracked-corn scratch in the late afternoon (their body temperature goes up as they digest the corn);
- have enough chickens so that they can keep each other warm.
The most important thing we’ve found is to make sure there is enough ventilation in the coop. We close the window, but we never put anything in front of the door – it stays open all winter. Chickens can withstand the cold, but if the coop is humid, they will get frostbite. So even though it goes against all my instincts, we make sure there is plenty of airflow in the coop all winter.
The girls don’t seem to mind winter at all. In fact, they love to be let out to scratch in the snow and peck at the frozen soil and plants. Besides, there’s nothing cuter than chicken paw prints in the snow.