Winter in the chicken coop too often means a lack of eggs, frozen water, and cold, unhappy hens. But with attention to a few key details, your hens will keep laying through much of the winter, although egg production might slow down a bit. More importantly, you’ll rest easy knowing that they are comfortable and warm. Here is a simple winter readiness checklist:
- Light. A hen’s laying is influenced by her pineal gland, which in turn is controlled by daylight. Sixteen hours of light each day, supplemented by a 60-watt incandescent light bulb or two on a timer, is ideal for keeping birds active – and laying eggs.
- Roosts. By nature, chickens like to roost at night. This is also their way to stay warm: with feathers fluffed, they share body heat by roosting close to each other. Make sure your chickens have comfortable roosts with 6-8 inches of roost space per bird.
- Heated water. Depending on how cold it gets where you live, you might need to keep the hens’ water supply from freezing. Feed stores sell heater bases that fit underneath the typical galvanized metal chicken waterers.
- Deep litter. The deep litter method is low-maintenance, and it keeps hens warm through winter as the litter and manure slowly compost and release heat into the coop. Just start with a clean coop and about 4 inches of litter (hay, straw, wood shavings, or a mix) in the summer or early fall. Simply add more litter throughout the season as needed to keep the bedding fairly dry and clean. By winter, the litter should be about 8 to 10 inches deep. It will be composting nicely and giving off heat. The chickens’ scratching will keep it aerated and turned, especially if you throw scratch grains in the coop for them, but you can give it a hand with a pitchfork every once in a while.
Read Top 10 Tips for Keeping Chickens in Winter for more tips.