Planning ahead and preparing your flock’s coop for winter can help stave off unpleasant situations that can arrive along with the snow and bitter temperatures. Here on the farm we’ve taken time each year to improve or rectify issues we see during the winter. Whether it’s experiencing minus 40 degree temperatures or a blizzard laying down 4-ft of snow – we’ve seen it all.
As you prepare, there are a few things to consider as fall weather creeps in. Our process here on 25 Acres is pretty simple but if you are a first time keeper these guidelines might help you out.
Flock Numbers & Productivity
The first thing a keeper should ask is, how many birds do I wish to feed over the forthcoming winter and how likely is it that they will earn their keep? If you are like us and raise your flock for egg production, those roosters and past-their-prime hens are not a productive advantage to you. Each year we do an audit and sadly, some of our birds just don’t make the cut.
Culling a portion of the flock is an integral part of keeping your chicken flock healthy and the bottom line cost efficient. If you are comfortable with it, once culled, those birds can be utilized for soup or broth making.
Each year we try to incorporate new birds into the mix, ones who will start laying eggs around the time the snow starts flying. Knowing the size of our coop and associated pens, flock numbers are limited to 20 or fewer birds. We also feed costs into account – without free ranging supplementation, feed needs increase.
Know Your Coop & Run Capacity
The standard rule of thumb is to allow approximately 4 square feet of living space for each bird in your flock. This will avoid overcrowding which can lead up to birds pecking on each other or affecting the overall health of the flock. Don’t just think about your coop floor or roost space, build upwards with plenty of perching areas birds can get to.
While the enclosed coop can be on the smaller side, an outside protected run can add to the square footage of living space. Each year we apply plastic sheeting to a portion of our outdoor pen that has a solid roof. This doubles their active daytime living space where snow, rain, ice and wind can’t penetrate. On nice days, there is another extension to this pen open to the elements…accessible by a hatch when needed.
Providing All the Right Elements
Providing all that life requires isn’t just about food and water. In the chicken world they also need insulated nesting boxes, ventilation and a place to dust bathe. Taking all of these elements to heart, we provide a heated watering system, plenty of feed and a protected coop space insulated well enough to keep the chickens and their eggs from freezing.
Every fall we add appropriate amounts pine shavings to the floor of the coop (and nesting boxes) to help keep things tidy and comfortable. Bi-monthly through the winter months we add a sheaf of alfalfa hay for the flock to enjoy and we add more pine flake to the flooring fodder (deep litter method works well for us). Droppings are cleaned from the boards below our nighttime roost bars daily and spot cleaning the floors assist in reducing odors.
Radiant heat panels attached to the walls are cleaned and inspected – these will be used only during negative temps at night. The roof vent is semi-closed and adjusted as needed for ventilation. Additional lighting is set up with an automatic timer to extend their daylight to a steady 12-hour window. High carbohydrate corn scratch is added to their diet each evening as fuel to keep themselves warm.
In the now clear plastic enclosed outdoor pen, the area is prepped for dust baths with the addition of fresh wood ash to the loose dirt floor. Any loose feathers are removed from the area and feed pans are set out and ready for fresh kitchen scraps. The flock is allowed full outdoor access as the weather allows.
Check out this blog article on the 30 gallon waterer I use for my flock. During the winter, the simple addition of a small bucket/stock tank heater keeps things from freezing up.
I also track the temps in my coop from inside the house! Want to know about the system I use and more things that make caring for your flock super simple? Check out these 10 Must Have Items!