How to

4 January 2017

Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter

As Christmas passes and New Year rolls by, the cold weather really starts. As January and February usually give us the lowest annual temperatures in the UK, they can also be the most dangerous for those exposed to the chill. We’ve written before about the various ways to keep human beings warm; and we’ve considered how certain animals pull-off extreme cold survival in the wild. But what about domesticated animals? How can pet-owners and livestock-keepers make sure they fulfill their obligation to keep their furry, feathery friends warm and safe? Animal clothing is a good start; but can further steps be taken?

Chicken keepers will know that good coop maintenance is absolutely essential. It’s a bit of a chore: simply mucking-out this particular quarry is a fowl task. It’s no poultry matter. It’s no game. And so forth. But once your coop is clean, you need to keep it insulated. Indeed, the same is true for keeping any shed-based animal warm. So, let’s crack on with some banty banter as a window into the wider dos and don’ts for winter animal welfare.
Tip One: Draft Minimisation, Good Ventilation

If your coop’s looking more like a colander, the first thing you need to do is plug them holes. Not only will draft minimisation ensure that breakaway heat will run into less penetrable insulating materials, but it will also mean that cold air from the outside will struggle to get in.

That said; bear in mind the need for some form of ventilation. Imagine being stuck all day in a room with ten other people, all of whom are defecating regularly, with no clean air flow coming in. Not only would you get pretty sick of your companions; you’d literally get pretty sick…from your companions. So, keep your coop well-ventilated whilst minimising drafts to a sensible extent.

Tip Two: Insulation, Insulation, Insulation

Img source: The Poultry Guide
The second most important thing to do is insulate. Just as you pack the walls of your house with a layer of air-trapping fluff, so too should your chicken coop be jammed with fibreglass insulation. Or, indeed, padded foil roll. Or earthenwool. If you’re struggling you could use polystyrene (although this would have to be an emergency fix in lieu of something more sustainable). There are a myriad of different materials which can be used to pad-out the walls and roof of your coop. So get down to Wickes and haggle a roll or two! 

Tip Three: Deep Litter

It’s also worth bearing in mind the importance of keeping the floor well-insulated. You’ll probably have some form of straw or wood shavings laid down already; but there’s likely more you could do in this regard.

Specifically, you could consider deep litter for winter time. Not only would bulking-out the volume of litter beneath your chickens’ feet mean thicker insulation and easier mucking-out (if done right, you would only need to turn over the top layer with a rake and add some more sawdust on top every day), but it would also act as its own minor heat source – by virtue of the fact that, long-term, you’re trying to cultivate compost on the floor; within which fermentation releases small amounts of heat.

Tip Four: Gentle Heat Source

There’s always the option, when things get really cold, of adding a supplementary heat source to the mix. In order to avoid fires or other such harm befalling your animals, you’ll need to avoid heaters if possible. Rather, use a gentle bulb or other such mild heat source, which gets warm rather than hot. Still, if you’re able to stretch to a mildly higher energy bill, an extra heat source could do a world of good.

Tip Five: Allow them to Huddle

Penguins huddle together for warmth; humans hug to share body heat; and chickens, existentialist as they are, will likely do the same – if you give them the chance. So, instead of shutting them away in individual compartments during the day, why not let them roam about and share body heat within the coop? It’ll help them socially and corporeally – although there’s always the risk they’ll take the opportunity to build a flying contraption and break free, like they did back in ’00.  

Img source: Film Filosopher
Tip Six: Keep it Dry

Finally, make sure your coop is dry at all times. If you let water or moisture in, things will get pretty damp pretty quickly. Not only can this cause holes and damage to your nicely-insulated coop, but it can sap the warmth away from the birds themselves and the surfaces which have been kept warm. If something’s damp, change it, to keep your hens dry and happy.

James Stannard

James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.