Caring For Your Layers In The Winter Months

By Holly Papenfus

Are you worried about how to care for your backyard layers during the cold winter months? Don't worry, with a few simple precautions, you can keep your chickens healthy and happy all winter long.


Firstly, it's important to make sure your coop is properly insulated. This will help keep the temperature inside the coop warmer and more stable, which is essential for your chickens' health. You can use materials such as straw, shavings, or even bubble wrap to insulate the coop. My son saves the feed bags all year and tacks them to the walls for insulation. It covers any drafty areas too. 


Next, provide plenty of bedding for your chickens. This will help keep them warm and comfortable during the colder nights. You can use materials such as straw, pine shavings, or shredded paper for bedding. Here in Wisconsin, we like to use the deep litter method. On our farm, we use pine shavings and lay them down thick to begin with. Then instead of cleaning out the litter each week, we stir it and add a small amount of fresh shavings. By spring, we have managed to keep the hens warm and cozy and created a good amount of compost to boot! 


It's also important to make sure your chickens have access to fresh water at all times. To prevent the water from freezing, you can use a heated waterer or check on the waterer frequently and replace it with fresh water as needed. If not using a heated waterer, we recommend using a rubber bowl sort of container. These are much easier to dump ice out of without breaking/cracking the container. 


In addition to fresh water, your chickens will need a balanced diet to maintain their health during the winter months. Provide them with a high-quality feed that is specially formulated for laying hens. You can also supplement their diet with scratch grains, fruits, and vegetables for added nutrition. We supplement in the cold months by mixing a higher protein feed with scratch grains, mealworms, black sunflower seed, and cracked corn into their layer feed. We use a 2:1 ratio. 2 parts layer feed to 1 part of each of the rest. You can also feed hot peppers or pepper flakes to the chickens. They don’t have heat-sensing taste buds like we do and the peppers help keep their body temperature up. It’s a bit of a controversy whether this affects the eggs' flavor. We haven’t noticed any change. 


Finally, consider adding a heat source to the coop, such as a heat lamp or a heated pad. This will provide extra warmth for your chickens on the coldest nights. We use heat pads in the laying box and have a bathroom fan with the heat option installed in the roof of the coop for extra warmth when it drops below zero. We don’t find that we need the extra heat unless below zero with all of the other precautions we take. 


By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your backyard layers stay healthy and comfortable during the cold winter months. With a little extra care and attention, your chickens will continue to provide you with delicious eggs all winter long.

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