What are the winter chicken care mistakes I should avoid?

Well, these are some DON’Ts of winter chicken care: 

  • Don’t keep waterers in the coop overnight. It causes moisture and dampness. Moisture inside a cold coop causes frostbite. Moreover, chickens will only be sleeping at night, there is no need to put water in the coop overnight. Moving the feeders and waterers outside of the coop will help encourage your chickens to come outside during the day. Getting outside and getting exercise and fresh air is important for your chickens.
  • Don’t let your water freeze. Making sure that the ladies always have fresh, non-frozen water to drink is a huge chore during winter. Water is the essential nutrient in a chicken’s daily diet; it is required for regulating body temperature, digestion, growth and egg production. It is important that adequate fresh water is provided every day and the water container is cleaned to prevent bacterial growth and disease. In cold weather, an adult chicken consumes an average of 0.05 to 0.08 gallon (200 to 300 mL = 1 to 2 cups) of water per day. In hot weather, an adult will consume 0.08 to 0.16 gallon (300 to 600 mL) per day. For an inexpensive DIY solution to frozen water, check out these videos:

P.S. I hope the videos help inspire some ideas for you. You have to figure out what works for your area. How things work for one person is not necessarily going to work for everyone. Temperature varies from one location to another.

If you’re not the DIY type, you can buy something very similar — Farm Innovators HB-60P Heated 2-gallon Poultry Drinker — on Amazon. This sturdy top fill heated chicken waterer is made from thickly insulated plastic and holds 2 gallons (7.5L) of water. It has a 60-watt thermostatically controlled heater that works automatically to keep the water from freezing, and water is dispensed through 3 side-mounted drip-free and freeze-free nipples, so bucket can sit flat for easy refilling and cleaning. It has a solid metal handle for hanging or can be placed on a stand. Plug the unit’s extension cord into the electrical outlet during the winter months and it operates automatically. Unplug extension cord during warm months and use as regular waterer. The only real drawbacks are that (1) the top of the lid is not sloped enough to keep chickens from perching on, and (2) it has no coiled wire wrapping around the cord to provide extra protection.

Phillip Weymouth, owner of UK–based Flyte So Fancy offers some tips to ensure your chickens keeps drinking during the winter months. I picked up some key takeaways from his video:

  • Resist the temptation to pour hot water over frozen water (ice) to melt it. This is a short–lived solution, because ice with a ‘hot top’ will lose heat faster, and thus its rate of cooling will be even faster in extremely cold temperatures. At first, it sounds crazy — wouldn’t hot water melt the ice? Weirdly enough, the opposite is sometimes true. This phenomenon is called “Mpemba Effect”, named after the Tanzanian Erasto Bartholomeo Mpemba, who as a secondary school student in 1963, noticed that hot ice cream mixes would freeze faster than cold ice cream mixes.
  • Adding vegetable glycerin to water will lower the freezing point of the water. Remember, it must be food grade glycerin. Food grade glycerine, sometimes also known as glycerol or glycerin can be found in the home baking section of your local supermarket or online. Experiment with the quantity — I read that just a few drops can treat up to 1.6 gallon (6 liters) of water below freezing but if the temperature falls further, you may need to add an extra drop or two.
  • Adding a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your chickens’ water can stop the water freezing so quickly. Additionally, apple cider vinegar provides numerous benefits to your chickens: it kills the germs that cause respiratory problems and increases calcium (as well as other mineral) absorption and keep your chickens healthy through the winter.

Check out Phill’s video for more tips:

  • Don’t make your chickens live in a drafty coop. All vents should be up high, i.e. above your chickens’ heads when they roost. A drafty coop can cause combs and toes to get frostbitten quickly. Spread a little petroleum jelly on their combs.
  • Don’t use a heat lamp or other type of heat inside the coop. Chickens produce a lot of dust and if you use the deep litter method of coop care, you have a ton of shavings on the floor of the coop. Since the chickens love to scratch, they can potentially kick up the dust, a stray feather and the shavings into the heat lamp or the heat lamp could fall and cause a fire. Heat lamps are UNSAFE inside chicken coops regardless of how carefully they are hung. Heat lamp fires claim coops and barns every year. I would much rather lose a hen to cold temperatures than an entire flock and coop to a fire. In addition to the risk of fire, a loss of power could be devastating or even deadly to the chickens which are accustomed to heat lamps suddenly have to go without (unless of course you have a generator). A sudden loss of your heat lamp could shock and kill your entire flock. Power outages are common during the winter months. It helps to remember that chickens are not the same as humans. Chickens can live quite comfortably in temperatures below zero, even without a supplemental heat source.

Here are some news reports about fire tragedies caused by heat lamps:

Chicken coop heat lamp cause of Wednesday evening fire

Heat lamp in chicken coop cause of Wyoming fire

Non-related firework fires on Fourth of July

Heat lamp sparks fire in chicken coop near Wilson County home

Heat lamps cause chicken coop to catch fire

No fowl play in chicken coop fire

Heat lamps possible cause of chicken coop fire

Fire kills chickens being raised by Ann Arbor school students

Chicken coop heat lamp possible cause of small house fire

Yakima house fire caused by heat lamp

Check out this video on why you don’t have to heat your coop in the winter:

  • Don’t put sweaters on your chickens! That prevents them from being able to fluff their feathers, which is one of the main ways they stay warm. Fluffing or ‘ptiloerection’ is the activity in which birds will fluff their feathers to trap pockets of air underneath their feathers. By holding this air close to their body, they can warm that air and themselves.

Read more: What about sweaters — do my chickens need sweaters?

  • Don’t forget to collect eggs often to prevent them from freezing. Chicken egg is composed of water (75%), proteins (12%), lipids (12%), and carbohydrates and minerals (1%; Kovacs–Nolan et al., 2005). Remember, water expands when it freezes, causing the eggshell to crack. Bacteria can easily penetrate through a cracked egg shell (Fajardo et al., 1995).
  • Don’t put off cleaning your chicken coop. The coop must be cleaned MORE regularly during winter, as the chickens will be spending more time inside the coop, and thus more litter will be accumulated inside the coop. One chicken produces approximately 8–11 pounds (3.6–5kg) of litter monthly according to Ohio State University. That works out to about 0.27–0.37 pounds (122.5–167.8g) of litter per chicken per day. Chicken litter contains high levels of nitrogen, which can form toxic ammonia. When chickens are housed in confined, indoor spaces with accumulated manure, they are often exposed to high concentrations of ammonia, especially when the area is infrequently or inadequately cleaned out on a regular basis. As a result of prolonged or frequent exposure to ammonia, your chickens are at risk of developing a chronic sinusitis.

Even if you use the deep litter method for managing bedding in your coop rather than frequent cleanings, new bedding still needs to be added more frequently in the winter to make sure everything stays dry and cozy.

  • Don’t let your chickens get too bored. During the cold, gloomy days of winter everyone can get bored, even chickens! With chickens, that can be a real problem. Bored chickens tend to start pecking at each other and themselves, causing serious injuries, even death.

Check out the 10 Winter Boredom Busters for Chickens Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily®.

Also, check out these videos:


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