Updated: Feb 16, 2022
Recently, I had someone contact me on Etsy asking to purchase alpaca fiber for their chickens for the winter. I legitimately thought this was the sweetest (and most expensive) way to keep chickens warm on very chilly nights. I talked it through with her and in the end, she decided that her chickens will likely be fine with very minimal winterization based on where she lives. Before this interaction, I never would have thought about using alpaca fiber inside of a coop to keep chickens warm though the winter. Of course, I had to do a quick internet search and apparently people do. I personally would not recommend this because alpaca fiber is way more valuable in most cases in other uses.
However, there are a lot of easier ways with everyday items that will keep chickens warm with minimal effort. If you are a first time chicken owner or wish to have chickens in the future, this information might be of use to you!
Winterization is not necessary for every single person in every single climate. I think it is important that we start there. Most chicken breeds are really hardy. I employ these methods because our winters can be very harsh from January to March. We have at least two or three weeks of lows temperatures in the teens or even single digits. The woman I spoke with lived in the south United States in which her January temperatures occasionally dropped down to the mid-thirties. Personally, I would not winterize at all if that were my climate unless I had a very sensitive breed. It is best to pick out chicken breeds by what will do well and survive in your climate. Do your research to accommodate before you buy if you absolutely have to have a hen that is more sensitive to the cold if you live in an area with harsher winters. Chickens, in general, though are very cold tolerant and very simply changes to their structure will allow them to safely survive through the winter.
I clean out my chicken coops once a month through the spring, summer, and fall. We have a really large coop. Our coop sits off the ground with two built in roosts. We have two front doors and one large back door leading into the run. I have a hatch over their nesting boxes to gather eggs. We used to have drawers to clean it out but we stopped using them because after lots of time, constant moisture from feces etc, made them really hard to remove to clean.
Our coop being off the ground presents some serious challenges when it comes to cleaning but our coop has been totally predator proof (thus far, never want to chance your luck there). I am mentioning cleaning out the coop because I usually start my winterization process at my last cleaning of the year.
After I clean out all of the dirty bedding, before I add new clean bedding, I start a process called deep litter. This is a process in which you put organic material inside your coop as a part of your bedding. This helps the composting process. If you use your dirty chicken bedding for any compost at all, this is the process for you. You are probably wondering why I do this as a winterization process. Well, the reason is because when the bedding starts to compost, it heats up. I have used this method for three years and what is so great about it is that because it is actively composting, there is no need to clean inside the coop during the winter months.
The most convenient organic material available when we go to clean out our coop in the fall where we live are fallen leaves. We have so many trees and so many every year. We use leaves for so much this time of year, seriously they are so useful. However, not everyone has a plethora of leaves or even trees in their yards so there are a lot of other organic materials you could use. You could use grass clippings and even pulled out plants from your garden after the frosts hit too.
After we fill our coop with leaves in the bottom, we then cover it with our regular bedding. Then we are good to go for the season! It really is such a great and easy method.
After our coop is cleaned out, we usually wait a few weeks before we move into our next stage of winterization. Usually where we live we get a few frosts early in the morning but it takes until late November to start getting consistent frosts. At this time, I start gathering bags, recycled feed bags, and tarps. I double and triple layer the feed bags on the window openings of the coop. I made sure to leave small holes in the corner. You never want to totally seal up your chicken coop, however, using tarps and feed bags to cover the openings will protect your chickens from any winter drafts.
I also use this method on my barn openings. In the summer, we have two doorways and I close one with two tarps. Lots of farmers will also put up plywood but alpaca are not as sensitive to cold as other farm animals would be.
The last and final stage to my chicken coop winterization method is installing a water warmer. For the inexperienced chicken owners, a warmer warmer is necessary because the waterers tend to freeze through the winter. Purchasing a warmer ensures that your chickens have access to water at all times which is vital to their health. I use a drop in water warmer like this one.
I have two outside water buckets with warmers in each and I run outdoor extension cords to each one. It isn’t the most efficient but I like these waterers more than the alternatives because they stay way cleaner. Also, I can fill the buckets from outside the run which admittedly gets muddier than what I would like.
After I finish setting up the water heaters, I am done until spring, which is such a relief. I do not recommend coop heaters or interior heat lamps because I personally feel the risk of fire outweighs the possible benefits of prolonged egg production.
Do you have any questions about chicken coop winterization methods? Have you done things differently in your coop?