While we stay fairly warm in our homes with this really bitter weather hitting we may not be thinking of going out & really tending to our chickens, thinking as long as they have feed & water they will be alright.
If you are like me you worry if they are really going to be ok when its dropping way below zero at night & during the day the winds are bitter. So here are a few thoughts to maybe help you.
Even with a good coop if you have a breeze coming through, your chickens will be cold & can get sick. If you have nothing else, plastic trash bags tacked up over the areas that have drafts will greatly help in keeping the warm air in the coop.
If you have windows & the inside is iced up, cover those with clear plastic if you are still wanting light in or use any trash bag, old tarps or even old blankets over them to help remove the cold from inside the coop.
Create a better layer of deeper bedding on the floor so they aren't battling cold feet that can get frost bite from being on a cleaned cement or even dirt floor. You may have more to clean out after the winter but the chickens will thank you for this.
Some chickens decide to molt just as it gets cold so having more hay in the coop greatly helps them...think of it as you being outside in near zero weather with just a T-shirt on all day & night.......you would be freezing & no matter how much you moved or got into an area with no wind you would still be very cold. Plus as they are trying to regrow feathers their body is not getting as much energy to create the heat they need.
If you don't have any heat in the coop the extra bedding & plastic is very important for them, even with heat the extra bedding keeps the floor area warmer since the heat always raises. It also gets them moving as they like to scratch in the bedding looking for bits to eat.
Providing cracked corn or scratch feed with corn each morning when they get up & just before they go to bed helps give their body something to break down & helps keep them warmer for longer. But do not replace their feed with just scratch or cracked corn. They need that for the minerals/vits/protein & so on specially when the weather is so cold.
Many chickens will not leave the coop if they see snow on the ground, but on the better days they really need to get out & clear their lungs of all the dust & get a bit of sun so if you have ones who refuse to leave the coop, take some of the old bedding from the coop & spread it out in front of the coop door & out a bit. They will see the hay & most will venture out even if its for a short period of time. It also gives you the time with them out to clean or tidy up the coop without them underfoot.
Water is a big issue in the winter as it tends to always be frozen if you don't have a water heater or lamps in the coop so you will need to try & check it often for them. After they go to bed you don't really need water in the coop for them so you can remove the water & bring it in. This is also a good way to remind yourself to give them fresh water every morning. Just remember that if no water in 24 hours, you have very sick chickens & within 36-48 hours they are dead.
I try to remember to give them apple cider vinegar in the water (capful or so to each gallon is good enough) because it has antibiotic properties which will help the chickens. Now there is a lot of information on the web that says it has to be the kind with the "mother" in it....all that means is when the vinegar was made the gunk you see growing in it, is to stay in it as it has great benefits. But if you can't find it, there is organic or regular apple cider vinegar that will work....just not as well but it still has some of the good properties & chickens tend to drink more water as they like the vinegar in it.
Winter is a good time to also feed them warm meals specially when they get up, it doesn't have to be fancy like oatmeal but even their normal feed with warm water will make them happy & keep their little bodies warm a lot longer.
Frost bite is another thing you deal with if you have chickens with large combs & waddles. Waddles get wet each time they drink water so the chances of frost bite there are high. Even small combs get frost bite if they are outside for too long a time, as can the feet & legs. The beginnings of frost bite on the combs Waddles are a bit yellowish or gray in areas, if treated with Vaseline & moved to the inside these have a chance of healing, but if you get black areas you already have the frost bite & those areas will die. What ever you do, never put a hot wash cloth or rag on the area. Just like with humans, you treat their frost bite the same way. Never try to cut the areas off, if really bad find a chicken or farm vet who can tend to them properly. Now with the feet occasionally they get frost bite on a toe & that toe will eventually fall off. You need to tend to it as soon as you see it...get the chicken in the house, get a bowl of lukewarm or even room temperate (never hot)water & soak the foot. If you have it add benedine to the water so it can kill any infection that may be starting that you can't see. Very very gently dry off the foot after the water has began to cool, normally this is within 10 minutes or so.
Use the cotton type gauze (not cotton balls that will stick) & gently wrap the toe but do not wind it tight, you want it to only protect the toe to help with the pain when it stands. Now tape it so the tape runs up the leg so it won't come off. For the best results you should keep the chicken in the house in a cage in a quiet area until the toe falls off.
If put back in the coop you could get more toes that get frost bite or other chickens may peck at the bandages. You will need to unwrap, soak & re-bandage it daily, so you can see if the rest if the foot & leg aren't getting infected. If infection sets in you might want to put the chicken done or see a chicken vet for more help. Once the toe has fallen off you will need to use a antibiotic ointment on the end & I would recommend a small bandage on that as well.
Every 3-4 days remove the bandage, wash & medicate until its completely healed. A chicken can walk with a complete toe missing but it may take a while for it to understand its new balance, so do not get upset if you see it stagger, limp or hold that foot up. Eventually it will figure out how to walk & get around alright.
Putting just plain old Vaseline on the waddles & combs of all your chickens is a big help to prevent frost bite as is just leaving them in the coop when its bitter cold & windy. If you don't have Vaseline you can use lard, shortening cooking oil or even antibiotic ointment....you want something that has a oil base so it seals the area of the skin.
I keep a thick old wash cloth in my coop because a lot of mine like to get a big drink before they go to the roost, so once they are up on the roost I will help dry the waddles with the cloth for them. I will also dry their feet if they are wet while they are up on the roost.
Because if them staying in the coop more you may hear more sneezing & coughing, plus see clear running noses. they stir up a lot of dust in the air & can't get away from it so it gets in their throats & in the sinuses. To help with this change the old dusty bedding often....that's the good stuff to throw out in front of the coop to get them to go out side. If you see moisture/wetness on the inside walls or windows you need to make sure there is a vent of some sort to remove the stagnate air that is in the coop, most times having the door open a small bit during the day will help with that even if they aren't going outside. that moisture can cause illness to the chicken so its important to check the walls & windows.
Another thing you need to be aware of is chickens who love to play on the snow & come in all wet. If the coop is cold with no heat lamps they will get up on the roost to sleep & have a hard time getting dry. So having a towel to help dry them off is a good thing to do or even using a hair dryer on low to get some of the feathers dry...just make sure to get the under feathers that lay close to their body dry if possible.
Mine, I bring inside & let them hang out in front of the wood stove to dry for the night if its super cold in the coop. If you have a lot of them that do this then the towel will greatly help & putting them in the nesting boxes instead of the roost will help them stay warmer. I carry a flashlight so I can just pick them up off the roost & get them into the boxes, that way they don't climb right back out & head for the perch again.
If you do get a chicken who coughs, has watery eyes & a running nose that is cloudy or green, that baby has a respiratory infection. Always have on hand Vicks vapor rub & chicken RX medicine. The RX medicine is used down the throat & under the wings & I use the Vicks on the waddles & a thin amount on the nose area so they can breath better.
If they are having a rough time breathing give them a steam treatment. Either run the shower on hot & let the room get really thick with steam & leave them in there to breath it or do the bowl & towel bit like you would do with a child, but you will need to have your head covered with the towel also & do the steam treatment with the chicken as you hold it. I sometimes put a few drops of peppermint oil or eucalyptus oil in the bowl to help them. Plus its a benefit to me as well. Once you do the steam treatment then do the Vicks on their nose & waddles & the RX if you have it. I normally leave that chicken in the house so I can watch it & redo the steam treatments a few more times until the chicken is breathing better.
Chickens tend to eat more when its cold to keep up their energy & body warmth so make sure they always have a good supply of feed available, add extra treats of the cracked corn, raw oatmeal or cooked (never raw/dried)rice if you want when its bitter cold. Some say never give them a lot of treats, but I see no reason not to do it on the days its below freezing & the chickens are shivering from the cold.
By getting the treats that they will eat, they are up, moving & creating body heat. they still have their normal feed there if they want it, but this way each time I go check on them, I can see everyone of them & see how they are doing.
Also check their beaks for cracks, chips & splits as they tend to peck at frozen things & sometimes crack/split the beak. for mild chips, cracks or splits you can use a emery board that's used for filing fingernails & file the area so its smooth. For severe cracks that go into the meaty area of the beak you can use a GEL type super glue...NEVER use the regular super glue liquid kind as you can not control it & you can seal the beak closed. With the gel type, you can put it on a piece of paper & use a tooth pick to put a small bit of the glue on the cracked area. Make sure to blow to dry it quickly as the gel type takes a bit longer to dry. If the crack is bad & slightly open cut a small piece of cotton gauze or tissue paper that just fits over that area. Put the glue on first very thinly then place the gauze over it, blow dry then add a very thin layer of the gel glue over the gauze to help keep it there, again blowing on it to dry it. To make it easier for the chicken while this heals/grows out keep its feed wet/moist so its not banging its beak to get the feed. As the crack grows out you will need to keep the area filed smooth for the chicken.
With the chickens in the coop more you may have more mites as well, so try to dust often when you can get the chickens out side, specially in the nesting boxes. Dust the chickens once a week with D earth if possible, since they can not dust themselves while they have no area to dust in.
Another thing to watch out for is feather pulling, when chickens are bored or feel cramped/crowded they tend to take it out on each other by pulling out each others feathers......giving them something to do like pecking at a pumpkin, head of lettuce or cabbage will entertain them, give them exercise & keep them warm. they can & will feel stress even if we don't notice, so having something for them to do will greatly help them. I have a bale of bedding hay that I took the strings off & they love to jump all over that & dig in it during the day...simple idea that keeps them busy so they are not picking on each other.
If you do not have a light on in your coop expect some or all of your hens to quit laying eggs...they say most hens need 14-16 hours of light to lay. I have who will lay ever so often in the winter, but I know that they normally quit because I only have the light on for 12 hours instead of the 14-16 cause I don't care if I get eggs. I just have the light on so they can be up a bit longer to eat, drink water & play if they want.
If you do have a run or free range them, please check often their water & feed. Also check to see if all your chickens are alright. Funny how they can get hurt more in the winter since things are covered in snow(its much easier to see blood on snow that it is in the grass). Plus double check when they come in for frost bite, leg wounds & so on that they might not get if they were inside a coop all day.
Who knew there were so many things to think about with raising chickens in the winter? Hope this has helped in some small way with your chickens.
Have a great Chicken day,