What most people don’t realize is that most breeds of poultry are quite tolerant to the cold. Chickens have much more trouble dealing with severe heat, than they do with severe cold. If you take a few easy precautions, your fowl will make it through the winter months very easily. All chickens need is a quality diet, fresh water daily, shelter to get out of the elements, and wide roosts.
What they do not need is a heated environment, and to be cooped inside all winter. Water needs to be provided daily and is just as important as the summer months. If you have a coop, you can provide a heated water dish to help keep it from freezing, or if you don’t, you can purchase some of those hard rubber horse dishes, as you can easily break the ice out of them with a hammer, or by flipping them over and stomping on them, without worrying about breaking the dish.
Shelter can be anything from a coop to a plastic barrel for them to get in. The main thing that shelters needs to provide is a way for the birds to get out of the wind and rain if they desire. You will find that the weather must be quite bad for the birds to not prefer to be outside. One thing you will have to do, no matter what you use, is to keep the sheltered area clean, as it will get dirty fast in the winter months, which can make ammonia fumes get out of hand, which can be detrimental to their respiratory health.
Roosts are a critical part of keeping your chickens’ toes from freezing. The roosts provided need to be made of wood, or similar type of material that doesn’t conduct cold like plastic, or metal roosts. They also need to be wide so when the birds roost on them, their feathers cover their toes completely. This will keep chickens from getting frostbite on the toes, which can make them die, and fall off. I recommend using nothing less than 1 1/2 inches wide, like a 2 x 4 turned on end.
One other thing that can be a problem is large combs and wattles. These can be subject to frostbite as well. You can spread some Vaseline on them regularly to help combat this, but if you want to avoid this problem completely, dubbing will take care of it. Finally, if you get a lot of snow, shovel out your pens so your birds can come out and be able to walk around if they want. You can also provide litter in your pens for them to walk on, so they don’t have to walk on the frozen ground all the time. You might be surprised how a layer of bark, wood chips, or straw will make your birds more comfortable. If you follow these simple guidelines, your fowl will get through the cold winter months just fine.
Provided by Stevens Poultry Farm, APA member