Colder temperatures are here. Single freezing digits often prohibit me from doing regular maintenance and tidying in my chicken coop. I’ve been getting questions from many of you about how I care for my coop during these freezing winter months, so I thought that I would share some tips of what I do to keep my chicken coop tidy in winter. Did you know that cold hardy chickens have an easier time in winter weather than in the heat of summer? It’s hard to believe, but these cold hardy breeds are similar to the wild birds that remain north and overwinter. Some of my favorite cold hardy chicken breeds include Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Easter Eggers, Barred Rocks, Brahmas and Salmon Faverolles. I think it is very important to share that I don’t heat my chicken coop in the winter.
Before winter arrives and when it is still not too cold, I take the time to do some preparations for winter on the coop. For me living in New England, this usually takes place around mid-November. One of the best things that I do year after year is wrap the chicken coop in plastic/plexiglass panels to keep the rain and snow out of the chicken run. Wet chickens and freezing temps are not friends.
Keeping the Chicken Coop Tidy
So, what exactly do I do out there each morning? Here you go!
1. Visit the chicken coop in the early morning.
First, check for any signs of predator entry or attempts and make repairs/reinforcements. Then, I check in on each chicken and be sure that they are acting as they should. I inspect their combs, wattles and feet for frostbite and collect any eggs that were laid early in the morning. Next, I check for any larger poop messes the chickens may have made overnight. Morning surprises like these might need to be addressed a couple times per week to keep the chicken coop tidy. I’ll share how to deal with those later.
2. Top off the chicken feeders.
Chickens will not overeat. Remember most of their nutrition should come from their feed. I divide treats into twice per day in the winter months. On most winter days, for my flock of 8, I share 1/4 cup of mealworms and a 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds or scratch with them in the am. Then about an hour prior to sunset, I share about a 1/2 cup of scratch. Learn how much to feed your flock.
3. Address frozen waterers.
Chickens require fresh drinking water at all times. In the winter, if you do not have a heated waterer or heated base, you will need to check on the water a few times during the winter. Heated waterer are commercially available. I gave in after the first two winters and it is one of the best purchases I could have made as chicken keeper! This is the one that I have. There are quite a few cheaper knock-off versions of this one (look closely) that fail after one season. The one that I have is made by Kuhl and has lasted me 4 years. I also love that it comes with 2 bases- one for summer use and one for winter.
You can also consider purchasing a base that heats up when temps drop below 35 degrees F. Simply set your waterer on this base and you are good to go. Some bases cannot be used with plastic waterers. This heated base for plastic or metal waterers can!
In the winter, I do not change the water everyday. It is “refrigerated” outside. When filled, this 3 gallon waterer lasts my flock of 8 chickens about 4 days in the winter months. I clean the waterer once per month with distilled white vinegar.
Another thing, you can do is control the winter’s excess humidity in the chicken coop and you might find this link helpful.
4. Address the Poop!
Even though temperatures are freezing, I find that a daily tidying of “scooping up the poop” is the number one way to keep the chicken coop tidy, control humidity in the coop and odor. In the winter, some folks do the deep litter method. I tried it a few winters ago and I didn’t care for it. Typically, I follow the rotational litter method during non-wintry months. But in the winter months, mid- November until the beginning of April this is what I do to manage the manure.
5. Gloves vs. Scoopers
Some people use kitty litter scoops to scoop up the poop. I wear gloves. There is one area in my coop under the roosts where most of their poop collects from nighttime. I try to tidy under these roosts daily. This method works for my smaller flock but might prove to be difficult if you had a larger flock. For my small backyard flock I live in these gloves. I do all my chicken chores and garden work in these Atlas Gloves. I love them!
6. Keep the Chicken Coop Tidy: Best Winter Bedding
On the coop floor, I use a deeper layer of kiln dried pine shavings. You can purchase large compressed bags of these at your local feed store. The shavings are kept to a depth of about 6 inches and are repleted as necessary throughout the winter months.
I don a pair of these gloves and pick up the poop clumps one at a time, plop them in a designated 5 gallon plastic bucket and then toss them into the composting area. The poop is usually frozen solid so it goes quickly. For the poop, I use one designated color of gloves that remains with the poop bucket in the garden shed when not in use. The other colored gloves, are used in the yard and garden.
I leave the hard frozen on poop for warmer days. Sometimes there is one on the roost. They come off easily once they thaw. For those explosive surprises, if they are still wet, I grab an handful of dry shavings from the coop floor and wipe down the poop as best I can with the shavings. As tempting as it is, I never introduce any water or cleaners into the coop during the winter. Even though the temptation is there, I must wait until spring for a good deep cleaning. Chickens cannot handle being wet or living in a wet environment during freezing temperatures.
I do not use straw inside the coop in the winter because it is prone to mold, holds moisture and can harbor mites.
7. Oh those dust bunnies!
When we have a rare day when temperatures climbs to the high 30s or 40s F and the sky is filled with brilliant sunshine, I will take out the small shop vac that I have have and vacuum the coop. I temporarily plug it into the extension cord that I use for the heated chicken waterer since it is already there. This usually happens about every 4-6 weeks. I vacuum up all the dust and cobwebs that accumulate on the shelves, walls and ceilings. This is a year-round lifesaver to keep the chicken coop tidy.
8. Collect the eggs frequently
As days become longer in the early new year, the eggs should be returning after the fall molt. For younger flocks, egg production never stopped! Be sure to collect winter eggs at least 3 times per day. After school egg collecting chores are a great way to keep the kids involved and help in the winter. Remember, cracked frozen eggs should not be consumed even though it is tempting.
Truthfully, I do not spend more than 10 minutes to keep the chicken coop tidy on winter days. On those really cold days, sometimes I skip the chicken poop scooping all together and grab it every other day. Instead, I stick to checking on the chickens, refilling the waterer, topping off the feeders, collecting the eggs and tossing in some treats. Do I want to scrub down the roosts and the linoleum covered floor? Yes, I can’t wait to do a deep spring cleaning. It’s one of my favorite things to do come spring.
Please note that I have not received any request or endorsement to recommend any of these products in this post. These are what work for me! You should know that some products do contain Amazon affiliate links and if you purchase a product through these provided links you are supporting Tilly’s Nest. Thank you!