Chickens/ Homesteading

Raising Chickens Through the Winter

November 16, 2015 (Last Updated: October 16, 2020)

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Raising chickens doesn’t take much.  Just provide food, shelter, and water.  Keep their coop clean and keep predators away.  With those basic elements your hens should stay happy, healthy, and provide you fresh eggs.  Raising chickens through the winter does provide additional challenges.  We live in the north where the days are short and the temperatures are cold.  Chickens need a few extra elements to survive and to continue laying eggs through these winter months.

Chickens eating food scraps tossed onto snow.

Being prepared for what you need will make a smoother transition into winter for you and your chickens. 

A mother hen with a baby chick peeking out from under her wing.

Sometimes we run into a few additional challenges…like these baby chicks!  They were hatched at the end of October.  Not an ideal time for new chicks here.  The temperatures can be too cold.  The mama hen  keeps them warm, but we also supplied them with a heat lamp for additional heat for the first three weeks.  When we first started raising chickens, we used a heat lamp in the coop all winter long.  We don’t use a heat lamp any longer.

 Chickens can keep themselves warm, as long as they are dry.  We have an area for them to roam around in a covered area and an open yard.  If they choose to go out into the open yard, that is okay.  You just want a place for them to get out of the weather when they need to. We also allow plenty of fresh air into our coop.  You don’t want your hens to become damp from condensation built up in the coop.

Hens in the hen house and yard.

Hens may also need additional light in order to keep laying.  We start turning a 40 watt bulb on in the coop at the end of August.  Our days get really short here and I rely on egg production all winter long.  The light can be hooked up to a timer allowing the light to come on in the early morning hours and then turning off during the daylight hours.  Our hens do best when we provide them with 12-15 hours of daylight….including the supplemental lighting.

Inside a covered hen yard with chickens on the ground and on a roost.

The most important element of raising chickens in any type of weather is providing fresh water at all times.  This can become difficult in the winter if you live in an area with temperatures below freezing.  You have to find a way to ensure your water won’t freeze.  We have tried just about every method out there….heated dog water bowls, electric immersion heater, replacing water often so it doesn’t get a chance to freeze, and a heated base.  Dog bowls work, but the water tends to become really messy and the bowls didn’t hold enough water for our large flock.  Same thing with the  immersion heater.  Trying to replace the water before it froze was  just crazy!  What was I thinking?  First, we work during the day and when the temps get below zero, it doesn’t take long for the water to freeze!  We now only use an base heater.  We use a double wall galvanized waterer.  This sits on top of an electric heated base.   We still run into challenges when our power goes out…but on those rare times, I just keep a steady supply of water coming and try to get to the coop before it manages to freeze.

Watering system sitting on top of a warmer in a chicken coop.

We had a beautiful fall day after a couple of days of cold, pouring rain. The two pictures below show our chickens out enjoying the beautiful weather.  In the fall I don’t worry too much about letting our chickens roam free range.  We don’t have any garden left for them to destroy.  You can read about my love/hate relationship with free range chickens.

Barred rock outside in a yard.

We were out enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures and so were our chickens.  They do love grazing, taking dust baths, and sitting in the sun.

Hens and roosters outside in a spot of sunshine.

To read more about chickens see The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and Baby Chicks


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  • Reply
    Katie Crenshaw
    November 18, 2015 at 10:17 am

    So jelly! I would love to have chickens. That would be so fun. I love your pictures. I bet they keep you busy!

    • Reply
      November 18, 2015 at 4:33 pm

      Chickens are pretty fun!

  • Reply
    karrie @ Tasty Ever After
    November 18, 2015 at 7:20 am

    Thanks so much for this post Kathy. I grew up in Florida with no chicken so when we moved to NH, the first thing I said was “We are getting some chickens!!” I love my chickens but they are challenging sometimes. Each winter we put up a heat lamp for them, mainly because I feel like they freeze (because I am!). After reading your article, do you think I shouldn’t put up the heat lamp this year? Also, mine aren’t laying right now because 1) we have been lazy and haven’t put up the coop light up to give them more “sunlight” 2) a few are molting. One chicken seems like she’s been molting for about 2 months and I’m thinking that’s a long time and it could be something else. Can chickens molt for that long or should I take her in to get checked out? I totally hear you about the love/hate view on free ranging. We allow ours to free range whenever the weather is nice but they poo all over the place and then they go to the neighbors’ flower gardens and tear them up! Strange thing is we’ve also had to rush both of our dogs (at different times) to the emergency vet because of unknown fevers (cost over $1K each time!) and the only common denominator is the chicken poo, even though everything I’ve read says that shouldn’t hurt them. Okay, this is a long comment but one more thing…in the pic your chickens don’t seem to mind the snow and my chickens refuse to step on the snow. Each time it snows, we have to remove it from all around the outside of their coop so they can step outside. Are we enablers to their high maintenance behaviors? lol!

    • Reply
      November 18, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      Hi Karrie,
      It’s okay to use the heat lamp…just make certain they don’t get too warm or damp from condensation. What color bulb is your heat lamp bulb? If it’s clear, it can also act as your daylight lamp. One less step, but they would have light on all day and night. I’m so sorry about your dogs and so glad they are okay. I can’t even venture a guess as to the cause. We haven’t ever had a problem with our dogs, but a vet would have a better idea than I would. If you think it could be your chickens, it might be best to not let them roam about. As far as your molting hen, I have heard that you can feed something with a higher protein content for a while. Ours usually are broody too and want to sit on a nest until they hatch. We just keep throwing her off the nest. I’m not certain what they normal time frame is for a molting/broody hen, but it is a natural process. If the snow gets too deep, the hens don’t like it either. Try throwing a bit of yummy treats out in the snow…they will go after it! Good luck!

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