Chickens/ Homesteading

Raising Chickens Through the Winter

November 16, 2015 (Last Updated: October 6, 2019)

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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.

Winter Chickens

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

Peek-a-boo! This baby chick is keeping warm but wants to see what's going on!

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 the covered yard. Our chickens can come here to get out of the rain.

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 to prevent winter freezing.

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.

Proud rooster

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.

Happy Chickens enjoying a fall day!

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

Free Range Chickens enjoying the sun.

Free Range Chickens enjoying the sun.

Baby Chicks

Baby Chick in Hand

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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!

  • Reply
    November 17, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Kathy love this post!! It was a very interesting read!

  • Reply
    Geraldine | Green Valley Kitchen
    November 17, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    I love these posts, Kathy. It’s so interesting to hear about your chickens. I’m a city girl but some people do have chickens in my neighborhood. I can hear them clucking and some crowing when I walk my dog in the early morning. Love the photo of the chick peaking out from under her mom’s wing!

  • Reply
    Meghan | Fox and Briar
    November 17, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Those baby chicks are adorable! I love the idea of having chickens but so far have not had the chance to do it. This is such great info!

  • Reply
    allie @ Through Her Looking Glass
    November 17, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Dear Kathy, what a great post! We live in the city, but my next door neighbor has chickens and they do well. I buy my eggs from a friend at church, but hers don’t produce in the winter. So I’m out of luck in the winter months, the exact months I’d like to be baking with fresh eggs. I believe I’ll pass this article on, as in, hint hint: we could have eggs year round! 🙂 Of course we could raise our own, but trust me on this…long story, we’re not in any position to take on any more special projects!!! Some day.

    • Reply
      November 17, 2015 at 7:12 pm

      Well at least you have a friend with eggs….hopefully she will try adding lighting during the winter hours.

  • Reply
    Danielle @ So Munch Love
    November 17, 2015 at 9:49 am

    Kathy, I love your chickens! I grew up helping raise chicken, so this really makes me want to have a few in my currently urban environment. When I saw your post, I thought to myself “The most important part of taking good care of chickens in the winter is WATER.” I’m so happy to see you agree. Awesome post. Best of luck with those little chickies. 🙂

  • Reply
    Linda @ Today She Loves
    November 17, 2015 at 7:43 am

    This post makes me miss having chickens when I was younger. I had a chicken named Tiffany and it was so fluffy. Love the picture of the baby chick poking out of its mom’s feathers. Too cute.

    • Reply
      November 17, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      We’ve never gotten around to naming our chickens….I think I would have a difficult time remembering who is who!

  • Reply
    David @ Spiced
    November 17, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Oh my gosh, these photos are priceless, Kathy! I have always wanted to raise chickens, but I don’t think I actually have the gumption to do it. I’ve also wanted to have a goat in our backyard that eats the grass so I don’t have to mow it. But still no goat, either. Thanks for this super fun post! 🙂

  • Reply
    Rachelle @ Beer Girl Cooks
    November 16, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    That baby chick all tucked into mama is just precious! I would love to have some chickens, but my dogs would not make nice friends. I always enjoy your chicken posts! And those fall sunny chicken photos are just stunning! I love that black and white one – is he a rooster? He sure looks proud! 🙂

    • Reply
      November 16, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      That mama hen is so patient. She lets her other chicks crawl all over her back. She keeps them warm, protects them and helps them forage for food! The black and white is a barred rock rooster! He is a great rooster!

  • Reply
    Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary
    November 16, 2015 at 9:13 am

    I looove this fun post! Since we moved out to the country I have been contemplating getting some chickens, but most of our property in the back is wooded. So it would be a project. Thanks for all this information, so so helpful! Love the photos of all your chickens, especially the baby one staying warm with the mom! Heart warming! Cheers to fabulous day!

    • Reply
      November 16, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      I love that pic too! That chick was so funny because she wanting to stay warm and safe but really wanted to know what was going on. She stayed there for quite a while just checking out everything around her.

    • Reply
      Danielle @ So Munch Love
      November 17, 2015 at 9:51 am

      Cheyanne, you should totally get chickens! They’ll love scratching through the forest bed in the back of your property. As long as you establish a home base (chicken coop) with them and they are well fed, they shouldn’t venture too far, from my experience. 🙂

  • Reply
    Laura ~ Raise Your Garden
    November 16, 2015 at 6:06 am

    I was actually thinking to myself…..hmmmmm…..I’m ready for Kathy to do a post on raising chickens. Should I suggest it? Ha. My husband and I keep talking about it….and our biggest concern in the cold. The last 2 winters were so cold (in the minus temps for weeks on end) that we were concerned about those frigid temps. My sister raises chickens and just brought them in the house. Huh. Now she lives in Ohio. But she is also the type to spend $2000 on chicken vet bills. Not kidding! Right now, our town has a chicken ban but we actually thought about scheduling a meeting with the town board to see if that could be changed, considering that we are the rare homeowner who owns 1/2 acre lot, very unusual where I live. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

    • Reply
      November 16, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      You need to give me a poke every once in a while! I hope you get the ban cleared in your neighborhood and can get chickens. They don’t make too much noise….just a gentle clucking. The rooster is the noisy one and you can have hens without a rooster. As far as those winters, they really can tolerate cold temperatures. You could always add a heat lamp during the really cold spells…or go your sisters route and tuck them into your bed at night! Your sister’s birds are mighty spoiled!

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