When the leaves start to fall and temperatures cool off, I start thinking about the long winter months ahead and what I need to do before the snow really does fly! I’ve read that in some parts of the country, the Polar Vortex will make its return as early as this month. I live in the Midwest and have learned one thing about the weather here…you never know about the weather here!
A little preparation now will make your winter chicken-keeping a lot easier when the temperature is below freezing and daylight hours are precious.
Out with the old, in with the new.
Now is the time to clean and disinfect your coops. Get your gloves, face mask (to avoid inhaling too much dust of all kinds) and a good scraper. Scrape the roosts, the floor under the litter, the walls–wherever any dried droppings are adhering to the surface. You can use soap and water, or bleach, but make sure you can keep the coop open on a sunny day to let it dry.
Lay down the law on bugs
Winter is one of the worst times for bugs in the coop, so now is the time to be more vigilant than ever. Sprinkle the floors with an insecticide of some kind, natural or otherwise, depending on your methods. I usually coat my roosts with mineral oil to smother any mites or lice hiding in the wood. One really pesky bug that hides on roosts is the scaly leg mite, which gets under the scales of your birds legs and can cause disfigurement and even potential lameness.
Heat naturally with deep litter
A time-honored tradition by early poultry keepers was to start with about six inches of bedding and continue adding through the winter, a method called “deep litter.” The key is to turn the litter over and keep it dry while allowing the litter on the bottom to begin composting slightly. That decomposition puts off heat, which keeps the birds a little warmer. I tried it last year and had good results, so I’ll do it again this year. One tip I got was that if you throw a little corn on the litter in the evenings, the birds will scratch through it and do all the turning over themselves. I like the idea of the birds doing some of the work around here! If you want to find out more about how to let the birds do some of the work around your place, check out Harvey Ussery’s book, The Small Scale Poultry Flock.
Take a walk around.
Its a good idea to look for unwanted cracks or openings that might turn into potential leaks.
Yes, you want –really need–ventilation, but you don’t want rain or snow to get into your coop. A damp coop makes for an unhappy and unhealthy flock.
Make sure you have a constant water source for sub-zero weather
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time and am far too lazy to be out checking my birds’ water bowl three or four times a day. So I run an outdoor electric source to my coop and plug in a small stock tank heater from a farm store in a rubber water pan. I use one of those to keep my ducks’ pool liquid all winter. I think they really appreciate it, as I often see the ducks splashing around in sub-zero temps. Of course, make sure you are using appropriate cords for outdoor electrical use and never plug too many items into one plug. If you can, keep the cord off of the ground where it can get wet and dirty. This will cause wear faster than normal.
Another thing that makes my winter chicken-keeping more pleasant is the right winter gear for myself. Some good insulated books and a pair of insulated overalls were one of the best presents I ever got.
You’ve got a few months until the cold gets serious, but its really best to start thinking about your winterizing activities now so you can do a thorough job and not be rushed.
And then, let the snow fly.