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 V.18 No.47 | November 19 - 25, 2009 

Ask Ari

Winter Chickens

In the absence of feathers, a nice chicken sweater will come in handy.
In the absence of feathers, a nice chicken sweater will come in handy.

Having just passed my first year on the backyard chicken bandwagon, I'm watching the temperatures cool off and wondering what measures I should take to winterize my chickens.

—Down South for the Winter

A: There are two aspects of winter chicken care: egg production, and chicken health and comfort. Egg production is the first casualty of autumn, as you may have noticed already. That’s because falling temperatures and shortened days conspire to slow laying before the chickens actually feel the chill. Rigging a light in the coop and turning it on in the morning or evening to extend the day at either or both ends will help keep you in eggs. Leave extra food in the coop for them to eat during their extended days.

When temperatures plummet in the dead of winter, people commonly make the mistake of insulating the coop to a point that limits air circulation. This causes humidity to build up, which leads to frostbite. It can also cause a buildup of ammonia gas from their droppings, subsequently damaging the chickens' lungs.

They do pretty well huddling together to keep warm, but if you want to put a heat-producing bulb in the coop, they'll probably huddle near that.

Make sure they have plenty of grain to eat, especially in the afternoon, so they can roost with their crops full. You also want to make sure they have plenty of non-frozen water. Break through the ice layer, if you notice one forming.

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