Whether you live in the north where winters can get pretty brutal or in the south where things just tend to cool down a bit, taking time to learn how to prepare your chicken coop for winter is a chore that is probably on everyone’s to-do list. But knowing just what you should do before the cold weather arrives can be a bit tricky. Let’s face it, fall is a super busy time for a homesteader and the last thing we need to do is pile unnecessary work on ourselves. Today I am going to break it down into a list that I hope you find easy to do and one that will keep your chickens laying eggs, one of the benefits of backyard chickens even in the winter.
Having an annual winter prep checklist is a good thing even if you do not need to prepare for -25 wind chills. One of the benefits of a winter prep list is to get the coop cleaned out and cleaned up which is key for a healthy flock of chickens.
A winter prep list also helps to keep us more aware of our animals living conditions on a regular basis. Routine maintenance is key in all areas of our homesteads. By checking our property, our buildings, and our homes, we will more easily find issues before they become full-blown problems.
This habit is even more important if you raise any animals. Checking their housing and shelters routinely is vital and can keep you ahead of the game. By keeping a seasonal checklist you will ensure you are always watching out for issues before they become problems.
If you are new to raising hens this list will give you a good overview of what needs to be done. As you gain more experience you will learn what items to add and what items you can skip over. It really all depends on where you live and the type of shelter or chicken coop that you have.
This list will, at the very least, get you started off on the right foot.
Why do I need to prepare my chicken coop for winter?
Preparing your chicken coop for winter is just like preparing your home. You are basically looking for any issues, fixing them if you find any, including any improvements, and above all making sure your animals have a clean and comfortable place to live on that will keep them protected and safe. And trust me on this one, fixing them now while the weather is still good is much easier than fixing them later in a blizzard.
Our goal is to make sure our animals are safe and healthy at all times. The first step to doing this is to perform routine checks on shelters, waterers, and food setups. This will alert you to any weak areas where predators might be able to enter the coop. It will also show you if you have a bully issue because your feed and water setup isn’t sufficient for your flock.
All of these things may not be noticeable when you are simply feeding your backyard chickens but they will stand out when the coop is emptied out, freshly cleaned, and a walkthrough is performed.
Start your winter out with a clean and secure coop and you will save yourself from headaches come winter.
10 Steps to Prepare your Chicken Coop for Winter
I love lists and I find it a much easier way to approach a project of this size. When you can break things down into quick tasks you can put your focus on each one as you work your way through completing the entire project.
Step #1 Empty out your chicken coop.
The first step to prepare your chicken coop for winter is to give things a good cleaning. There is nothing worse than dealing with parasites in the winter, so take the time now to debug things a bit. I like to take everything out and that means if it’s not attached to the coop it is coming out. This includes the chicken roost and nesting boxes (if you are able), all of the bedding, chicken waterer, and feeder. All of it.
Use a good large shovel like this one to help you remove all the bedding more easily. If you have kids at home, now is a good time to call in the troops. This part can be a bit hard on the back. 🙂 Shovel the dirty bedding into a wheelbarrow so you can then take it to your compost area.
Once the chicken coop is emptied, get a good broom, and sweep everything down. This includes the floor, the walls, and even the ceiling. You want to remove any cobwebs that can trap dust and debris.
I also like to use a paint scraper to get anything off the floor or walls that a broom or shovel can’t get. This tool can be quite helpful in removing dried mud, muck, or even manure.
SLCG PRO TIP: Keep a paint scraper inside of your coop and every week use it to scrape down your chicken roosts. This will keep things from getting built up making it difficult for the hens to roost comfortably.
If you have a garden this is a great place to toss your bedding in the fall. Soiled bedding is a great compost and will do wonders for your veggies come spring.
SLCG PRO TIP: Just remember to never add fresh chicken manure directly to plants or you will do more harm than good. Raw manure will burn and even kill a plant so instead, let things compost down either over the winter in your garden or in a compost bin.
If you do not have a garden find a spot out of the way to dump your bedding for now. Come spring if you let your neighbors know you have chicken manure they will gladly get rid of it for you. You can even sell this manure to help generate income for your homestead. Something many people are more than willing to pay you for is fresh manure or composted manure. Post an ad on Facebook or on the bulletin board in your local feed mill.
Step #2 Hose it all down.
Hopefully, you are near a water source because having a hose close by will make this job 10 times easier. I find that a pressure washer is the very best way to clean the inside of most, if not all, livestock housing. It really does a great job removing any caked-on debris. If you are not near a water source you can try tossing buckets of water up onto the walls. This is not the best approach but it will at least get most of the dust and cobwebs you may have missed with the broom.
Make sure you get the walls, corners, and even the ceiling if you are able. Chickens are dusty (incredibly dusty!) and you will be amazed at how quickly things can get dirty in a coop.
After hosing the inside of the coop I like to go back in with the broom and sweep things one more time to be sure I haven’t missed anything the first time around. Again starting with the ceiling, then the walls, down to the floor using gravity in your favor.
Step #3 Scrub it all down.
I like to use a mixture of white distilled vinegar and water mixed at about ½ and ½ as a good cleaner. If you have a problem with parasites or mold you may want to add some bleach. you may need to do more, such as a commercial disinfectant, but more often than not this will be enough to clean things out.
Step #4 Scrub down vents and windows with a soft brush.
It is extremely important to make sure the vents and windows inside of your chicken coop are completely clean of all dust and cobwebs. Even in the frigid winter, good airflow is an extremely important part of fresh air for your chickens.
I suggest using a soft-bristled brush for this so you do not damage the vent while cleaning.
Step #5. Rinse your chicken coop out.
Once you have the inside of your chicken coop scrubbed and disinfected, grab your hose once again and give it a thorough rinse. Be sure to get the floors, corners, ceiling, walls, vents, and door frame. At this point, you should notice a big improvement in the smell. A good sign you are doing a thorough job.
If you do not have drains inside of your chicken coop to help with the excess water then you can use the broom to push the excess water out the door.
Step #6 Let it all dry.
Hopefully, you have a place for your flock to hang out until things dry up. I just let my gals roam in the garden while we are working to clean out and disinfect their chicken coop. I like to give them access to the old bedding I removed so they can work it into the compost bin or the garden.
Step #7. Check your cleaned coop for damage, cracks, or leaks.
When you prepare your coop for winter you will want to make sure things are in good shape. Drafts are a big no-no in the north, sure you want airflow, but not drafts. Why? Because drafts can cause lung issues in your animals such as Pneumonia or flu which can kill your chickens quickly. Because of this, it is important to make sure your coop can withstand the winds of winter.
Also, a small crack in the dead of winter can let in a surprisingly large amount of snow. Trust me…I know.
Another reason we want to watch for cracks or holes is to keep predators out. Your chickens may not be the only ones looking for a warm place in the cold of winter. We had a weasel break into our coop using the smallest of holes to get in. He was able to kill my best hen and we learned a tough lesson that day. I am now careful to look for any cracks no matter how small and seal them up right away. To do so you can just find a scrap piece of wood and use nails to attach it securely over the hole or crack.
Go over your coop with a fine tooth comb to, not only, protect your hens not only from the snow but also from other animals.
Step #8. Check over interior supplies.
Take this time to give your nesting boxes, feeders, waterers, and roosts a good cleaning as well. Scrub things down with your vinegar/water spray and let dry in the sun. The sun is a natural sterilizer and works great on all surfaces. Remember to add bleach, but only if needed.
Step #9. Put fresh bedding into your cleaned coop.
I like to put down a light layer of food-grade Diatemaceous Earth before I add anything else. This extra step just ensures that I am doing all that I can to deter pests and parasites.
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous earth is a powder that is made from grinding down fossilized algae and other aquatic organisms called diatoms. It is used as a deterrent for lice, mites, and other small parasites. Be sure to purchase food grade so it is safe to use around your livestock.
Next, goes a nice layer of wood shavings. (Do not use cedar) With our brutal winters, I prefer to use the deep litter method in our chicken coop. It not only saves me from cleaning in heavy snow but it gives a nice warm barrier between my hens and the cold frozen ground.
READ: HOW TO USE THE DEEP LITTER METHOD IN YOUR CHICKEN COOP
I have tried out different types of bedding in my coop. Sand, sawdust, and wood shavings are the three I have tested and I find wood shavings work best.
The pros of wood shavings are they are lightweight, work well to soak up urine, and are low in dust which is important to keeping your flock healthy, especially in the winter.
SLCG PRO TIP: If you are older like I am I do NOT recommend sand. Sand is heavy, very hard to move, and does not keep the smell down like wood shavings. Wood shavings are more costly but very light weight making it easier to deal with especially if you have a weak back as I do.
Step #10. Put a layer of fresh straw in the nesting boxes.
Since I use plastic crates for our hens they are super easy to clean and do not hold the smell of the coop. Still, a nice layer of straw makes it more comfortable for my gals during laying time as well as keeping any freshly laid eggs in a soft insulated area until I can gather them up and take them indoors. I also started adding in fresh herbs and our chickens really seem to enjoy that as well.
If you like these nesting boxes, you can see how to make your own Chicken Nesting Boxes!
Do I need to add a heat lamp when I prepare my chicken coop for winter?
I have raised chickens going on 10 years and I used a heat lamp for the first 3. I live in a very cold climate right in the middle of the snow belt. And that means we get cold temperatures along with dangerous wind chills and a crazy amount of snow.
I have found that my girls do better WITHOUT the heat lamp.
Trust your animals to adapt to the cold especially if you have chosen winter-hardy hens. As long as you have adequate housing that is free from snow and drafts with ample bedding inside, your hens will do just fine.
WARNING: The number one cause of fires in a coop/barn is a heat lamp or other artificial heat source. Make sure to use every single precaution if you feel you must have a heat lamp in your chicken coop.
If however, you feel you need something to help them cope with the cold weather, there are a few things you can do to help.
What can you add to your chicken coop to keep hens warm in the winter?
- Try giving them warm water 1-2 times a day. The chickens will love it and it will warm them up nicely.
- You can even mix in some of their grain to encourage them to drink it. This is something I do on crazy cold days and it really does help them cope better.
- Put extra straw inside of the nesting boxes to keep the eggs from freezing.
- Put straw bales around the interior walls to act as a type of insulation.
If egg production slows way down for you, you may want to add a light to extend the day. I have found this DOES work, although I do not use it. A farmer told me once, that when a chick is born she already has a set number of eggs she will lay in her lifetime. And if you speed up the laying of those eggs, she will slow down quicker.
I prefer to let nature take its course with my hens.
Bonus Step #1. – Don’t forget to check the run.
When the winter hits, you need to make sure your run can withstand the snow and wind. If you have an open run as I do, be prepared to shovel some snow. Chickens will come out in the snow, but sometimes they will not come in for a while….even if their feet get cold.
Because of this, they can get frostbite quickly not only on their feet but on their wattles and combs as well. Because of this, you will want to make sure you have the snow cleared each day so they can easily get in and out of the coop.
I just shovel a small circular path inside of their run each morning at chore time. To make things easier on myself I have my snow shovel hanging right inside of the run so I can just grab and go.
You can also sprinkle a bit of straw or hay or wood shavings to help keep their feet warm while out in the chicken run. You can even use a few tires and/or logs for them to perch on out of the wet cold snow.
Bonus Step #2. – Add a tarp.
Though not pretty, adding a tarp is an effective way to deter some of the snow.
By hanging a heavy-duty tarp over a portion of the run you will give a nice dry area for your hens to be in. I like to have bedding down in this area as well and will even sprinkle some scratch in the morning to encourage the girls to stay out in the fresh air a bit longer.
SLCG PRO TIP: Make sure to clean off your tarp after heavy snowfalls to it does not tear or stretch from the weight of the snow.
Another tip is to use the tarp as a wall of sorts. If you have a high fence for your run, you can attach a tarp to one side to keep drifting down. This tip is more for you than the chickens as it keeps extra snow out of the run and that means less shoveling needs to be done on my end. Trust me, I can use all the help I can get!
Bonus Step #3. – Add straw bales around the perimeter of the coop.
This is a new method that I just started using in the last few years and it has really made a big difference in our coop. Adding hay or straw bales around the inside perimeter of the coop really helps to not only create a barrier to those cold winds but also gives our hens a place to perch off of the cold ground.
An added benefit of using straw bales is that come spring I have composted bales I can use for my straw bale garden. These bales are already prepped organically and ready for planting. The inside of the bales have been naturally composted down with the chicken’s poo and is now the perfect environment for growing any type of plant.
Bonus Tip #4. Stop Boredom
Bored checks are just also at risk of health concerns and for that reason, I like to have things to help keep my chickens from getting bored in the winter. You can tie up heads of cabbage for them to munch on, poke holes in an empty water bottle and fill with chicken scratch that they can toss around, or hang a chicken swing inside of your coop.
I love watching the hens in a freshly cleaned coop. They really love to check things out and chat with each other commenting here and there on the sparkle and shine.
Okay, maybe not….but still!
Keeping a cleaned coop is the easiest way to ensure not only the health of your birds but also large healthy eggs to enjoy all winter long.
All in all, how to prepare your chicken coop for winter takes just about one afternoon. And remember that sunny days are best since you can use the disinfecting effects of the sun to help.