Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Raising Chickens in a Wisconsin Winter

I’m not sure how winter snuck up on us so fast. Winter is inevitable. But preparing the chickens for winter wasn’t something that I thought much about during these past few months.

Most chickens can endure cold weather as long as they have shelter, food, and water. A chicken’s feathers trap in body heat and a chicken will cover its head with its wings to keep its bare skin warm. As a child I watched by neighbor’s chickens scratch through the snow under our birdfeeder or shrubs. Chickens don’t mind the snow as long as they have a warmer spot to go to when temperature dip below freezing. Some people recommend a heating lamp inside the coop, but other people feel that it can be a fire hazard. We skipped the lamp because we want our chickens to adapt to the decreasing temperatures. Instead of a heat source, we added more bedding and cleaned the bedding more regularly.

Even chickens like to jump in autumn leaf piles.

The sneaky problem we were faced with was the freezing drinking water.  On one surprising cold day, I was going to the coop to chip away ice every couple hours.  That method won’t last long for a working family.  Some companies sell heated dog water bowls, but our chickens are too messy for that idea.  I think they like to poop in anything we don’t want them to.  We have a large galvanized tub and mypetchicken.com sells a heater that goes under the water tub.  That would work ideally, but it is more than we can afford right now. Eric bought heated electrical wire that wraps around the water container.  So far everything is working fine.


  1. I can relate to this post; I have six little hens going into this Wisconsin winter. It is amazing how they seem to shake off the cold, isn't it? I have the heated dog dish for our girls, and they do sometimes walk in the bowl (and make messes too) but lately not as often. I think the heated electrical wire is a great solution! The hens here are free range and spent most of the day today near the garage. They do love to wait for their daily treat of a slice of bread and whatever other morsels I have to offer. They are just coming out of a molt and their new feathers are growing back in nicely which is a good thing, seeing as it is going to be very cold this weekend. We haven't gotten any eggs since the time change and too little daylight. I could supplement with a light in the coop, but I think they can use the break. Love the hen in your post, beautiful feathers!

  2. Thank you Karen. I was once told that giving a chicken a break from laying eggs is good for the health of the chicken because the body uses calcium to make the egg shells. Too much egg laying could result in a calcium deficiency.
    Our chickens also beg for a daily treat. As soon as they see us, the chickens start to pace back and forth in their coop. It is very humerous to see.