Winter Chickens??

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created December 13, 2011 at 3:04 PM

I am considering keeping some backyard chickens for eggs next year. I have been looking at some of the portable pen/enclosures and am pretty confident I can build one, that I can consistently move around my property.

I was wondering what to do in the winter.

Does the pen still need to be moved? we have lots of snow here in MI. Will they even go out in the snow?

How about feed? Knowing the chickens will not have access to bugs and grass, what do you feed the chickens in the winter, to keep them happy healthy?



on December 13, 2011
at 09:30 PM

You're going to have to feed them a supplemental ration, and as folks below pointed out, it's grain-based (which is just fine for chickens).


on December 13, 2011
at 04:22 PM

I am definitely going to research breeds that suit my needs/location.



on December 13, 2011
at 03:36 PM

+1 for "fowl-weather". Awesome.

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8 Answers

best answer


on December 13, 2011
at 04:00 PM

You should be sure to research chicken breeds that are heartier for freezing temperatures. Some are bred to be more frostbite resistant. My hens do well in cold weather, but cold in Southern Oregon is a far cry from cold in Michigan! I referred often when I first got my girls to this website full of fowl experts! Good luck.. http://www.backyardchickens.com/


on December 13, 2011
at 04:22 PM

I am definitely going to research breeds that suit my needs/location.


on December 13, 2011
at 04:24 PM

I would wait till the spring. Yes, they need grain in the winter. Rhode island reds are a very hardy breed. There are some great books in this "chickens in your backyard" is a great one.



on December 14, 2011
at 02:08 PM

I really disagree with the duck advice on here. Ducks take cold, but in the wild a duck will sleep on open water. 32??F even when the air temps can be much colder. No open water, you aren't going to see wild ducks since they'll move on. Ducks also do not have leg pouches like geese do,so their feet can't be pulled up into their feathers where they are well insulated from the cold. You get a lot of below 0??F weather and ducks without any shelter are pretty vulnerable. Geese are much better suited for the cold if they have to sleep on the ground. Of course, geese aren't great egg layers.

Chickens as a rule do ok in the winter with a covered roost in a draft free area out of the wind, but don't expect the smallest bantams to do well in a drafty location: They tend to be too small to hold good body heat. If they are housed with standard sized hens they'll do better since they will roost together and the smaller birds will share the body heat from the larger ones. Modern Game Bantams, with their long legs, lose too much heat from them and have to be kept in a temperature moderated area (I keep mine in the house in the winter) or they'll be falling off the roosts dead in the deepest cold winter nights. Ever walk outside after a really cold winter night and see dead Starlings on the ground? Same thing.

The best in the barnyard for cold with no housing are hands down the turkeys. They will roost and live outside in nearly all weathers. The only things that will drive mine inside is a ferocious blizzard where they are being blown out of the trees with sideways snow and high winds, or sleeting conditions where their feathers get wet and then freezing and they are losing their insulating ability. In both of those cases they will stand inside the barn doorway until things moderate and then they are right back outside again. Again, not big egg layers in the fall and winter, but they are great eating eggs for the months they are in lay.

If you have very few birds, you can feed table scraps along with some grain and get your birds through the winter that way. Chickens invented cannibalism and they will eat meat scraps as well as vegetables. You get a dozen birds it's not too practical, but if you had three birds it's much more reasonable to consider feeding them this way.

Good luck! Poultry are fun to have around: Chickens for eggs, ducks for comedic relief, turkeys for personalities and geese for all around Bad Asses. :)


on December 13, 2011
at 04:31 PM

If it's legal in your area, ducks are going to be a lot hardier than chickens. Ducks can live outside without any shelter, I really don't recommend putting chickens in such a situation. Ideally, a chicken portable enclosure should have some sort of sheltered pen. Whether or not they go outside in the snow depends on their personality. Some chickens won't.

Chickens and ducks will need feed in the winter, chickens moreso. You can buy soy-free feed, but it's pretty expensive. You can supplement with carrion and insects you raise yourself, but they'll definitely need feed.



on December 13, 2011
at 05:44 PM

I second checking out backyardchickens.com. It's an amazing wealth of resources! I got my hens last spring and have learned so much from that site. P.S. You need to feed your chickens year-round.



on December 13, 2011
at 04:50 PM

Talk to your neighbors! Personally, I would wait until spring if you are just starting out, and work on culling the flock in fall so you don't have to spend so much to feed them through the winter.


on December 13, 2011
at 04:35 PM

Look into ducks they are cold hardier and lay better throughout the winter in my experience. They can be a little more to clean up after (softer poop) but they just seem to be a little tougher.



on December 13, 2011
at 04:05 PM

When I was a kid we had bantam chickens and they did just fine in the cold winters. As long as they have a dry place to roost off the cold ground/floor, they gather together and keep each other warm. I assume it would be the same with regular chickens, but I agree with Rogue that you'd want a hardy breed--brown or speckled eggs would be cool!

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