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Wintering chickens

Radio interview source: Jesse Lyons, Extension Poultry Specialist, University of Missouri

Listen here: Wintering chickens

Caring for chickens during the winter might sound tricky, but they're tough. With plenty of food, water, and a cozy shelter, the birds will cackle all the way to spring.

Extension Poultry Specialist Jesse Lyons at the University of Missouri says mature chickens acclimate well to cold weather. But temperatures that plummet below 15 degrees can lead to frozen combs and feet. Some breeds tolerate cold better than others. Those that are well-feathered and fat with small combs fare the best.

Lyons says the key to keeping any chicken warm is to make sure the building stays dry.

"Especially if it's an extended length of cold where the chickens all stay inside, and it's rainy or whatever and they don't go outside," Lyons says. "Keeping the building dry will help them be warmer. Keep fresh litter in there, new shavings on the floor, and keep the wet areas removed from the building. And keep the drafts off the chickens."

A heat lamp will make them cozy, especially younger birds. If you add extra heat, be sure not to restrict ventilation.

Chickens will retain their body heat better if they have good grain. Also, always provide fresh, unfrozen water. Should chickens be allowed to go outside during the winter? Let the them decide.

"If you open up the doorway for them and the chickens want to go out and eat some snow, or run around in the snow, and the sun's shining, they'll probably go outside and enjoy the day," Lyons says. " Whenever evening comes or they get cold, they would go back into the building. I don't think I would run them outside in a ten-below, driving snowstorm, but give them the opportunity and they would probably look outside and say, it's nice to stay inside today!"

If you want the hens to continue laying eggs through the winter, hang a light above the feeding area to simulate longer daylight hours.

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