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How to Winterize your Chicken Run

Learn some easy ways to winterize your chicken run to keep your chickens happy and healthy through the cold months.

As winter approaches, it's important to winterize your coop.

Simple by adding a thick layer of fresh straw (or using the Deep Litter Method), covering the windows with clear plastic or heavy drapes on the windows, providing vents up high for air flow, stacking straw bales along the inside walls as insulation and covering your nesting boxes with curtains to prevent the eggs from freezing, you'll provide a warmer coop for your chickens.

But it's just as important to winterize your run.

Chickens need fresh air and exercise year round. The last thing you want is for them to spend all day every day inside the coop this winter.

So with just a little bit of work, you can entice your chickens to come out of the coop on all but the most blustery of days. They will be far hardier and healthier if they spend their time outside for the most part, instead of huddled inside the coop.

Our first winter in Maine was a bit of a shock to our chickens, I'm sure.We came from Virginia where there was very little snow and the temperatures rarely stayed below freezing for long.

How to Winterize your Chicken Run

Winters in Maine are a bit different.  We'll have snow on the ground for months, and the temperatures sometimes don't rise above freezing in forever. But everyone is doing just fine.

There are a couple of simple things you can do to make the cold weather easier on your chickens.Here are a few of my favorites:

Wrap the Run in Clear Plastic

Chickens as a general rule are pretty cold-hardy, but I've discovered that the wind really bothers them.

Wrapping your run can help provide a wind block, as well as prevent  snow from drifting into your run.

If your run is small, go ahead and wrap the entire thing (sides only, not the top - you don't want your entire run to collapse under the weight of a snow-covered tarp!).

But if your run is large, wrapping just one corner, preferably the corner the inclement weather is likely to come from, works just fine too.

Since our run is pretty big, I only wrapped the north-eastern end and around the corners, creating a U-shaped wind block.

I also wrapped a section right next to the coop pop door under the solid run roof so the chickens have a nice sheltered area just a few steps outside of the coop.

You can use plywood, pallets, tarps, even bales of hay or straw to block the wind, but I like to use clear plastic.

This lets the sun shine through and keeps the run bright and cheery and warming it like a greenhouse effect.

You want to find some heavy-duty clear plastic tarp to use, preferably with reinforcements and grommets.

Thin plastic like painters use will likely just rip off in heavy winds.

A benefit of the tarps is that they have grommets so you can screw large eyehooks to the run fence posts to attach the tarp to the run quickly with carabiners or large binder rings and allow for easy take-down come spring.

Quick update: I also love these white bungee balls  - they're easy to take on and off and won't rust. They're what I use now to attach the tarp).

On nice warm days with no wind, you can easily roll up the tarp if you use short lengths and clip it to the top eye hooks to keep it out of the way for the day.

 And then just roll it back down and re-clip it when inclement weather is predicted.

Provide an Outside Shelter

Since the top of your run is presumably open, at least in part, providing a dog house, or other small outside shelter is a good idea.

Our chickens love this dog house with a warm  bed of straw in it for daytime naps.

Put down Straw Paths

Chickens don't particularly like to walk on snow.

Putting down a path of straw will help entice them out to get some exercise on nice sunny days and help to keep their feet warm while they walk.

I rake the dirty straw out of the coop right into the run to create the paths.

Provide Stumps or Logs

Once the chickens are outside, they will appreciate some  stumps, logs or even tree branches to hop onto to get up off the cold ground.

Your Christmas tree, propped in the run once you've taken it down, will provide a perch and a bit of shelter to nap under as well as a wind block in the run.

Set up a Dust Bath 

Boredom can be an issue for chickens during dark, cold, winter days.

Giving your chickens a dust bath since they can't use your garden to bathe in through the winter helps keep them busy and keeps parasites and boredom at bay.

You can use a rubber tub, kiddie pool or large plastic tote.

Fill it with sand, dry dirt and wood ash and set it either inside your coop or out in the run if part of your run has a solid roof on top.

Serve Energizing Treats Outside

Once you have the plastic tarp up, the straw paths down, a few logs to hop onto, and the dirt bath set up, it's time to entice your chickens outside.

Some energizing treats like black oil sunflower seeds or scratch grains does the trick around here!

Winter Water

Of course chickens need water to drink all day long. I've found the easiest way to provide them water in the winter is to fill an electric dog water bowl.

It's so easy to clean and refill - and really does keep the water from freezing.

You can run an outdoor extension cord from your house if you don't have your coop wired for electricity.

(I love this white extension cord because it virtually disappears in the snow and isn't unsightly!)

Just these few changes to your run come winter can help your chickens enjoy more time outside in the cold weather, which is healthier for them and helps to keep your coop cleaner longer.

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