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How to Winterize your Chicken Run

Learn some easy ways to winterize your chicken run to keep your chickens (and ducks) happy, healthy and warm through the cold winter months.

As winter approaches, it's important to winterize your coop to provide your chickens and ducks a nice warm, dry place to sleep at night.

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

Why Winterizing your Run is Important

Chickens and ducks need fresh air, sunshine 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 flock 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.

We did bring our chickens and ducks with us when we moved in the summer of 2015. Driving 832 miles due north.

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.

First, Be Sure your Chicken Coop is Ready for Winter

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 favorite ways to winterize my chicken coop.

  • Cover the windows with clear plastic or heavy drapes on the windows
  • Stack straw bales along the inside walls as insulation

By doing these few simple things, you'll provide a warmer coop for your chickens. Now that your coop is ready for winter, it's time to winterize your chicken run.

(Scroll down to the bottom for buying sources for everything I use to winterize my run.)

How to Winterize your Chicken Run

Now, here are a few things you can do to winterize your chicken run to make it a place your chickens and ducks  actually want to hang out in during the cold winter months!

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.

Using these semi-transparent tarps (links to various sizes are at the bottom of this post) is so great because they keep out the wind but let in sunlight. Creating almost a greenhouse effect in your chicken run.  It will really warm up on days when the sun is out. 

If your run is small, go ahead and wrap the entire thing, of course leaving one side or part of the top open for fresh air.

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. Otherwise, you can wrap the sides of your run. 

(Sides only, not the top - you don't want your entire run to collapse under the weight of a snow-covered tarp!).

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 6" 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 and ducks love this dog house with a warm  bed of straw in it for daytime naps. I have since added a curtain rod and curtains to keep it even warmer in the winter. 

Put down Straw Paths

Chickens notoriously don't particularly like to walk on snow - or the "scary white stuff" as they refer to it as.

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.

Save your Christmas Tree

Your Christmas tree, propped in the run once you've taken it down, will provide a bit of shelter to nap under as well as a wind block in the run. If you live near woods, you can also prop some fallen trees or cut down some trees to also put in your chicken run. 

Provide Outdoor Perches or Swings

I also have branch perches for my chickens at the corners of the run. They love to hop up onto them year round, but especially in the winter to get up off the snow and cold ground.

The chickens also have a swinging bench that they love to sit on.

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 if you don't have a permanent bathing spot already in the run.

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, Warming 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 dried grubs,  black oil sunflower seeds or scratch grains do 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. For the ducks who need a deeper water source, I use an electric bucket. 

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 and ducks enjoy more time outside in the cold weather, which is healthier for them and helps to keep your coop cleaner longer.


Q: Why can't I just heat my chicken coop and let my chickens spend the winter there?

A: Chickens need sunlight and fresh air, just like people do. Not only is heating your chicken coop a huge fire hazard, it's not healthy for your flock to spend their winter indoors. Not to mention all the cleaning that will entail!

Q: What temperature is considered too cold for chickens to be outside?

A: I leave it up to my chickens. The little door into their coop is open all day, so they can go in and out as they wish. They are extremely cold-hardy, so as long as you give them an area in the sun that's out of the wind, they are perfectly happy outside in temperatures well below zero. Eliminating that wind chill makes a big difference. 

Q: Why do you feed your chickens outside?

A: Chicken feed attracts rodents and flies, so the last thing you want to do is feed your chickens inside the coop. Water in the coop creates moisture which can lead to frostbite in the winter, also it can freeze, creating a slippery area in the coop. Water can also mold the bedding if it gets wet. Feed and water should always be offered outside under a protected or covered area.

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