Basic Backyard Chicken Care in US Zone 8b Winters

As hard as it is to believe for those living in northern zones of the United States, it does get cold in zone 8.[1] In fact, it gets so cold that city fountains have frozen in motion, ice has to be chipped out of livestock watering tubs and household pipes are apt to burst. The good news about freezing weather near the Gulf of Mexico is that it does not last long. An extended period of temperatures low enough to freeze water solid is not typical, making winter much easier on poultry and their keepers.

Personally, I lean more toward the 'old ways' of doing things, in that; I try not to make a big fuss over these things.[2] Please do not misunderstand, I adore my chickens and take quite good care of them. However, I do not run out to the hardware store and purchase heaters and blankets for them - although, you might find me singing them a lullaby some evenings. They are, after all, livestock. Certainly, I would do things differently if I were caring for chickens in a more severe climate. Thank goodness for mild winters.

Ollie - Americauna Rooster
Ollie - Americauna Rooster | Source
Chicks finding their way around their new home outside. Roosting poles made from tree branches.
Chicks finding their way around their new home outside. Roosting poles made from tree branches. | Source

Drafts

The most important thing to keep in mind is to create draft free housing for your chickens. Blocking the north wind from entering where chickens roost will go a long way in keeping them happy and healthy through the winter. My chicken 'house' is no more than a three-sided shed made from plywood wrapped with tar paper. Plywood sheeting was also used for the roof then, topped with house-type roll roofing. Inside are roost poles made from fallen tree limbs or small trees. I change these poles out as needed.

The house is set at an angle facing southeast, so the north wind does not blow directly into where the chickens roost. In addition, the west side is one of the three walled sides, which prevents any wind driven rain from pelting the chickens inside. This is because our weather systems tend to come in from the west. Since our temperatures are not as severe as you will find in northern zones, a draft here will not be as bad as it would be for chickens in those areas. It is best to prevent extremely cold drafts from reaching your chickens, though, even in Zone 8.

If we are expecting a particularly cold winter, I will hang a tarp (tarpaulin) across the opening of my chicken house. This prevents the wind from constantly blowing in on the chickens. I remove it on warm, sunny days. I also place a scrap piece of plywood, approximately three feet tall, near the inside back of the house creating a small walled in area where the chickens can duck out of the wind in case it picks up unexpectedly while I am not around to cover the front with a tarp. Each year is different. It pays to be prepared for whatever the wind may blow in.

3-sided chicken 'house' with tree limbs for roosting & Rubbermaid tote set inside for newly hatched chicks.
3-sided chicken 'house' with tree limbs for roosting & Rubbermaid tote set inside for newly hatched chicks. | Source
House type roll-roofing on top of chicken house.
House type roll-roofing on top of chicken house. | Source

Moisture

Never use wet or damp bedding material for nest boxes or housing. Replace all bedding and nesting materials if they become the least bit damp, especially in the winter. I check bedding and nests regularly for wet areas. While a cold draft is bad, a wet cold will be far worse on your chickens.

Bedding

Chickens roost. They do not curl up with Granny's quilt on a feather bed. They do appreciate some bedding though. Hay and straw are good choices for the bottom of your chicken house any time of year but in the winter, it will serve to prevent drafts. It will also give the chickens something to scratch around in if they choose not to go outside during a cold snap. It is convenient to use the same hay or straw you would use in their nesting boxes.

Large black trash bag filled with shredded paper.
Large black trash bag filled with shredded paper. | Source
Double decker nesting boxes filled with shredded paper.
Double decker nesting boxes filled with shredded paper. | Source

Feed & Water

Chickens should have access to fresh water in the winter - just as they do the rest of the year. After a cold night, I may have to crack an icy layer from the top of the water containers in my pen. Most often, the ice is thin enough that the chickens can do it themselves. There is always a chance that it has frozen too deep for them to crack it, though. I have more than one water container is my pen. One is a plastic garbage can lid turned upside down with a water hose hanging through the top of the pen directly above it. It is simple to leave the hose dripping if temperatures are expected to dip below freezing overnight. Of course, the typical chicken waterer is in there for them but they tend to pass that one by for the others. I also have an automatic watering system built from PVC pipe (polyvinyl chloride water pipe), a five-gallon bucket and poultry or chicken nipples. There are several sizes and types of these nipples. I use these.They are easy to find and inexpensive to purchase on eBay and Amazon.

Automatic chicken watering system made from PVC pipe, shut off valve, 5-gallon bucket, & poultry nipples.
Automatic chicken watering system made from PVC pipe, shut off valve, 5-gallon bucket, & poultry nipples. | Source
Chickens learned to use poultry nipples within minutes of installing the system.
Chickens learned to use poultry nipples within minutes of installing the system. | Source

Chickens need extra calories to stay warm during cold months. It is a good idea to feed them a little extra scratch grain late in the afternoon. This will help to keep them warm through the night. Make sure their feed stays dry. You may also want to feed your chickens some sprouts. In the dead of winter, sprouts would be a huge treat. Lisa Jansen Mathews contributed an informative article to Backyard Chickens magazine where she mentions growing and feeding sprouts to your poultry.[3]

Poultry Grain and Scratch
Poultry Grain and Scratch | Source

General Tips

  • Continue regular health checks during winter months
  • Keep chicken house clean and dry
  • It is common for egg production to be down during cold weather
  • Keep an eye out for frozen combs on roosters if temperature (or wind chill) dips below freezing for more than a few hours
  • Check water containers every morning and periodically throughout the day if temperatures continue to hover near freezing
  • Feed should contain extra protein and calories which helps in maintaining body heat overnight
  • After seeing my son-in-law and daughter recycling their shredded paper in the chicken nests, I have found that it works for my nests as well. It works great & breaks down quickly for use in the compost pile or placed directly into the garden.
  • As the title implies, these are basic care tips. Every chicken keeper will find, through trial and error what works best for themselves, as well as, their flock. If you are new to chicken keeping, please do plenty of research before settling on any one way of doing things. I choose to simplify as much as possible and have found these tips work best for me and mine.

Ollie (again) - The Roo who rules the roost.
Ollie (again) - The Roo who rules the roost. | Source

References:

[1] USDA Hardiness Zone Map

[2] Common Sense (You won't find it in a book - We're born with it)

[3] A Winter Menu - Changing Poultry Feed by the Season

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Comments 17 comments

IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 5 years ago from Florida, PCB

Awesome Hub!!!!! Such a GORGEOUS rooster!!!!!!!!


Meadow Kelly profile image

Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks Isadora! That is Ollie, he really is a show off and there is no doubt - he is the boss around here. ;-)


mary615 profile image

mary615 5 years ago from Florida

I'm an old country gal, who had chickens when I was growing up. People don't give chickens credit for their intelligence. I had a pet chicken who knew her name and would come when called. Beautiful photos of your brood.


Meadow Kelly profile image

Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks Mary. You're right, chickens are more intelligent than most people think. Out of my lot, four have names and each one knows their name. I have one, Sweet Lucy, who is an escape artist and tries to sneak around me every time I go near the gate. They tickle me with their antics.


davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

Kelly: I so miss having chickens...This is such a well thought out hub that it should be promoted... I am sharing it with my followers... I think homesteadbound will appreciate it.


Meadow Kelly profile image

Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thank you for sharing my little hub, Dave.

I enjoy having chickens as much as I enjoy my spoiled rotten cat. Everything around here is spoiled rotten, I'm afraid. I suppose it is the Nana in me. ;-)


davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

You should write a hub about the spoiled rotten cat... I have three spoiled rotten cats... thankfully they are all asleep right now...


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 5 years ago from Texas

Yes homesteadbound does appreciate it and I live at the bottom of zone 7, so the info is good. I do love the picture of the rooster. He is absolutely gorgeous. Bookmarking and voting up!.


Meadow Kelly profile image

Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

I'm certain I'll get around to Princess Zsa Zsa. She will need more than one hub, no doubt. My little darling slipped out today & has chosen to stay out late tonight.


Meadow Kelly profile image

Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thank you, homesteadbound! We are 'near' neighbors then.


rick combe profile image

rick combe 5 years ago from USA

Very thorough hub, I've been looking into getting some chickens and I live in a nearby zone, so this hub was very helpful. Thanks.


Meadow Kelly profile image

Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks for stopping over, Rick. I'm glad you found something useful. Good luck with your chickens. I am sure you will enjoy them.


Enlydia Listener profile image

Enlydia Listener 5 years ago from trailer in the country

Lovely article...I can't wait until we have a piece of property where we can have chickens. Thanks for writing such a nice informative article...I love it when people write from their own experience. rated UP.


Meadow Kelly profile image

Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thank you, Enlydia. There really is nothing that can compare to having a bit of land where you can keep animals and gardens. I hope you find yourself on your own property soon.

Thanks for voting UP.


Tress Gardner 5 years ago from North Carolina

What a great & informative article. One day I shall have my own chickens, just not sure about roosters as I have had a few nasty run ins with their spurs ;-)


Meadow Kelly profile image

Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks, Tress. :-) I hope to read about your chickens soon. I also hope you will not completely rule out including a rooster when you get your flock. I think there are more friendly roos out there than 'unfriendly' ones.


jo miller profile image

jo miller 5 days ago from Tennessee

Came across this older hub of yours and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had a some chickens a few years back (mainly for our granddaughters) but the coyotes got them and we haven't had the heart to try again. Your hub is an inspiration, so we may try again.

Hope you are still writing.

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