Thanks to the Lower 48 taking on our Polar Vortex – winter here in Fairbanks has been perfect: mostly warm, with plenty of snow for skiing and other winter recreating. It’s been good for chickens too. Maybe not for outside frolicking as mine don’t really care for the snow, and they haven’t reached that level of coop-fever that drives them out into the snowy yard. That will happen in early March, but it has more to do with sun angle and warmth than with them being thoroughly fed up with being inside.
But even if your chickens won’t venture outside right now, mild temperatures are great for regular henhouse airings. If yours is anything like mine, by January there is a definite funk built up inside as a result of a number of birds living, eating and yes, doing what chickens do, pooping in a small space. When it’s 30 below, that funk sort of crystallizes into an inert, non-smelly frost in the far corners and near the floor of the henhouse. But with temperatures regularly above zero, and in many cases flirting with the high 20s and 30s…I have moisture running down the walls, and my deep litter method has to be changed a lot more frequently as the straw and manure mixture starts cooking.
While warm winter weather can produce these not-so-good interior conditions, even with a vent (I will sometimes spend a little electricity when I don’t need to and turn on the heat lamp for a few hours to help dry out the henhouse), it also allows you to air out your henhouse and give your chickens some welcome fresh air.
If you are conscientious about keeping your small coop door free of litter and ice (I am not) you may be able to regularly open the hen door for additional air circulation. I used to do this, but quickly tired of the regular chore of chipping and banging the door open. A fellow flock owner, who is much more experienced in keeping all sorts of poultry (chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys) here in Fairbanks than I am passed on to me her tip: she opens her main door and hangs an old quilt over the door on warm days. Of course, “warm” is a personal definition for both flock owner and the involved poultry, but generally, if it is 20 degrees or warmer, this would be a good thing to do for your coop and its inhabitants.
Another option, the lazy-person’s (which is the one I use), is simply to partially open the door for a couple of hours. While opening the small coop door does give additional fresh air, it doesn’t allow for as much air circulation and much-needed air exchange as having the larger door open for a period of time.
If you are a first-time flock owner in a northern climate, do begin opening your little coop door on warm sunny winter days in late winter – at some point your chickens will decide the sun is at the right angle and they will begin spending some portion of their days outside. Be sure to sweep/shovel an area clear of snow as they are not too keen on being in it.