First person 

Sierra Cain

Our extension office wishes everyone a wonderful New Year! I always start to look forward to spring once the holidays are over.  

I have ordered my seed magazines and started to circle the items I would love to see in my garden this summer. While this is such a fun and an effective way to beat the winter blues, winter is still upon us!  

I know I am still having to break ice for the animals and trying to keep everyone warm, clean and healthy. Many of us have backyard chicken flocks that provide our families with an abundance of fresh eggs, pest control and entertainment! Winter always poses some challenges in keeping our birds warm, the water unfrozen and maintenance of egg production.   

Hopefully, your coop is winterized already for your flock, but the tips below can help you decide if you need some changes. 

Chickens need a draft-free, but well-ventilated space to stay warm. Having a covered structure with walls will keep them dry when we get the occasional New Mexico moisture and keep them safe from predators.  

Keeping a thick layer of bedding on the floor of your coop can help with insulation and with the ability to keep your coop clean. Around 6 to 12 inches of dry bedding is ideal. Continuously check the coop for openings where the cold wind or predators can get in as we can get very windy in our area. Ventilation during the winter months is crucial in avoiding ammonia build up in the coop. This can be achieved by roof or side vents or a slightly opened window. Be sure to change the bedding frequently as well. 

Shelter is essential to having animals, but water is the No. 1 requirement. Poultry need access to fresh, clean water. This can be achieved with a small water heater or the purchase of a heated water bowl from the store. Heated bowls however can fail, so be sure you are checking that everything is working like it should. Cords should be moved out of reach from the chickens. Be sure you are looking for any electrical issues that your coop may present as fire hazards or hazards to the chickens.   

In winter, livestock and flocks require more energy to keep warm. Be sure to feed a balanced ration. The addition of high-energy grains can be added for extra nutrients. Having occasional treats or scattering the high-energy grain can keep your birds active. Birds can start to peck at each other, so keeping them active is very important.  

Our temperatures typically rise high enough that birds can easily roam about as normal in the day but will need the warm safe space above for the nightly temperature drops and bouts of winter moisture.   

Light affects the way your chickens lay eggs. In winter, the days are shorter, providing less daily sunlight. Chickens need 14-16 hours of light to encourage egg laying. If you do not supplement light in your coop, you can expect your egg production to drop. 

Hanging a 60-watt incandescent light or 800-lumen equivalent lamp that faces down can help. Hang the lamp seven feet above the floor. This lamp along with proper shelter and feed should provide enough light and nutrients to keep your chickens laying. Always check your lamps or heated items anytime you are using them for safety hazards.   

This article is adapted from the Illinois Extension publication on “How to care for backyard chickens in winter.” If you are interested in learning more about taking care of chickens in winter you can visit the Illinois Extension publication or contact the Extension Office.   


Program announcements 

To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 505-565-3002. For more information, visit  

  • 4-H Youth Open Enrollment through Wednesday, Jan. 31. New member registration information can be found by contacting the Extension Office at 505-565-3002 or by email to Sierra Cain at [email protected]
  • Ready, Set, GROW! Free gardening classes are being offered virtually. Registration required, please visit the link for upcoming classes and more information at .
  • Valencia County Extension Master Gardeners Certification Course; 15-week course starting week of Jan. 15. Cost is $150. Application and other forms required. Contact Josh Sherman through the Extension Office at 505-565-3002.  
  • Fire Cider-Immunity Boosting Class, Thursday, Jan. 18, at the Extension Office. Learn the benefits of and how to make the immunity boosting fire cider. In this class, you will taste and make your own fire cider to take home. RSVP for the class by calling the Extension Office at 505-565-3002. There is a lab fee of $10. Contact Crystal Anaya for more information.  
  • Valentine’s Day Candy-Making Class, Monday, Feb. 5, at the Valencia County Extension Office. Learn to make some delicious candies for Valentine’s Day. RSVP for the class by calling the Extension Office at 505-565-3002.  
  • Wealth Management Class, Tuesday, Feb. 20, at the Valencia County Extension Office. This is a class designed to help manage your finances and make financial goals. RSVP for the class by calling the Extension Office at 505-565-3002.  
  • Rockets: Saturday, Feb. 24. Come learn about rockets. Open to all youth 10-18 years of age. RSVP for the class by calling the Extension Office at 505-565-3002.  
  • Kitchen Creations, Tuesdays, Feb. 20 and 27 and March 5 and 12,  at the Peralta Methodist Church. Kitchen Creations is a four-week series focusing on managing your health through balanced nutrition if you have been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes. 

If you are an individual with a disability who requires auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, please contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service Office at 505-565-3002 two weeks in advance of the event. 

What’s your Reaction?
Sierra Cain, guest columnist

Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.