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How to Keep Your Chickens Warm During the Winter


December 17, 2021

Raising chickens can make the cold and gloomy season bright and joyous with their curious and cheeky personalities. Frolicking over the soft and icy snow, chickens are naturally resistant to cold weather due to their thick feathers that act as their winter blanket.

Keeping chickens warm through winter is an easy job since a chicken’s feathers will do most of the heavy lifting. As a thoughtful chicken owner, there are a few ways you can make your chickens’ cold season a bit more warm and cozy.

Keeping chickens warm during the winter

Can Chickens Stay Outside in the Winter?

Raising chickens in the winter is surprisingly easy. Chickens are incredible creatures that can withstand bitterly cold temperatures with ease, although hens’ egg production slows down during the winter.

How do they do it?

Chickens in the winter are able to regulate their internal body temperature using their feather undercoat. Their body temperature is around 106º F. With their dense feather coats, they’re walking on sunshine.

In addition, cold weather spurs an increased appetite, due to their increased energy needs. Chickens treat themselves to an extra serving of feed to provide enough energy to regulate their temperature.

However, even the most cold-hardy breed of chicken can’t withstand severe weather conditions such as harsh winds and wet freezing climates. When it’s unsafe to play outside, a winter-proof chicken coop and run can keep your chicken safe to see another winter.

What Temperature Is Too Cold for Chickens?

Is there a temperature that’s even too numbing for cold-resistant breeds? It varies based on chicken. While many breeds can tolerate sub-zero temperatures, they feel most at home in a warm climate. Ideally, temperatures should be between 70 to 75º F.

Just because your chicken can stand up to the harsh temperatures doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lend them a helping hand. From providing proper ventilation to insulating the chicken coop, there are many easy, affordable, and effective ways to lift your birds’ spirits up during the winter.

Choosing Cold-Hardy Breeds

Two chickens in the snow

Assembling an A-team that can handle the biting temperatures starts with choosing cold-hardy breeds. Ask local chicken owners what breeds they choose. Ideally, they’ll have an idea of what breeds can thrive in the local climate.

For instance, certain breeds can be especially vulnerable to freezing temperatures and wet conditions. Chickens with large combs and wattles are more vulnerable to frostbite. Without a feather coat, these areas are exposed to the wind chill.

In addition, certain breeds, such as Silkies, have downy feathers that don’t do well in cold and wet environments. Their soft and fine feathers don’t stand a chance against chilled puddles, rain, and frostbite.

When talking about cold-hardy breeds, we mean those with small wattles and combs, as well as those that are more robust and meaty. Large chickens with plenty of meat on their bones are better able to handle the frigid temperatures than a slender bird with less fat and muscle.

Cold-Resistant Breeds

  • Ameraucana

Americana Pullet

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  • Australorp

Blue Australorp Pullet

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Black Australorp Pullet

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  • Brahma

Dark Buff Brahma Pullet

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Buff Brahma Pullet

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Light Brahma Pullet

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  • Buff Orpington

Buff Orpington Pullet

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  • Chantecler
  • Cochin
  • Delaware

Delaware Pullet

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  • Dominique
  • New Hampshire

New Hampshire Red Pullet

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  • Plymouth Rock
  • Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red Pullet

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  • Speckled Sussex

Speckled Sussex Pullet

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  • Wyandottes

Blue Wyandotte Pullet

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Silver Laced Wyandotte Pullet

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Gold Laced Wyandotte Pullet

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Blue Laced Red Wyandotte Pullet

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If you already have a flock in place, there are still many ways to bring those temperatures back up to comfortable levels. You don’t need to start your flock from scratch. All you need is to cold-proof your chicken coop and run.

Size Matters

A large coop with just a few birds is a recipe for disaster. If you have a large coop on your hands, there’s still an easy fix. Keep them warm by closing off a part of the coop using a blanket, plastic sheeting, temporary wall, or straw bales that cover the ceiling to the floor. The point is to keep your birds in a closed but not confined space for their body heat to warm them during these winter months.

Insulated Coop

If your coop has tons of holes and large open areas, it can stress out your birds. Chilly winds can rip right through the openings and cause a sharp chill leaving your birds vulnerable to frostbite.

Proper insulation is critical to keeping temperatures warm inside the coop.

If you can afford the price, foam or fiberglass insulation in the walls of the coop with plywood covering is one way to keep them warm. It’s best to cover your insulation to curb your chickens’ curiosity and pecking habits.

For a budget solution, use cheap blankets you own or from a thrift store to cover the outside of the coop and keep your chickens warm. Some chicken owners choose to staple their empty feed bags inside or outside of the boards, as well as some flattened cardboard boxes and bales of straw to keep them warm.

OverEZ Chicken Coop, Medium

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OverEZ Chicken Coop, Large

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Homey Nest Boxes

During the winter months, nest boxes have less eggs than usual since hens tend to molt and shed their old feathers for new and sturdy feathers to keep them from freezing. Some backyard owners choose to add artificial lighting to keep up egg production.

As the daylight hours get shorter, your hens may produce extra melatonin to induce a relaxing state. Keep in mind, some hens may continue their egg-laying, although at a slower pace. If your hens keep laying eggs, you may want to winter-proof your nest boxes, too.

One of the easiest ways to winterize your nest boxes is by placing a curtain in front. Hens can easily get in and out through the curtain and retain the warm air once inside the nesting box. A pleasant nest box atmosphere can keep the egg-laying going throughout the winter months. If needed, add extra bedding to increase the heat.

If your hens keep laying eggs all winter long, check on your eggs more frequently. Leaving them out there for too long can result in frozen eggs. Freezing causes an expansion inside that leads to breakage.

Roosting Bar

Chickens in winter may love to play and frolic during the day in the frost, but come night time they need a warm and comfortable place to roost off of the coop floor. Not to mention, huddling close together on the roost bar can keep chickens in a manageable temperature.

In order to have a super comfortable sleeping arrangement for your birds, you need to have enough roosting space for all of your chickens. If there isn’t enough space, you’ll have chickens on the floors or nesting boxes, which isn’t ideal.

You also want to make sure your roosting bars are in a prime location. Roosting bars near an open window or door can expose your sleeping chickens to unforgiving temperatures at night. You can either move your roosting bar or seal off the nearby windows and doors to prevent a draft.

Finally, let’s talk about the size of your roosting bar. If you really want to give a chicken the best winter home, make sure that your chickens can wrap their toes entirely around the bar. That way, their feathers, and bodies can cover them as they perch. Feet that are exposed to the elements are more vulnerable to frostbite.

Location, Location, Location

Chicken in tree in the snow

Pay attention to the specific weather conditions of your current coop’s location. Does the icy wind cut through the coop’s location? Is your location particularly exposed or vulnerable to flooding or snow buildup?

If possible, move your coop to a more protected location to keep chickens warmer. Chicken tractors are great coop varieties that are easy to reposition depending on the climate and your fertilizing needs. While stationary coops are usually permanent fixtures, it’s entirely possible with a bit of elbow grease and a ton of man or machine power to move them.

Some owners may even choose to move their coops completely inside to a barn or garage for the ultimate insulation.

Deep Litter Method

Beat the bitter chill with the deep litter method. This popular litter method involves stacking inches upon inches (at least 6 inches) of litter on the floor of the coop. Backyard owners opt for bedding such as wood shavings, grass clippings, leaves, and other natural materials. This litter method produces some heat as it gradually decomposes over time.

In lieu of the deep litter method, you can simply add extra bedding on the floor of the coop. This additional material can not only make the environment more comfortable but keep your birds happy and healthy in the winter.

While this waste management method may not be the most low-maintenance, the regular upkeep is relatively easy and painless and connects you closer with your bird family.

Winter Feast

Three chickens in the snow

During the rest of the year, your chickens are flying high, as they gleefully peck at the ground for bugs, seeds, and plants. Come wintertime, however, foraging gets tougher. Whether it’s the biting wind, the lack of bugs, or the frozen ground, your chickens’ foraging can become scarce.

Chickens in winter usually amp up their food intake. because they require so much energy to stay regulate their body temperature. As a bird owner, it’s up to you to feed the chickens at least a few times per day and at dusk.

Avoid feeding your chickens oatmeal in the winter. This old wives’ tale claims that oatmeal is helpful during this time, but oats contain certain types of fiber that chickens have trouble digesting. Slow digestion may prevent your chicken from getting the appropriate amount of nutrients.

Regardless of your feeding habits, ensure your chickens in winter get a complete nutrient source from their feed and supplements. For the best winter feed, choose complete layer feed like Purina Layena, Purina Layena Plus Omega-3, or Purina Organic Pellets or Crumbles.

Purina Layena Free Range

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Purina Layena Plus Omega-3 Layer Pellets Premium Poultry Feed

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Purina Organic Layer Crumble, 35 lb.

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Purina Organic Layer Pellets, 35 lb.

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Purina Layena Pellets Premium Poultry Feed

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Purina Layena Crumbles Premium Poultry Feed

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Drinkable Water

The summer heat can really do a number on a chicken, but little did you know that chickens can get just as dehydrated during the winter months. When the water becomes too cold and freezes over, your chickens are left with an icy cold cube impenetrable to their beaks.

To combat dehydration, make sure to bring your chickens plenty of fresh water a couple of times a day. A heated waterer can reduce the times you need to visit the coop. Heated waterers prevent water from freezing during subzero temperatures.

If you don’t have a water heater, simply bring a container of hot water to thaw out the frozen water during those cold mornings, when the chickens are more likely to want to drink, and at dusk when they are thirsty again.

Heated Poultry Fount Base

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Little Giant Double Wall Metal Poultry Fount 2.5 Quarts

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Draft Prevention and Ventilation

Short of creating an airtight coop, you want to make your coop resistant to the winter drafts. While, in theory, completely sealing your coop creates a snug environment, it also deprives the needed fresh airflow to remove the built-up ammonia from the chicken droppings. For proper ventilation, leave the top vent or the upper windows open to allow fresh air to circulate. Ventilation should be above roosting height to avoid chilling your birds.

Wind Protection

Keeping your chickens cooped up can make them go stir crazy. If possible, windproof your run using any large covering such as cardboard, heavy plastic, or empty feed bags. You can tie or staple the materials around the outside of the run to provide at least partial protection from the wind, so your birds can have partial foraging space.

Keep It Dry

As the snow melts or the rain pours in, maintain your chicken coop nice and dry. Wet spots are breeding grounds for frostbite, bacteria, and mold. Check your coops’ bedding for wet spots every day. If necessary, provide additional bedding to minimize wet spots and give your chickens a plush and toasty environment.

Let Them Roam Free

Group of chickens in the snow

As an overprotective bird owner, you may want to keep your chickens safe and free from frostbite harm by hiding them out in the coop all day. However, during this chilly and trying time, it’s important to let your birds roam free. Chickens in winter are able to explore through the snow, ice water, and cold air.

How?

A chicken’s lower part of their legs does not contain any muscle. Tendons running from the upper part of the leg to the toes control their movements. As the blood goes from the heart and to the toes and back to the heart, it’s consistently warmed and cooled enough to prevent frostbite and deliver oxygen to the lower extremities.

Beat the Boredom

When winter is here, your chickens may still want to roam and frolic in the winter ground whether it’s hard, wet, or snowy. However, your chickens will most likely spend most of their time inside their coop. Keep your chickens stimulated and engaged without dropping into a seasonal depression.

Chickens need an array of boredom busters to stay sane. Everything from logs to sturdy branches to chicken swings can keep your birds feeling on top of the world. For extra fun, add a Purina Flock Block supplement in the coop for your chickens to peck at and savor.

Purina Flock Block Poultry Supplement, 25 lb.

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Happy Hen Treat Basket

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Happy Hen Treats Mealworm & Seed Treat Square, 6 oz.

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Extra Heating: Should You Do It?

During those extra bitter cold days, electric heating devices can help your chickens stay warm. If you start to notice your chickens start to get stressed out by the wintry climate, it’s time to bust out the electric heater.

When heating your chickens, there are a few safety considerations to keep in mind. For instance, a broken bulb can easily lead to a fire or injury to a chicken. Instead of traditional gas heat lamps, opt for a heater made especially for chickens or infrared heat lamps.

Ideally, most chickens including cold-tolerant breeds don’t require supplemental heat sources during the winter. However, if you are concerned about your chickens well being, Only get enough heat to raise your chickens’ body temperature by a few degrees.

Maintaining an environment that’s too balmy inside the coop and freezing cold outside will make it difficult for your birds to regulate their body temperature.

Heated Poultry Mat

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Thermo-Poultry Brooder

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As you can see, keeping chickens warm during the winter months is doable with the right tools. Keeping your flock warm in the frostiest of climates is easier than ever. Keep them safe and happy this and every winter by stocking up at Wilco farm stores for all your winter needs.

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