Chickens, like other animals, feel comfortable at specific temperatures, and exceeding a particular range can significantly affect their health. The optimal temperature range for poultry depends on their breed, health, and age.
Although chickens prefer a warmer climate, they are pretty hardy and can adapt to most weather conditions. These birds typically tolerate low temperatures as their feathers protect them from the cold, but freezing winters can adversely affect them. Therefore, breeders often hesitate about whether and when do chickens need heat in the coop.
Factors That Affect Chickens Temperature Needs
Chickens are a popular poultry type raised all over the world. Their meat is a rich source of protein, vitamins, and minerals and is a staple food for many cultures.
These domesticated birds belong to the family Phasianidae, which also includes partridges, pheasants, and quail. According to available information, all domestic chickens originated from the same ancestor, wild Red Junglefowl from Southeast Asia.
You can recognize numerous breeds with unique characteristics, such as size, color, shape, and temperament. Some of the most popular in the US are Rhode Island Red, Leghorn, and Plymouth Rock chickens.
These adaptable birds can tolerate different temperatures but sometimes need additional protection. For instance, some breeds are sensitive to extreme heat or cold.
In such cases, it is necessary to maintain the appropriate temperature in the coop to create optimal conditions for chick growth. You should also ensure the birds’ good health and desired egg production level. Here are some factors that affect this poultry temperature needs:
During the first few weeks of life, chicks can’t regulate their body temperature and rely on external heat sources to keep warm. For example, during their first week of life, they need a temperature of around 95 to 100 F (35 – 37.8 C).
After that period, it is necessary to gradually lower the temperature by about 41 F (5 C) per week until young chickens start regulating their body temperature independently. Be careful and maintain the temperature in the appropriate range during that initial period.
As expected, chickens have diverse temperature requirements, depending on the breed. For instance, breeds that evolved in cold climates function at lower temperatures without limits. The most cold-tolerate ones are:
In contrast, chickens originating from warmer climates are less able to withstand low temperatures. For these reasons, avoid some breeds when living in colder regions, particularly:
- New Hampshire Reds
- Rhode Island Reds
Size and feathers
Large chicken breeds produce more body heat than smaller ones and effortlessly tolerate lower temperatures. On the other hand, smaller breeds, including bantam varieties, need higher temperatures to maintain their body heat.
Likewise, poultry with more feathers tolerates cold temperatures better than those with fewer feathers. For instance, chicks without completely set feathers always require higher temperatures.
The environment always affects the temperature level that chickens need. Those living in insufficiently insulated coops and exposed to drafts often need additional heat. Similarly, if you live in a hot and humid climate, it is necessary to cool your chickens.
Chickens are generally resistant to temperature changes unless variations are extreme. For instance, some breeds are prone to heat stroke during summer when temperatures are extremely high.
On the other hand, when the temperatures are well below 32 F (0 C) during the winter, you should protect the chickens. Otherwise, they may suffer from frostbite, and you can expect lower egg production.
When Do Chickens Need Heat In the Coop?
Chicken breeders living in regions with harsh winters are often unsure whether to heat their coops. The simple answer is that there is typically no need for such an effort.
As you know, free-range poultry can’t spend the whole winter locked in a coop. Therefore, additional heating may slow down or even prevent their adaptation to the outside temperature. In such circumstances, coldness may jeopardize their health.
A sudden power outage is one more significant problem. When regularly heating the coop at night, your chickens can die without the heat they are used to. On the other hand, heating the coop is justified in some situations, particularly when:
- The predicted temperature drop is 20 or more degrees
- You have chicks, injured chickens, or those in the recovery period
- The number of chickens in the coop is low
- Keeping a chicken breed non-resistant to low temperatures
Ways to Prepare a Chicken Coop for Winter
1. Provide a shelter
Chickens need a raised area to spend the night and sit away from the cold floor. They also require a place to comfortably lie on their feet, cover them with feathers, and keep them warm. It is the only way to prevent an issue with frostbite.
There is no official rule for making a roost, but you should ensure its diameter is large enough. Make it fit the coop size and the number of chickens, and avoid using plastic and metal since these materials retain cold.
Most chicken breeders recommend wooden boards of approximately 2 by 4 inches (5 x 10 cm) or 2 by 2 inches (5 x 5 cm). The best option is to place them about 12 inches (13.5 cm) above the floor. That provides at least 4 sq ft (0.37 m2) of space for one hen inside the coop.
Air circulation in the coop is vital for your chickens. It is crucial to eliminate carbon dioxide, ammonia, dust, and moisture generated inside because your birds need fresh air to stay healthy.
Making appropriate windows or ventilation holes is probably the best option you can choose. Take care to prevent cold air entry since it can affect chickens adversely. The most effortless way is to place these openings high, close to the coop roof.
3. Insulate the coop
Although airflow is essential for chickens, you should prevent drafts. Therefore, sealing all cracks and holes is a recommended task. Besides forestalling drafts, it is an efficient way to keep rodents away from the coop.
Consider covering the coop with plywood since materials such as fiberglass and Styrofoam can jeopardize your chickens when used for insulation. Since they are not solid, poultry will probably spend time pecking them, which may lead to digestive issues and possible death.
4. Heated waterer
Keep the watering can away from bedding and regularly check its correctness. Also, never place wires close to chickens, water, and flammable litter to prevent accidents like shock and fire.
Ways to Provide Heat to Chickens When Necessary
If you still want to heat the chicken coop, it is crucial to follow several safety factors. There are two reliable and convenient ways to heat the coop without putting poultry in danger.
1. Heat lamps
Heating lamps are a popular and common choice for heating the chicken coop. Unfortunately, they can be a serious fire hazard if improperly installed and used. Therefore, give your best to reduce the risk of fire by:
- Using a light bulb with the appropriate wattage for the coop size and the number of chickens
- Choosing a lamp with a metal shield to prevent chicks from coming into direct contact with the bulb
- Keeping the lamp at least 18 inches (45.7 cm) away from flammable materials, such as straw, wood, and feathers
- Making sure that the lamp is firmly attached to a stable surface
- Using a sturdy heat-resistant clamp to secure the lamp in the coop
Regularly check the installed lamp to ensure it is in good working order. It is the safest way to keep your chickens safe and prevent a potential fire hazard.
2. Radiant heaters
Radiant heaters are an excellent option for providing heat in the coop. These devices are a safe alternative to heat lamps because they don’t emit light, lowering the possibility of causing a fire. Recommendations when using a radiant heater are not significantly different from the instructions for installing a lamp. It is crucial to:
- Choose a heater intended explicitly for the chicken coop using
- Ensure that the heater is securely attached to a stable surface
- Keep the heater at least 18 inches (45.7 cm) away from combustible materials
- Install a heater with a power that matches the number of chickens and the coop size
Most chicken breeders believe that heating the coop is unnecessary and has the opposite effect of the desired. The basis for such an attitude is that chickens quickly adapt to low temperatures, and their feathers provide adequate protection. However, some birds require heating the coop, particularly Mediterranean breeds you want to grow in regions with cold winters.