When you get a chicken for the first time, you’re going to want to give them a decent living. Healthy chickens are happy chickens. Happy chickens lay more eggs and also tend to be better for meat growth. You want your chickens to be happy and healthy.
The best thing you can do is make sure that your hens and roosters have an environment that keeps them cozy. During the winter, colder temperatures can make it harder for chickens to thrive. In some cases, it can even cause frostbite!
True chicken keepers want to keep their chickens warm during the winter, or at the very least, prevent frostbite. The question is, how do you make sure that your chickens can survive the harsher winters that can happen? Our guide will tell you.
Before you begin, make sure you have the right breed for your environment.
Not all chickens can handle colder climates. If you live in a place like North Dakota or Canada, you need to find a chicken breed that is decently resistant to cold temperatures. Thankfully, a little research will tell you everything you need to know about cold resistance.
When in doubt, choose a breed that comes from a chilly area like England, Canada, Norway, or Russia. The more adapted it is to the cold, the better off you will be and the less work you will have to do to make sure your chickens remain healthy during the winter.
Can chickens die from cold?
Yes, they can. This is why you need to protect your birds from the cold. If you notice fluffed-up feathers, chickens holding feet to their chests, or huddling, they likely have cold stress.
How do you keep chickens warm during winter months?
Truth be told, there is not always a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. The fact is, you are going to have to pick and choose which methods you want to use to keep your flock warm. Here are the most common methods used.
1. Ventilate And Seal Your Coop
Your coop is going to be the number one protection against cold temperatures you have. You want to make sure air isn’t trapped inside, but that your chickens don’t feel a breeze coming through cracks.
A well-ventilated coop with large roosts will make it easy for chickens to use their natural feathering to protect themselves against the cold. A coop that has lots of drafts, though, will make it uncomfortably chilly. So, add ventilation, not drafts.
You want to give the air that travels through the coop a buffer zone to warm up before it hits the chickens. In extreme cases, you may want to add heat lamps to coops. However, this is generally not advisable unless you live in a truly frigid environment.
A good rule of thumb is that you want to keep out moisture. Cool, dry air is way more tolerable (and less mold-prone) than damp, room-temperature air.
PRO TIP – A chicken coop will need to have a lot of extra warmth once the temperature inside of the coop reaches 35 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
2. Get More Birds!
Chickens generally use their own body heat and feathers to stay safe from cold temperatures. What you may not know is that many chickens choose to huddle together in the chicken coop to stay warm. Getting more birds can help keep your flock safe.
Make sure to choose breeds that are used to colder temperatures if you regularly have freezing temperatures.
3. Make Your Chicken Run Warmer
Your chicken coop is going to be a refuge from the cold, but your chickens will still need to free-range. When they do, the icy blasts of cold air can quickly turn a pleasant day into a day where combs could get frostbitten.
The easiest way to curb this is to add an outdoor heat lamp or heater for chickens to enjoy. Oh, and consider adding a cold barrier for gusts of wind. Much like people, chickens don’t enjoy having cold breezes chill them out.
A heater and some wind barriers are all it takes to turn a frigid area into a more tolerable place. As a bonus, this treatment can also make it easier for them to free-range and get the nutrients they need from bugs in the area.
There are several ways to make this happen:
- Heat lamps are a good choice. So is an outdoor heater. Chickens in particularly cold areas will need a source of heat to protect their combs from frostbite.
- Dig a pathway (or area) for chickens to roam in, away from the snow. Chickens absolutely can walk on snow. They just hate it. It may be wise to make a path for them. It’ll prevent them from hurting their feet, too.
- Add cardboard and wood to shield your chicken run from the wind. It may seem rudimentary, but it works wonders. Chickens need a little shielding from the elements, even if it’s just as simple as adding a little cardboard to lean against during cold gusts.
- Double-check to ensure that the water you offer them isn’t frozen. Even in cold areas, chickens will need to have a source of running water. Heated water is a good way to ensure that your chickens don’t freeze from the inside out. If you can’t get a water heater, put your fountain near a heat lamp.
- Enhance sunlight. Now would be a good time to avoid shade. Sunlight can add as much as 20 degrees of heat to an area’s temperature. If you want to make a chicken run in your backyard, plan it so that there are equal amounts of light and shade.
4. Consider Adding Insulation To Your Coop
Your coop does need ventilation, but it also can do well with insulation—or at least, a part of the coop that’s insulated for the sake of chickens huddling. If you have a bigger coop, add a foam box or cardboard box for huddle space.
On a similar note, insulated skylights can help trap heat inside the coop, giving your birds an all-natural way to get the heat they need to survive. Not all coops are large enough, but if yours is, it could be a smart move.
If you live in areas with bitter cold (such as Canada or Greenland), wrap the bottom part of the coop with insulation material. This keeps drafts out but also doesn’t trap moisture inside them.
5. Make Sure They Can Roost
Chickens use roosting as a way to keep warm at night. That’s when they perch, fluff up their feathers, and hang out on a “branch.” Your coop will need a place for each and every chicken to roost comfortably.
Many newbie farmers make the mistake of building roosts poorly. A good roost will be two feet above the ground, away from the cold floor. It will also have ample space. Check on your birds at night. Is one on the ground? Then you need more roosting space.
Most people greatly underestimate how much chickens need to roost. When in doubt, have more roosting space than you think your birds will need.
6. Use The Deep Litter Method
The “Deep Litter” Method is a great way to protect your feathery friends from the cold, but it’s going to take a lot of work. To do this, cover your coop’s floor with at least four inches of litter and bedding.
Hay, pine shavings, and pine needles are all great for this method. The shavings and “litter” will add insulation and ventilation to your chicken coop. With that said, there are some caveats you need to be aware of.
- If you choose to use hay, be prepared to clean your coop regularly. Hay can mold and mildew. It can also be a great place for mites to go hide, causing problems with your chickens’ health. Keep an eye on your litter if you have hay. It’s not like a hay bale!
- Pine shavings and needles are actually a bit better. They encourage good bacteria growth that can break down chicken poop. Besides, they also tend to help reduce the occurrence of mold. Many also say they smell fresh.
- Avoid using gravel. It may seem like a no-brainer, but cat litter is not the same as chicken litter. Gravel and other stone will not help protect your flock against the cold. If anything, it’ll just make cleaning the coop a nightmare.
- Cedar shavings are a no-go. Cedar is very toxic to chickens, and you don’t want them to be exposed to this wood.
- Start this method before it gets cold. You want the poop from your birds to help turn the litter into compost. Composting materials naturally give off heat, turning your coop into a warm little place.
- Don’t block the entrance. Chickens still need to go outside and get some exercise, you know.
7. Add Cracked Corn To Their Indoor Diet
Did you ever notice how much easier it is to feel cozy on a full stomach? The same feeling is true for chickens. Chickens do better when they have a full stomach. The easiest fix for this is to add a bowl of cracked corn inside the coop.
8. Consider Adding A Greenhouse-Like Structure Over Their Chicken Run
Let’s say that you live in an area that has a bitter cold during the winter. At this point, putting up casual wind blocks or even installing a heater won’t be a good idea. It simply won’t be enough to protect birds if temperatures drop below -15 degrees Fahrenheit.
In areas where you have extremely cold temperatures, an open chicken run just doesn’t make sense. You may want to install a greenhouse-like structure over it to protect your birds from the cold and give them a little heat. It could save their lives.
Cover the greenhouse in breathable plastic for the best results. Once winter’s done, you can take down the covering and put it in storage.
PRO TIP – If you have a greenhouse cover, then you probably will not need a heater inside your chicken run. If you’re unsure whether you need an additional heat source, ask a professional installer.
9. Guard Against Frostbite
Certain chicken breeds have larger combs that are prone to frostbite, even if their bodies are cold-hardy. Thankfully, there’s a quick fix for this. You can rub petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) on their comb to create a protective cover against the harsh wind.
Keep an eye out for signs of frostbite. You should inspect your chickens for it every day, and treat it if you see it. Your chickens deserve toasty combs.
10. Supplement Heat In The Coop
You may want to look into getting a small heat source for chickens that live in a colder area—and not just for the chicken run. Chickens that are fluffed up, curled up, or otherwise showing cold stress may need additional heat supplements in their coop.
When picking an indoor heat source, choose a source that has been approved for use around chickens and other livestock. Moreover, do not use heat sources that could pose a fire risk—such as portable heaters that can spark hay and pine shavings to ignite.
If you are not sure which heater to use, consider getting a heating mat or two to put on a section of the coop’s floor, away from litter. Watch and respect fire safety requirements at all times when using a heater.
Cold can pose a serious risk to your chicken flock, even if they are a cold-hardy breed. If you want to protect them, the best thing you can do is reduce drafts, keep them dry, and give them an environment that makes it easy for them to get the heat they need.
Chickens do best in 60 to 70-degree temperatures, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go lower. You need to gauge how much protection your flock needs. If you aren’t sure how much they need, ask a professional to help you build a safer, warmer environment.