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Should You Put Heat in the Chicken Coop?

Should you add heat in the chicken coop? This is one of the most common question asked about raising chickens in winter. Learn why heating the coop isn’t safe.

The short answer is a resounding, “No,” unless you live somewhere that sees extremely brutal winters. We have been raising chickens in Western New York, which frequently sees blizzards and sub zero temps, for many years without heating the coop.

The truth is, your chickens will be absolutely fine out there in the cold, because they have built in natural protection from cold and snow.

There are, however, a number of things you can do to make the winter a more comfortable time for your flock.

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Should you heat the chicken coop this winter? Find out the pros and cons to adding heat to your coop. #homesteading #homestead #backyardchickens #chickens #raisingchickens #poultry

Why You Shouldn’t Heat the Coop in Winter

The Risk of Coop Fires

Every single winter, someone’s chicken coop catches fire due to an improperly used heat lamp. These fires not only wipe out entire flocks, they can spread to other outbuildings, homes, and even woods, causing incredible destruction.

Using a heat lamp in the coop is just not worth the risk, no matter what.

It’s incredibly difficult to properly secure a heat lamp so that it won’t fall down. The clamps on heat lamps are notorious for failing, they have flimsy designs and even the slightest bump can knock them down. Flying chickens in the coop, plus a flimsy lamp clamp can add up to disaster in seconds.

Even if the heat lamp is properly secured, debris such as feathers can float up into it and get caught in the lamp, causing it to catch fire.

There are just too many chances for your coop to catch fire when you add a heat lamp, and while you never think it could happen to you, it absolutely can.

Chickens Temperature Acclimation

Another good reason to avoid the heat lamp is the risk of it suddenly going out without you noticing. If the heat lamp suddenly dies due to breakage or a power outage, your entire flock could perish.

Chickens need time to acclimate to temperature changes. If they’re used to the coop being warm in the winter and the temperature suddenly drops, their bodies go into shock and hypothermia quickly sets in. This can happen in a matter of hours, and you may not notice until it’s too late.

No one thinks it will happen to them, until it does. Year after year we hear of heat lamps causing death to entire flocks and damage to coops. Don’t let this happen to you. Heat lamps should never, ever, be used in a chicken coop.

Are you making these winter chicken keeping mistakes? Check our list and make adjustments so your chickens can live their best life this winter!

How Chickens Stay Warm in Winter

Chickens fluff up their feathers, creating an air pocket between the feathers and skin. This holds the warm air radiating from the chicken’s body and keeps them comfortable even on the coldest nights. Chickens also cluster together on the roost and cuddle to keep each other warm.

Even though it may not look like it, those birds are perfectly warm without your intervention.

Many birds that are much smaller than chickens, such as finches and sparrows survive winter in much the same way. Your chickens are lucky to have a place to live and fresh water and food provided every day. They truly don’t need heat as well.

For this reason, chicken sweaters are a huge no-no.

I know they’re adorable, and maybe you knitted up a whole matching set for your chickens this winter, but please don’t put sweaters on your chickens. Chicken physiology is much different than that of mammals. They need to be able to fluff up those feathers to make that warm pocket of air next to their skin. If they’re wearing a sweater, they can’t do that, and will be much colder than they would be without one.

Learn more about keeping chickens warm in winter.

To heat of not to heat the chicken coop, that's the question.

How to Keep Your Coop Warm in Winter Without Adding Heat

Insulate the Coop

Insulation is your best friend when it comes to protecting your chickens from the cold. Whether you have it professionally installed or do it yourself, make absolutely sure you cover all insulation with plywood. Chickens will peck at fiberglass and styrofoam insulation which could lead to death. Make sure every bit is well covered before the birds are allowed inside.

Eliminate Drafts but Allow Ventilation

Air circulation is vital inside your coop. Your chickens need fresh air all the time in order to remain healthy. Dust, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and moisture need to be able to leave the coop and fresh air needs to be able to get in.

It’s important to allow for ventilation in the coop, but not encourage drafts. Cold drafts blowing on the chickens will disrupt their feathers, causing them to lose that warm pocket of air next to their skin. Ventilation holes or windows should be cut at the very top of the coop, where the wall meets the ceiling. This allows for air circulation without air blowing on the chickens.

Are you making these winter chicken keeping mistakes? Check our list and make adjustments so your chickens can live their best life this winter!

Make Sure the Roosts are the Proper Size

The roost needs to be long enough for multiple chickens to sit on it together so they can benefit from the combined body heat. It also needs to be the big enough in diameter to keep their feet warm. When chickens roost in winter, they puff out their feathers and cover their feet with them to keep warm.

If the roost is too small in diameter and the chicken can wrap its whole foot around the the roost, their toes will be unprotected. Many people like to use 2×4’s for roosts as the flat side allows the chickens to completely cover their feet while roosting. We prefer to use large branches for roosts. There’s no hard and fast rule for roosts, everyone does it different, just observe your flock and make sure they are able to cover their toes while roosting.

Keeping chickens in the winter is much the same as the summer. Follow these six easy tips to go about keeping chickens warm and healthy during the cold winter months.

How to Heat the Chicken Coop Safely

Maybe you live in an extremely cold environment where the temperature consistently drops down below -20F. Maybe your coop is not protected from the cold. If for any reason you still believe that you must heat your coop, there are safe ways to do so, that don’t involve a heat lamp.

If you’d like to add heat to the chicken coop, you can either have a professional install heat in your coop, or you can order a flat panel heater from Amazon and install it yourself.

Learn how to winterize your chicken coop for when the temperatures plummet.

I hope this post has helped you to make a decision about whether or not to heat the chicken coop. If you do decide to add heat, please do be safe about it, we don’t want yours to be the next tragic story in the news.

Have further questions or comments? We’d love to hear them… comment below!

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Friday 16th of December 2022

Hello, I also am in Western NY and have been using a heat lamp for many years and wondered about them catch fire. Well now my concern is even greater as we currently have 10 now 6 week old chicks inside with a heat lamp and will be moving them soon out into the coop. There is a ton of dust where we have them and I wonder will that catch fire. After reading what you wrote that clarifies a lot for me. However I could really use some suggestions on transitioning them as we are due for another cold storm starting tomorrow and that was our goal this weekend. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Tracy Reagan

Sunday 4th of December 2022

Does the heat lamp light at night disrupt the chickens sleep?

Krystal @ Three Wondrous Acres Homestead

Tuesday 19th of November 2019

I just published a post about winterizing our coop, and linked to this article since we're in agreement on avoiding heaters in coops. You've got a wonderful guide here on keeping the birds warm in colder climates!


Wednesday 18th of December 2019

Aw thank you so much!


Monday 8th of January 2018

we heat our coop with a oil heater .looks like a old steam radator but filled with oil perfectly safe even if knocked over [walmart sells ] 40 bucks .we keep our insulated coop at 55 f . our door has a sliced curtain for the chickens to walk through and keep the heat in the coop reducing heat costs like the freezer section at grocery store .our chickens have vests or they would not have any feathers to fluff up . we have 21 chickens and average 20 eggs per day .so i think we are doing something right .coop is raised 3 ft off ground and has a floor hatch for very easy cleaning into wheel barrow and a roost tarp to catch nite droppings 2/3 scoops into a bucket for compost . a clean coop makes for happy healthy chickens . every ones situation is different do the best you can for your chickens .