Should you put heat in the chicken coop?
This is one of the most common questions asked about raising chickens in winter. 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.
Why you shouldn’t heat the coop this winter.
1. 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.
2. 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.
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.
How to keep your coop warm in winter without adding heat
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
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.
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!