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How to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter: Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know

Winter can be a challenging time for backyard chicken owners. As the temperatures drop and the snow starts to fall, it’s important to ensure that your feathered friends stay cozy and comfortable.

Keeping your chickens warm during the colder months is essential for their health and well-being. In this guide, we’ll explore various strategies to help you achieve just that.

From understanding how chickens naturally stay warm to practical tips on coop insulation and winter feeding, we’ve got you covered!

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How Do Chickens Keep Warm in Winter?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of keeping your chickens warm in winter, it’s essential to understand how these resilient birds naturally cope with cold weather.

Chickens have some remarkable built-in mechanisms to withstand chilly temperatures. Disrupting that natural protection can make winter even harder on them.

Fluffing Their Feathers

Chickens are like little puffballs when it gets cold. They fluff up their feathers, creating an insulating layer of warm air close to their bodies.

Huddling Together

Chickens are social animals, and during the winter, they’ll huddle together on the roosting bars to share body heat.


Chickens meticulously preen their feathers to keep them in top-notch condition. This helps them maintain insulation and keeps moisture at bay.

Reducing Activity

In the colder months, chickens tend to be less active. They conserve energy and stay warm by avoiding unnecessary movement.

Now that we understand how chickens naturally keep warm, let’s explore some strategies to help them stay comfortable during the winter months.

How to Insulate Your Coop

One of the most effective ways to keep your chickens warm in winter is by insulating their coop. Proper insulation can make a world of difference in maintaining a cozy environment for your feathered friends.

Choose the Right Materials

When insulating your coop, opt for high-quality insulation materials such as foam fill or fiberglass.

Always make sure that you cover all insulation with boards or plywood, as chickens will peck at it and eat if you don’t. Covering the insulation also provides an extra layer between your chickens and the outside, which help to keep the heat inside the coop.

Seal Any Gaps

Inspect your coop for gaps, cracks, or holes where drafts can sneak in. Use caulk or weatherstripping to seal these openings and keep the cold air out.

Gaps are most often found around windows and doors, but you may find them along the floor too.

We used to have big holes in the coop along the floorboards where rats had chewed holes inside. To prevent the rats from digging back in, we filled the holes with steel wool before covering them.

Adequate Ventilation

While insulation is vital, it’s equally important not to make your coop airtight. Proper ventilation ensures that moisture doesn’t build up inside, which can lead to frostbite and other health issues.

The best place to have ventilation holes is at the top of the coop, where the wall meets the ceiling. You can simply drill some holes in the wall or install a vent.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s predator proof, as some sneaky predators can squeeze through small openings and push through vents.

How to Eliminate Drafts in the Coop

Drafts can be a significant source of discomfort for your chickens during winter. Imagine that you’re sitting in your living room and it’s 30 degrees and you have a fan constantly blowing on you. Turning off the fan will make your situation way better.

It’s the same with your chickens, except even more so. As we covered previously, chickens ruffle up their feathers to create a warm pocket of air next to their skin. When cold air is constantly blowing on them, it disrupts that warm pocket of air and chills them.

Eliminating drafts is crucial for maintaining a warm and cozy coop.

Seal Windows and Doors

Inspect all windows and doors in your coop. Use weatherstripping or foam insulation to seal any gaps around these openings.

Check for Leaky Roofs

A leaky roof can lead to drips of water inside the coop, making it damp and chilly. Ensure your coop’s roof is watertight and well-maintained.

Block Floor Drafts

If your coop has a wooden floor, consider adding an insulating layer and sealing any gaps between floorboards to prevent drafts from below.

What to Feed Chickens in Winter to Keep Them Warm

Diet plays a significant role in helping your chickens stay warm during the winter months. Providing the right nutrients is essential for their overall health and temperature regulation.

Increase Their Caloric Intake

During winter, chickens burn more calories to stay warm. Adjust their diet by giving them more high-energy foods like corn, grains, and seeds.

One of our favorite things to give our chickens in winter is the Flock Block. One block will last them about two months. Picking at it gives them something to do all day, and the added caloric boost helps keep them healthy in winter.

We’ve written a whole post on what to feed your chickens in winter, check it out!

Offer Warm Meals

Treat your chickens to warm meals in the mornings and evenings. You can prepare warm oatmeal or cornmeal mash to help boost their body temperature.

Adding in veggies and fruit will certainly up the appeal for your ladies!

Keep Fresh Water Available

Ensure your chickens have access to fresh, unfrozen water at all times. Hydration is crucial for maintaining body heat.

You may consider getting a heated base for your water fount to keep the water free of ice throughout the winter.

How to Free Range in the Winter

Many chicken owners wonder if it’s possible to allow their chickens to free range during the winter. While it’s a bit more challenging, it can still be done with some precautions.

Although it is possible to free range your flock, keep in mind that they just may not want to go outside in the winter. In general, chickens don’t like to step in snow, and they instinctively know it’s warmer and safer in the coop.

Don’t force them to go outside, but giving them the option when you can is a great idea.

Clear Snow and Ice

Before letting your chickens roam, clear any snow or ice from their favorite areas. This will prevent them from falling down and also keep their feet from freezing. There’s almost nothing worse than having wet feet in winter, especially if your chickens have feathered feet.

We like to shovel the snow out of the chicken run, or at least pile it up in one corner. Then we lay down pine shavings or straw outside so the chickens can comfortably walk without getting too cold.

Yes, our chickens are pampered for sure!

Provide Shelter

Keeping the door to the coop open while your chickens free range in winter is essential. They need to have a safe and warm place to go if the weather takes a sudden turn, or they get too cold. Make sure they always have access to their food and water while they free range as well.

Watch for Frostbite

Keep an eye on your chickens’ comb and wattles, as they are susceptible to frostbite. If you notice any signs, bring them inside to warm up.

Why Chickens Shouldn’t Wear Sweaters

There have been photos of chickens wearing sweaters floating around the internet for years, and while the photos are adorable, I have to caution you against putting sweaters on your chickens.

It may seem like an ideal way to keep them warm, but in fact, sweaters can make your chickens even colder than they would be without them.

Natural Insulation

Chickens are equipped with their own insulation—feathers. Wearing sweaters can compress their feathers, reducing their ability to fluff up and regulate their temperature naturally.

Restriction of Movement

Sweaters can restrict your chickens’ movement and make it challenging for them to perform essential activities like preening and taking dust baths. Both of these are required for chickens to maintain their cleanliness and health.

Risk of Overheating

In some cases, sweaters can cause chickens to overheat, especially if the temperature isn’t as cold as you might think.

How to Know If Your Chickens Are Too Cold

It’s super important to know how to tell if your chickens are too cold. Chickens can go from being perfectly fine and content, to suffering from the cold in just a few hours.

Keep an eye out for these signs:

  • Shaking: If your chickens are shaking, it’s a clear sign they’re feeling the cold.
  • Pale Combs and Wattles: These body parts can turn pale or even frostbitten in extreme cold.
  • Not eating or drinking: Chickens that are too cold won’t waste energy eating or drinking.
  • Lethargy: Chickens that spend all day on the roost or standing in one spot. While reduced activity is normal in winter, look out for chickens that seem excessively low energy or slow moving.
  • Head Drooping: This is a major sign that your chicken is in danger
  • Unconsciousness: Hypothermic chickens will eventually lose consciousness

If your whole flock is showing signs of being too cold, you need to take quick action to warm up the coop. Stacking bales of straw against the walls or hanging heavy blankets to block off parts of the coop can be quick solutions to make the space smaller and insulate it at the same time.

A smaller space is easier for your flock’s body heat to warm.

If you notice one chicken is showing signs of being too cold, bring her into the house and gently warm her up, then provide some easy to digest foods like yogurt or mashed veggies. When she has properly warmed back up, you can gradually reintroduce her to life in the coop.

The Importance of Good Roost Bars in the Winter

Roost bars are where your chickens spend most of their nights, so they play a vital role in keeping them warm and comfortable during winter.

Optimal Size and Material

Ensure your roost bars are wide enough for chickens to comfortably perch without their feet getting too cold. A wooden roost bar is ideal as it doesn’t conduct cold as metal might.

The chickens need to be able to grip the roost with their feet and also cover their feet with their bellies.

Adequate Space

Provide enough space on the roost bars for all your chickens to huddle together. This allows them to share body heat effectively.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Regularly clean and inspect the roost bars for any signs of wear or damage. Look for rough areas that could cause splinters in the chicken’s feet. Also keep an eye out for signs of mites, they like to hang out on the underside of roosts and in nooks and crannies.

A sturdy and well-maintained roosting area is essential for their safety and warmth.

Ensure no one is roosting alone

In very cold weather it may help to go out to the coop after the chickens have roosted and settled down for the night. If you see any chickens roosting by themselves, gently move them so they’re next to a buddy. We had to do this nightly for one of our birds.

What Kind of Bedding to Use in the Winter

Choosing the right bedding material is crucial for keeping your coop warm and dry during the winter months.

Frostbite and hypothermia can set in much quicker in an environment that’s both cold and moist. Reducing moisture is essential to keeping the coop comfortable, and the best way to do that is with proper bedding.


Straw is an excellent choice for winter bedding. Its hollow shafts provide extra insulation and help keep the coop dry by absorbing moisture.

Wood Shavings

Pine or Aspen shavings are another good option. They’re easy to clean, provide insulation, and help control odors. We’ve found pine shavings to be ultra absorbent, but do your best to get ‘low dust’ shavings because chickens have delicate respiratory systems and the dust aggravates them.


Hemp bedding is becoming more popular and for good reason! It’s a very eco-conscious choice for bedding, very absorbent, and cuts down on odor quite a bit. Hemp is more expensive than the other options, but many chicken keepers also think it lasts longer, so it may balance out.

The Importance of Cleaning Out the Coop Frequently in Winter

Maintaining a clean coop is essential year-round, but it becomes even more critical during the winter.

Moisture Control

A dirty coop means excess moisture from all the chicken droppings. Too much moisture can make it feel colder and increases the risk of frostbite.

Frequently cleaning out all the dirty bedding and replacing with clean, dry bedding helps control moisture levels.

Health and Hygiene

A clean coop is a healthy coop. Regular cleaning reduces the chances of mites, parasites, and diseases that can thrive in dirty conditions.

We like to sprinkle down a layer of Diatomaceous Earth on the floor of the coop before we put new bedding down, it really helps to cut down on bugs in the coop.

Cozy and Comfortable

Chickens thrive in a clean and comfortable environment. A well-kept coop means your chickens are more likely to be active and happy.

Keeping your chickens warm in winter is all about providing a well-insulated, draft-free coop, adjusting their diet, and monitoring their well-being. Remember, your chickens are hardy creatures, but a little extra care during the cold months goes a long way in ensuring their comfort and health.

By following these tips, you’ll have a happy and cozy flock throughout the winter season.

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