We’re often asked how to go about keeping chickens warm in winter, when the temps drop and the snow starts to fly. The truth is that raising chickens in the winter is very easy. They only need a few accommodations to be healthy and happy in the colder months.
Chickens natural physiology combined with several strategies on our part are all it takes to keep our chickens happy and healthy through the bitter cold winter. We’re happy to share these tips with you today!
We don’t heat the chicken coop in winter, instead follow these six steps to safely and inexpensively keep your flock warm.
Keeping Chickens Warm in the Winter
1. Get the Right Chicken Breeds for your Climate
The very best thing you can do to ensure your birds will be warm in winter is to start off with cold hardy chicken breeds. Cold hardy breeds have very small combs and wattles, making them less susceptible to frostbite. They also tend to be built a little on the hefty side, which keeps them warmer in cold climates.
Taking the simple step to choose the right chicken breed for your climate will work wonders to ensure that your chickens stay warm in the winter. We have raised practically every breed of chicken there is. What we have learned is chickens who are naturally thinner with very large combs tend to suffer through the winter months.
Many chicken keepers try to protect these breeds by putting petroleum jelly on their combs and wattles on cold nights, but we’ve found it doesn’t help very much, and it’s so much easier on you (and the bird) if you just get cold hardy breeds to begin with. Since we switched to entirely cold hardy breeds we haven’t had a single issue with frostbite on our chickens. Simply buying the right breeds from the start will save you a lot of misery down the road.
Rhode Island Red
2. Insulate the Coop
You can do this in many ways. If you have the money, you can use foam or fiberglass insulation in the walls of the coop then cover them with plywood. Just make absolutely sure the insulation is completely covered, because chickens will pick it at.
If you want to take a more thrifty approach to insulating the chicken coop, simply hanging horse blankets or other thick blankets on the walls will help to keep the wind chill out. Many chicken keepers also stack bales of straw against the walls to help insulate the coop.
Always remember that insulation doesn’t mean you need to make the coop air-tight. Every coop needs proper ventilation, for polluted air and moisture to escape and fresh air to get in.
To provide good ventilation for your coop, you can drill holes in the wall where it meets the ceiling, or cut a window at the top of the wall and cover it with hardware cloth to keep out pests and predators. It’s okay if a little cold air is coming into the coop, it’s more important to make sure the air is clean and the coop is well ventilated in cold months than to make sure the entire coop is filled with warm air.
Don’t forget to insulate the floor of the coop as well! You can do this easily by stacking straw and wood shavings at least 6 inches deep on the floor of the coop. This is a great way to keep your chickens cozy in cold temperatures.
3. Close Off a Portion of the Coop
The coop interior gets warm on cold winter nights from the chickens body heat releasing into the air. If the amount of space inside the coop is smaller, there’s less airspace for the chickens bodies to warm up. If your chicken coop is on the larger side, it will pay to make the usable space a little smaller in the winter.
This can be done by hanging clear plastic sheeting or blankets from floor to ceiling to block off an unused portion of the coop. Many chicken keepers also put up temporary walls, or use straw bales from floor to ceiling to keep the chickens contained in one area.
4. Provide Quality Feed and Water
Chickens eat more feed in the winter to regulate their body temperature and put on some insulating fat. Make sure that the feed your chickens are getting is high-quality feed and give them a bit extra this time of year.
If any members of your flock are going through a molt, it’s also important to feed extra protein. That way they can re-grow those feathers before the chill sets in. You can boost protein easily by feeding your flock mealworms or other hearty winter treats!
We also like to toss chicken scratch or scratch grains on the floor of the coop daily to give the birds something to keep them busy and add a little winter fat to help keep them warm.
Even more important than feed is to provide your chickens with fresh water at all times in the winter. You don’t necessarily need to give your chickens warm water, but you do need to make sure their water doesn’t freeze during the day.
Drinking water helps with digestion, which helps with temperature regulation. If your chicken’s water source is frozen for even an hour during the day it will affect their ability to stay warm. If you can’t check on the founts several times a day, consider using a heated waterer or a Water Heater Base for your fount in the winter.
5. Provide Quality Roosts
Roosting helps keep chickens warm by getting them up off the cold ground and allowing them to huddle together. Roosts need to be big enough to accommodate all of your chickens. If you see chickens on the floors or nesting boxes at night, more roosts are in order.
In the winter it’s also important to check the location of your roosting bars. If the roosts are near a window or door, move them or seal off the area to prevent drafts. Blowing drafts disrupt the chickens fluffed feathers, and can cause a dangerous chill while they’re roosting.
The roost surface should be big enough so that a chicken can completely cover their feet while sitting on it. If the chickens can’t wrap their toes all the way around the roost, they are likely to get frostbite on toes that they can’t cover.
6. Use the Deep Litter Method
The deep litter method works wonders for keeping the coop warm in winter. Stacking six inches (or more) of litter on the floor of the coop helps to insulate it. Deep litter also produces its own heat while it slowly composts over the course of the season.
We use the deep litter method all year round. But it is especially helpful to keep our flock warm and healthy in the winter.
If you don’t choose to use the deep litter method, you can still stack extra litter/bedding on the floor of the coop to make a comfy environment for your birds in the winter.
A note about adding heat to the coop:
Many new chicken owners feel the urge to put a chicken coop heater in when winter temperatures hit. We want to strongly caution against this practice.
For the majority of chicken keepers, heating the coop is truly not necessary. Using heat lamps in the coop is extremely dangerous. It puts your whole flock and structure at a major risk for fire.
There are other ways to heat the coop (stated below) but keep in mind that these can also put your flock in danger if the heat source suddenly goes out due to a power outage or breakage.
If your flock gets used to a heated coop and that heat disappears, the sudden change of temperature is enough to send your birds into shock and hypothermia.
We’re big believers in leaving heat out of the equation when caring for chickens in the winter, but there are certain circumstances where it might be appropriate.
If you live in a very Northern climate that sees temperatures frequently fall well below -10 degrees, and you feel your chickens are truly suffering from the cold, there are some options.
- Hire an electrician to wire the coop for heat. This would be safer than hanging a heat lamp inside
- Purchase a flat panel heater to install inside the coop. This is the only type of electric heater that is considered safe in a coop.
We hope this post has answered your burning questions about how to keep chickens warm in the winter. If you have other questions about caring for chickens when it’s cold, be sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Raising Chickens in Winter.
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