Skip to Content

6 Tips and Tricks for Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter

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.

This post contains affiliate links.

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.

Ameraucana

Australorp

Brahma

Buff Orpington

Cochin

Delaware

Dominique

New Hampshire

Plymouth Rock

Rhode Island Red

Speckled Sussex

Wyandottes

2. Insulate the Coop

It’s so important to winterize the chicken coop before cold weather sets in. The easiest way is to insulate the chicken coop as best you can.

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. 

If you want more tips on raising chickens, subscribe to our newsletter! Every week you’ll get an email chock full of chicken tidbits, our top weekly posts, and discounts on awesome chicken gear!

Sharing is caring!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Andrea Deloach

Wednesday 9th of September 2020

I have a suprise silkie and 4 production blues that were gotten together in April. There was a sixth that rossted with the silkie but he got killed by a hawk. The 4 PBs still roost together but the silkie was left all alone. Thinking ahead to winter (I live in Atlanta,ga so it can get down to the teens F some) I was concerned about my silkie so I got him a "friend" (silkie/easter egger mix that a friend needed to rehome) My little silkie who I was feeling so sorry for is being ugly to this new hen. She is sweet to everyone. It has been almost 3 weeks. Of course the other hens are establishing their pecking order with her and my main rooster is doing fine with her but now I have 4 still roosting together and one on another perch and one on still another perch. Will these two silkies eventually cuddle once there has been more time, especially if they are chilly? No one is trying to hurt her but they just ignore her. It's hearbreaking.

Anita Schultz

Friday 20th of September 2019

I have a pretty good size flock and I need to bring my older flock and the new ones together before winter hits I live in Wisconsin and it can get darn cold my, my question is can I still do the deep litter methd if the coop has a wooden floor?

Meredith

Sunday 29th of September 2019

Yes you can do it on a wooden floor but it will eventually cause the floor to decompose. You may want to lay down a cheap layer of linoleum before starting it so the floor lasts longer.

Dina

Sunday 25th of August 2019

I really love my chickens I hold them a lot and pet them can I get any diseases from them

Meredith

Thursday 29th of August 2019

It's possible to get salmonella from handling chickens, but it's extremely rare in backyard flocks. Always practice good basic hygiene and wash your hands well after cuddling with your chickens. :)

Chicken Grandma

Thursday 11th of October 2018

Hi, I have just one chicken.I inherited it from my daughter's boyfriend. :)

I am wondering what I need to do to be sure she stays warm as winter approaches. She has a coop, 3 sides are chicken wire, the top is covered and her nesting and laying boxes are both covered with solid 3 sides, the inside of that area is open to the inside part of the coop. I use straw in both the nesting and laying boxes. There is no floor to the coop is just on the ground.

Should I use something other than straw and should I cover the "open" sides of the coop when it starts to get colder. We usually don't get below 30.

Thank you in advance.

Meredith

Saturday 17th of November 2018

Yes I would definitely cover the open sides, you want a place that's fully enclosed, even if it doesn't get below freezing too oftne. Really the best thing you can do for your chicken is to get her a few friends! Chickens are social animals and really struggle physically and mentally when they don't have a flock. Even two more chickens would help her to stay warm and happy this winter.

Danielle

Tuesday 28th of August 2018

Every time I have a question about my new flock I turn to this site! Questions on food,winter...u name it! Thank you

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.