How to Keep your Chickens Warm in the Winter
As the cold weather sets in, take some time to evaluate your chicken coop setup. Will your chickens be able to deal with freezing temperatures? Do you need a heater for your chicken coop?
How Cold Can Chickens Survive?
Generally speaking, chickens are pretty winter weather resistant. Some breeds, like Plymouth Rocks, are known as especially suited for cold temperatures. Chickens and other poultry have several layers of feathers, including a layer of down feathers as their base layer. These feathers are what keep chickens warm in the winter, and they’re the same kinds of feathers that you’d see in a pillow or jacket. Down feathers trap heat next to the skin - keeping birds warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Genius!
Many people in the northern United States and Canada keep chickens without added heating, so with the proper setup (as described below), chickens can survive at near 0 temperatures. Your birds generate a lot of heat individually, keeping themselves and the other members of the flock warm.
How to Set Up Your Coop for Cold Temperatures
There are a few main things to think about when winter-proofing your coop.
First and foremost, you want to make sure that your coop is completely draft-free. That means making sure there are no cracks in the walls or any gaps that a cold draft could get through. If you fail to do this, the chilly wind will blow into your chicken coop and force up the feathers of your birds, rendering those down feathers pretty much useless.
Secondly, you should add ventilation holes or vents to the coop, placing them so the incoming air will not blow on the chickens. A good spot for vents is usually at the top of the coop, but make sure it doesn’t blow on the chickens while they roost for the night. Ventilation is extremely important; it’s needed to keep the coop dry and free of disease. If no air is allowed to escape, ammonia and carbon dioxide from chicken droppings can build up in the interior, which can lead to disease and poor health. Make sure your coop is dry and well ventilated.
Wood chips and sawdust are good options for winter weather. They retain a lot of heat, and chickens can dig down into them to stay warm/have dust baths. Make sure your wood is poultry-friendly (avoid cedar).
It’s a good idea to make sure your chickens have some light during the daytime. This can come from natural light (via windows in the coop) or through a light that you have on a timer. Roughly 10 hours is a good target amount, but you can adjust as you see fit.
Watering chickens is tricky in the winter. As the temperatures drop, your chickens’ water will turn to ice. It’s not a bad idea to have a heated waterer or heated base in the coop, but you’ll want to make sure that the coop’s floor stays nice and dry. Wet chickens are a no-no, as it can lead to disease and unhappy birds.
In fact, some chicken keepers even place their water outside the coop to avoid these problems.
When You Need a Chicken Coop Heater
If you’ve taken care of the above and you’re still worried about your chickens staying warm enough, you might need to add a heater to your coop.
If temperatures are much below 0º F, you’ll want to consider a heater for your coop. One online thread recommends using a heater when temperatures fall below -20º F.
If you do decide to use a heater, you must be overly cautious. A heater poses the risk of a fire starting in the coop, so you should only use this as a last resort. A good option is our Sweeter Heaters as there is no glass that could break, exposing filaments that could set fire to the coop.
When using a heater, DO NOT close the coop’s vents. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if the coop’s vents are closed and you have heat in the coop, it’s going to make the problem of ammonia and disease much worse.
Some people heat their nest boxes to keep eggs from freezing; if you collect your eggs twice a day, this shouldn’t be an issue, but it’s up to you.
In our experience, chickens tend to get a bit bored in the winter if they can’t go out and scratch for bugs. This is one of the main reasons it’s important to have enough room in your chicken coop. Of course, chickens have a pecking order and will resort to picking on one another if they are too crammed in the coop.
You can liven up things for your flock in the winter by giving them some treats. Another idea is getting some live crickets from a local pet store (reptile owners often use them as food) and setting them in the coop for your birds to enjoy.