If you own a number of chickens in your coup then some of your primary concerns will be their health, welfare and general living conditions. Can they endure the drop in temperature when the weather turns? If so, what kind of temperature can they handle and be okay in? Needing to know these answers for my own coup, I decided to conduct some research into the topic. Here is what I have been able to find.
So, can chickens freeze to death? Chickens can freeze to death if they are not properly cared for. While chickens can adapt to lower temperatures, and while they are naturally robust and resilient against the elements with their feathers, there comes a point where they will not be able to overcome the cold weather. You may need to take proactive measures, like installing heated pads, if temperatures plummet.
Let us now explore the topic in greater detail so that you can understand how chickens respond to the cold and the measures you can take to keep them alive and healthy during periods of colder weather.
What Temperature Is Too Cold For Chickens?
You may not think to look at them, but chickens are very robust creatures. They are able to regulate their own temperature as they have specific coats of feathers for both summer and winter. These feathers keep their bodies at optimal temperatures throughout the year.
When it’s hot they shed most of their feathers down to keep cool in warmer temperatures. In cold weather they grow more feathers to stay warm.
The resting temperature of a hen is between 105-109F (40-43C). This is what they will naturally try to regulate at. The hearts of chickens can beat all the way up to around 400 beats per minute. This is a sign of a high metabolism (where metabolism is the ability to generate heat) which of course enables them to produce/retain heat especially during the colder months.
Chickens are also known to flock together, helping to keep each other warm and create a communal heat that spread throughout the coup.
This being said, during the winter, you must make sure that the coop is set up in the optimal way. It should be protected from strong winds (and drafts), you need to dispose of all wet and soiled bedding and you need replace it with clean dry bedding. Air and moisture can cause bacteria to proliferate which are a threat to the health of your chickens.
If you are keeping chickens in your backyard, you must make sure that they are well taken care of and have the essentials in the winter. This makes all the difference to their well-being, which shows in the quality of their eggs.
There is some debate as to whether chicken coops need supplemental heat, but generally, it is perfectly fine to enable your hens to get acclimatized to colder temperatures (within reason). This adaption is good for them.
If you have ever owned a down quilt, you will know how fast it heats up. This is what hens have permanently wrapped around their bodies. These lovely soft feathers puff up and keep them warm in the cold.
Your hens best defense against freezing temperatures is their down coat. As their owner, you can help them along by preparing and maintaining the coop, disposing of wet straw, replenishing it with fresh dry straw and providing the essentials regularly – food, water, and exercise.
As mentioned previously, hens should get used to the cold temperatures naturally, if you install heaters early on in the winter, they won’t develop an immunity to the cold and will become very dependent on supplemental heaters. This is not the best thing for their health. So if you do want to use heaters, only use them during the coldest of months and give your chickens time to naturally experience some cold at the start of the winter months.
When temperatures then do fall below the teens, then it can be considered too cold for chickens and frostbite can set in, which is something you do want to avoid.
Will Chickens Die If They Get Too Cold?
Chickens do a good job at naturally regulating their temperature to the cold and keeping warm. But what happens if these systems are overrun and they get too cold? Can it cause death?
If the conditions are damp and drafty in the coop, moisture and cold air can bring disease and death within days. For this reason, you must make sure that the coop is waterproof and clean throughout.
You must prepare your chickens for the winter ahead. You can do this by checking areas like lighting airflow, feedings, and water, the best time to prepare for winter is in the summer or late fall.
Medium to large chickens tend to withstand the freezing temperatures better than smaller birds, so you must factor in the size of your hens when preparing for winter.
As much as you want to avoid any drafts and winds from flowing into the coop, you must ensure that there is sufficient ventilation in the coop even during the winter. This is equally important for your chickens’ health.
If your coop is particularly drafty, you can use products like Tyvek to wrap around the cage and create a barrier to the elements. Tyvek is my personal favorite and you can get it for a great price on Amazon.
Tyvek is great because it can help keep wind and rain out of the coop, but due to the material it also naturally ventilates. This enables your chickens to retain all heat generated and keeps them comfortable. It also prevents the coop from becoming air tight where your chickens can suffocate.
If you decide to opt for vents for your coop, which are advised, make sure that they are positioned above your chickens’ heads. This will enable plenty of clean air to enter the coop whilst enabling moisture to escape. This moisture can cause illness through spores if not effectively removed and vents help to achieve this.
Signs Your Chickens Are Too Cold
If your chicken(s) experience get cold and struggle to regain their heat, there will be clear and visible signs and symptoms that you can look out for.
Here are the main ones:
- Chicken looks generally distressed and cold
- Lack of movement
- Huddled over keeping themselves contained
- Excessively fluffed feathers
- Standing on one leg, tucking the other in under their feathers
If you suspect that your chicken is cold you need to proactively improve the conditions for them. As chickens naturally self-regulate their temperate, if they get to this point, they will not be able to reverse the situation on their own.
If you suspect that they have contracted an illness due to the cold weather, you will need to take them to a vet immediately. Do not wait or ponder the decision, as this time is important and it can be fatal.
Heavy snow, wind, and below freezing temperatures will require a few modifications in order to keep the flock healthy and happy.
Do Chicken Coops Need To Be Heated?
Heavy snow, wind, rain and freezing temperatures will require a few changes in order to keep your chickens healthy and happy. This is particularly true if you live in an area with extreme temperature swings, very cold winters and generally harsh conditions during the darker and colder months.
When temperatures drop to below the teens, it is a good idea to invest in a heater for the coop.
While this of course a personal decision, by knowing the negative effects cold weather can have on chickens, it serves as a great cost-effective precautionary measure. It also reduces your worry and means you can be confident that your chickens will not only survive the winter, but will live happily throughout it too.
You do need to be careful what kind of heater you purchase. You want to consider that chicken coops are made of mostly wood and will be full of dry straw. These are materials that can be set on fire quite easily. Be aware that coop temperatures only need to be a little above freezing for conditions to be habitable for your chickens.
It is nice to spoil your hens, after all, they provide us with lots of fresh eggs and for the keepers’ peace of mind, you do want to make sure that your chickens are warm and comfortable. It’s a good idea to invest in a thermo chicken heating pad, like this affordable and well-reviewed one from Amazon
- Perfect for peeps and chickens, our Thermo-Chicken Heated Pad is specially designed to keep chickens warm when sitting or laying on the pad.
- Chicken heated pad is for indoor or outdoor use. It can also be mounted vertically or horizontally in your chicken coop, but will not provide radiant heat to warm the whole coop.
- Peck resistant features like rigid ABS plastic construction, steel wrapped cord and rounded edges make it perfect for large flocks and also baby chicks.
- Low wattage, using only 40 watts.
- This chicken heating pad has been tested & certified by MET Labs to exceed USA/CA electrical safety standards.
The beauty of using a thermo heating pad for the coop is that it is perfectly safe to have around your chickens. It will keep your chickens warm in sub-zero temperatures and you can easily control its heat output.
You will also notice that the pad itself is not warm to the touch, so even if your chickens come into contact with it they will not burn or hurt themselves. This heater was designed so that the heat naturally dissipates into the air. The pad does not overheat, it just provides gentle warmth, which is all your chickens need.
If you wanted to boost their feeds, you can offer vitamin supplements during late fall, this will give them the extra nutrients they require during molting and it will provide them with the strength they need to handle the cold temperatures.
- Vitamins containing a source of live (viable) naturally occurring micro-organisms
- Convenient, 8oz, container with screw-on lid
- Contains vitamins and electrolytes
- For poultry
Provide sufficient non-frozen water in the winter, check their bowls for ice and make sure that their bowls are clean.
If you have done everything to ensure that your chickens are prepared for the winter such as provided feeds, water, clean fresh bedding, ventilation and took care of drafts, the only thing you can do after this is to monitor their behavior.
Healthy chickens will run around and be quite active – this is normal. They will huddle together or fluff out their feathers for extra warmth. They are hardy creatures and ideal to keep because of their tough constitution.
Chickens make ideal pets, because of their intelligence, independence, and strong nature. They are robust and strong, willing and able to face the elements and the cold weather the winter brings.
That being said, they are reliant on you as their owner after all. Your chickens will flourish if cared for and you keep optimize their environment and keep it clean. The reward is delicious fresh eggs on a regular basis.
If you chose to live off the grid, your chickens will adapt to your way of life quite easily, and it won’t cost you too much to care for them.
If you are on a budget, you can easily make your own chicken feed, and they will happily eat the scraps you give them as treats.
While chickens generally do well in colder conditions, and can acclimatize well through the transition of their feathers, they struggle anywhere below the teens.
Remember, this is not just about survival but about their general well being and happiness too.
Products like Tyvek and Heating Pads are an excellent and affordable option. For the former you will need to manually insulate the cage. The later only requires you to plug it in and turn it on They give you the peace of mind to know your chickens are safe in cold weather at all times.