If you live in an area with harsh and cold winters, then one of your primary concerns will be looking after your chickens during this season. What options are available to you and your birds as an owner and what kind of temperatures can your birds cope with? Needing such information, I decided to do some research. Below you will find all in which I have managed to find.
So, what do you do with chickens in the winter? In the winter, make sure that your flock have room to roost. Roosting keeps your birds warm, and it keeps their feet up off the cold ground. You don’t need to keep your flock indoors but bear in mind that many chickens do not like to walk in the snow. If where you live has some snowfall, be sure to throw down some hay, so your birds can avoid walking on the snow.
You’ll be pleased to learn that chickens are robust birds that can handle most seasons and weather types. They have evolved to be able to withstand cold climates and they know exactly how to respond when the temperature plummets.
Chickens do not require supplemental heating during the winter, which is good news to any new and novice chicken keeper.
The biggest threat to chickens’ health during this time is dampness. A well-designed chicken coop that is cleaned regularly and dry is what your birds need all year round, whatever the weather.
Let us now take a closer look at some of the most commonly asked questions regarding chickens and the winter, including if you can leave your birds outside, how cold is too cold and some practical things you can do to improve the living and temperature conditions for your flock.
Can Chickens Stay Outside In The Winter?
Yes, chickens can stay outside in the winter. However, different birds will have different preferences and be able to tolerate the weather differently.
Most chickens prefer to be outside, even during the winter. In fact, there are a number of breeds that seem to do best during these times. These are even titled ‘cold-weather chickens’. This is because they possess a number of features and physical attributes that help them to survive as the temperature drops.
Chicken breeds that are best suited to colder climates include: Australorps, Silkies, Plymouth Rocks, Dorkings and Cochins.
On the other hand, there are other breeds of chickens which are not best suited. These types do not wish to be outside in the cold, preferring to remain in the coop.
If you are yet to purchase chickens for your flock then you can take this information into consideration. You can also research into the breeds available and factor this into your decision of which ones to get.
Of course, it depends on where you live, the breeds of chicken available and how harsh the weather is in your area.
Otherwise, if you currently own chickens (perhaps not even knowing their breed), you should allow your flock to decide for themselves. They will soon let you know where they want to be in the winter- be it inside or outside. Do not force them either way.
One way or another, it is crucial for your birds to get exercise. If they choose to exercise outdoors, it will not harm them.
The only time you may want your flock to remain in the coop, is when the weather is very windy, especially bitter or if the snow is too deep for your chickens to walk.
Also, if there is heavy rainfall, it is preferable to keep your birds in.
Other than the above scenarios, it is perfectly okay for your chickens to be outside in the winter.
Just consider that some breeds of chickens are better suited to it than others.
What Temperature Is Too Cold For Chickens?
Chickens are hardy and can handle very cold temperatures that most human beings cannot. They have evolved in such a way to be able to cope.
Their plumage consists of many layers that trap air close to their bodies. Their plumage includes contoured feathers, wispy feathers, and some that are a mixture of both.
The wispy feathers are the closest to their skin and are the under-feathers. These feathers hold the air against the body; the body warms up the trapped air, keeping the chicken warm.
It also helps that chickens have a high metabolic rate – which enables their bodies to produce heat.
Equally, chickens will pack together to keep themselves warm. You’ll notice that chickens huddle together during the winter months and disperse during the hotter and summer months. This is a way they can collectively manipulate the environment to meet their own needs.
So, with this in mind how cold is too cold? Chickens can tolerate temperatures down to the low teens. Chickens generate enough heat to keep themselves and their feathered friends warm.
Did you know that chicken keepers in cold locations like North Canada and Alaska keep chickens during the winter even without supplemental heating? It’s true, and chickens in those regions are perfectly healthy and happy.
The most important aspect of chicken keeping is preventing excess water and dampness to occur in their enclosure/coop. This is something that you actively have to monitor, and of course, is more likely to occur during the winter months.
Another integral aspect, is ensuring your birds have enough, if not more food. In fact, chickens require more calories in the winter months to help keep them warm and they should get more food coming from carbohydrate sources than protein. Increasing their feed 1.5x is a good rule of thumb.
By keeping your birds in good health, they will be able to survive the coldest temperatures with no issues.
How Do I Keep My Chickens Warm In The Winter?
So by now you know that chickens can survive colder climates. But, how can you support them during the winter season and ensure that they are able to stay warm and healthy during these months.
There are thankfully, many things you can and should do. The best ones include:
Chickens do not need a heater, but you must make sure that the coop is well-ventilated to prevent a buildup of condensation and moisture.
Chickens produce a lot of water vapor, both from their breath and even through their droppings. This vapor then causes the air in the coop to become humid.
High humidity (especially in cooler temperatures outside) leaves chickens more prone to developing respiratory disease and even increases their chances of contracting frostbite.
While chickens can stand very cold weather without frostbite if the air is dry; they are unable to if the air is humid.
#2 Deep Litter
Consider using the deep litter method to keep your birds warm.
This involves letting bedding material and faeces build-up during the spring, summer, and fall so when winter comes there is a foot of composting material on the coop’s floor. Beneficial microbes will actually form and kill off any pathogens – so it is actually a hygienic method and one that can help prevent illness in your flock.
This compost heats the coop naturally and if you manage the deep litter sufficiently, your chickens will have a dry, fluffy and absorbent floor.
Here is a quick overview of the method:
Step One: Begin by laying 3-4″ of clean bedding to the coop in the spring/summer. This Hemp bedding from Amazon works particularly well.
Step Two: Once per week, as faeces gathers, throw on another layer of bedding.
Step Three: Add some scratch grains or food scraps daily. This will make your chickens naturally mix the bedding for you. It will also add oxygen which will support the decomposition process.
Step Four: If bedding starts to clump together, use a rake to break them up and spread the moisture.
Step Five: Make sure you keep the coop ventilated, especially during winter. No odor should form or be present. If you notice this, it means you need to add more bedding.
Step Six: Over a 12 month period, the bedding will reach 8-12″ in depth. This will be ideal for when the winter months come around.
Step Seven: During the Fall or in early spring you can clean out the coop. However, retain some of the bedding to keep some of the beneficial microbes in the coop.
#3 Supplemental Light
If you want your birds to lay eggs consistently throughout the year, you may want to consider using supplemental light, especially in the dark days of winter.
Light dictates a chickens daily schedule. Without light they will sleep more – even up to 15-16 hours per night depending on the location of the sun and how it rises/sets.
Winter is considered a time of rest for chickens, not necessarily reproduction. While it is not the cold that reduces laying, the lack of daylight does. Chickens need 14/15 hours of light for higher egg production.
Therefore, if you did want your chickens to continue laying, you will need to add LED light bulbs and timers to the coop.
#4 Additional Feed
Providing 1.5x the amount of feed is a great way to help your birds generate more heat. You can feed your birds their favorite foods and scraps, however, most chicken owners use corn.
This is because of the way corn is digested; and the process generates heat inside a chickens body.
Lowering protein and increasing carbohydrates is another good approach. Oatmeal is particularly effective.
Allow your chickens to get plenty of exercise in the winter months.
Like humans; chickens can get bored quite quickly.
Rolling balls, like this excellent product on Amazon are ideal as you can add food and keep your birds entertained for hours.
#6 Petroleum Jelly
Another practice used by some chicken owners is in applying petroleum jelly on the wattles and combs of their birds.
It is believed that this can protect their birds from frostbite, as it eliminates and reduces chapping.
#7 Snow Protection
As previously mentioned, many chickens do not like to walk on cold snow, especially when temperatures are in the range of 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can scatter straw, hay or other types of bedding on the ground to make it more comfortable for them to walk in the snow.
#8 Installing Roosts
Roosting is essential in keeping your chickens warm, and it keeps them off the ground.
Roosts must be raised around 2 to 3 feet off the ground. Your chickens need enough space to fit comfortably on them.
Hopefully, the above tips will help you keep your chickens happy and healthy during the coldest winter months.
Looking after your flock in the winter is not much different to looking after them any other time of the year.
After reading this guide, you should feel confident enough to raise chickens and keep them healthy and entertained during the coldest winter months.
While you can keep chickens outside, you should have a waterproof coop where your birds can retreat to and huddle together. With the right conditions in place, these hardy birds can withstand temperatures in the teens.
Admittedly, it is a relief to know that these birds can go outside for fresh air and exercise without it affecting their health.
However, this is something your chickens must decide for themselves. Some breeds will prefer and do better than others.
Bear in mind that most chickens do not like walking on the snow, especially when temperatures fall below the 20 degrees range. Scattering straw or hay will allow them to walk on the snow more comfortably.
The chicken’s plumage is amazing, and it is what helps to keep these birds warm on the coldest days.
The under feathers trap air and their bodies heat this trapped air helping them stay warm. It is also helpful that these birds have a fast metabolism; this surely keeps them warm.
Other than this there are things you can do – especially diet wise to meet their needs as the temperature drops.
Chickens do not require supplemental heating in the winter and colder months. Chickens will naturally huddle together closely to retain and generate heat. Equally, these birds have evolved to cope with such conditions; their feathers are there to keep them warm. However, you should provide sufficient bedding during the winter to ensure that your birds can keep warm.
Chickens require a different and more substantial diet during the winter to keep them warm. Less protein and more carbohydrates should be provided. You should look to increase their food supply by 1.5x what they eat during the other seasons. Layer pellets, cracked corn, scratch grains, mealworms, and oatmeal are excellent choices and help your birds generate heat through the digestive process. Grit should also be provided in winter as chickens are unable to access it through the frozen ground.
Chickens can and will lay eggs so long as they are sufficiently warm and getting enough nutrition and sunlight. Colder weather generally slows down the egg-laying process as your birds naturally focus and prioritize their resources on keeping warm as opposed to laying eggs.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.