Winter Chicken Keeping - How Cold is Too Cold for Chickens?

As winter sets in and cold weather is here to stay, it’s common to wonder how cold is too cold for chickens? Let's face it, the weather plays an important part in our lives. There's a reason it's the most-watched part of our nightly news. It affects us and it affects our chickens.

Every year there are stories of folks that bought the wrong breed for their climate and experience losses, have unhealthy chickens, or end up bringing their birds inside where the climate is more moderate.

Don't let this happen to you! There's no magic number when it's too cold outside for chickens, but there are some cautions you should take during cold weather.


Pick Cold-Hardy Breeds

In general, chickens can survive quite well in cold temperatures. We’re usually bundled up to fight off cold during the winter months, but chickens have everything they need for cold weather. First and foremost, chickens that are over a year old molt — shed their old feathers and grow new feathers — on an annual basis in the late summer and fall. Their new feathers are in good shape and ready to protect them during the cold.

If you live in an area with cold winters, it’s a good idea to consider stocking your flock with cold-hardy breeds. These birds are often nicely feathered along with small combs and wattles that reduce the chances of frostbite.

  • Black Australorp
  • Brahma
  • Buckeye
  • Cochin
  • Delaware
  • Dominique
  • Easter Egger
  • Jersey Giant
  • Naked Neck 
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Orpington
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Salmon Faverolles
  • Sex Link
  • Sussex
  • Welsummer
  • Wyandotte

Winter in the Chicken Coop

Rather than asking how cold is too cold for chickens, the better question to ask is whether your chicken coop is properly prepared for winter. While it's always important to make sure your coop is clean and dry, it's key in winter. Moisture build up, from dripping waterers and excrement, can lead to high levels of ammonia that can damage your chicken's lungs. Also, excess moisture leads to frostbite. Proper ventilation does not mean a drafty coop, it means allowing moisture to escape. Your first reaction may be that your coop stays dry and doesn’t have leaks so there’s no moisture that needs to escape. But, the reality is that in winter your chickens are more likely to spend more time in the coop. All that breathing in an enclosed space equals moisture and chicken droppings equal even more moisture. All that moisture can lead to mold and ammonia build up and lead to respiratory illness.

Make sure your coop bedding is absorbent and clean. This is especially important for chickens with feathered legs and feet. They need to have a place to get those feathers dry.

Fresh, unfrozen water is also a winter must-have. There are lots of ways to keep your water flowing including refilling throughout the day to using a heated water bowl. If the temperature will be below freezing, I like bring my waters inside so I don't have to thaw them in the morning.


Winter Chicken Well Being

It's important to check your birds often during cold weather to look for signs of distress. Don’t forget that in below-freezing temperatures and wind chills, chicken frostbite can happen and it often happens quickly. Ten minutes can be all it takes even in a cold-hardy chicken breed. A clean, dry coop and places to roost and get off the ground when your birds are outdoors is the first line of defense against frostbite.

On most winter days go ahead and open your coop door and let your chickens roam. Some will. Some won’t. But all should be given the choice. If it’s snowy, clearing some walking paths and areas to peck and scratch can give your birds better access the outdoors.

Make sure to protect vulnerable combs and wattles with a thin layer of Vaseline. And provide your birds with boredom busters, so their choice is staying in the coop, it’s still stimulating and doesn’t lead to destructive behaviors like pecking and bullying.

Should I Heat My Chicken Coop?

Heating a coop is a step that's often pondered when people wonder how cold is too cold for chickens. This is a personal decision for each chicken keeper. In general, if chickens are a cold hardy breed and their coop is properly prepared, most will not need heat in winter. They will become acclimated to the cold just like humans do. Have you ever noticed that a 60-degree day at the end of winter feels like summer, but a 60-degree day at the end of summer feels like winter? Our bodies become accustomed to the temperature of the season and so do our birds.

On a cold night as your chickens huddle together, their body heat can bring the temperature of the coop up. Many chicken keepers report freezing temperatures outside while the inside of a chicken coop is above freezing. Heating the coop can be a fire hazard and can stop your chickens from acclimating to the season. But use common sense, if your temperatures are extremely low for long periods of time, your birds may be able to use some extra warmth to survive, just make sure the warmth is delivered safely.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...