A How-to ArticlePart 1: building a coop
Part 2: cold weather care
Part 3: poultry and breed selection
Link to my three coop pages:
My pond coop. The side walls of the coop are 8 feet tall, plus the eaves and the roof.
Part 1: building a coop
The building basics:
If you haven’t yet built your coop, then there are a few design things to think about.
First, the roof line:
Will all of the icy rain be splashing you in the face when you are gathering eggs from the nice exterior access nest boxes?
Is the roof overhang deep enough to keep rain or snow from blowing in the windows? A deep overhang helps keep rain away from the building and flooding it, or rotting the foundation. It also makes it possible to keep windows and vents open while the coop stays dry even in stormy weather. If you decide on exterior nest boxes it can also keep snow and rain off of them, out of them, and off of you when you gather eggs.
Will the roof be strong enough to hold your snow load? If the roof isn't strong enough to hold much snow, you need to make sure that you take the time to shovel the snow off of the roof before the roof collapses. Remember that snowfall can't be scheduled to only fall when you have free time to shovel.
Another roof choice is to make it steep enough so that snow will never stay on it. If you read my page about my homemade muscovy coop, that is what I did with that coop. I used rotted wood, so made a very steep roof. The roof is metal and very steep, as a result no snow can sit on the roof and therefore there is no risk of the roof collapsing or me having to shovel the roof in the middle of the night.
If you have to shovel the snow off, or if the snow slides off... you will have a snow berm.
Will there be a giant snow berm in front of the coop door that you must shovel in order to reach the chickens?
Trust me, don’t forget the snow berms, all of the snow that slides off the roof is going to have to go somewhere. Are you going to have to crawl up and down the berm to enter the coop or the run? Also, exactly where the berm ends up might block doors, block windows, or block vents. The life of the snow berm will be determined by where it is located. If the berm is on the sheltered northern side of the building it might last a full month or more longer than an identically sized berm on the southern side of the building. In addition, when that snow eventually melts, (you know, like in May and June), all of that water will want to run somewhere. Things flood much more easily when the ground is still too frozen to allow the water to seep in. Think that through.
The second version of my chicken coop. Notice that the run gate can no longer be opened. This coop has side walls a full 8 feet tall, and is two full steps above ground level.
Second, your doors and gate:
I see people’s coops, in cold climates, with their doors right at ground level, and they tell me that they don’t mind shoveling the snow away from that door. That boggles my mind. Personally, I think that upteen hours a day of snow shoveling is sufficient. I do not want to do ANYTHING that will increase the amount of snow that I am shoveling. I can hear you saying how I have 5 boys, 5 boys who could be shoveling. Why of course the boys shovel! I don’t shovel, I have boys to shovel. However, even when I combine the angry voice on one hand, and giant bribes on the other hand, there is still only so much shoveling that I can talk them into doing.
Take home message? How about we just set up the coop and run so that no shoveling is required!?!
For the gates into the run, Dutch doors! This is a bit tricky, because you want to make the lower part the correct height. The correct height is how deep the snow pack will be in a slightly higher than normal snow fall year. However, you don’t want the bottom part to be so tall, that you can’t step over it. With a little snow and ice, that bottom part will be immovable, and still a bit of a step. If you end up with a deep snow pack on an average winter, you might want the lower part to be rather large, this might be a problem. (Remember, snow pack is not your snow fall, snow pack is your snow fall that has been mashed down and compressed by walking on it. There is usually a significant difference between the two.) If you are worried about having too tall of a bottom door to step over, them make your Dutch door in three or even four panels. Anything to reduce shoveling! You could also put a log or step on both sides of the bottom Dutch door panel.
The door into the run of my bantam coop. Notice that the 2x4s on the bottom are wedged between T-posts, so that they can be slid out if I want to roll a wheelbarrow into the run. Only the top part opens on hinges.
The coop door can also be set up like a Dutch door, but then crawling into your coop all winter long through only the top section might be a bit trying on the nerves. (My run doors tend to be taller than my coop doors, not as much stooping is required) You can solve that in three different ways. First, elevate the coop. Those stairs might start to disappear mid-winter, but at least you can still open the door without using a shovel. Second, make the door open inward. If this inward facing door is directly at ground level, you might still end up shoveling, since there will be an avalanche of snow when you open the door, that rushes into the coop, which you will have to shovel out before you can close the coop door. The third option is to place the door so that the roof protects it enough from the snow, that even if a giant snow berm forms, you can just climb over it, slide down it, and then enter the coop without shoveling.
When considering whether you want a door that swings inward or outward, the downside to an inward swinging door is that it is less predator proof. A large dog jumping up against the door, might be able to pop it open. Also, if you choose an inward swinging door, make sure it is at a minimum 6 inches above the floor to give room for bedding. (A foot above the floor is probably best)
There are pros and cons to insulation.
For most of us, you probably ended up with a coop that has wind oozing through every single joint. In that case, putting in insulation, and then a second layer of plywood, or other solid surface, will be fantastic, since you will have achieved a draft free coop (which is what we wanted).
If you are a magnificently skilled carpenter, then perhaps your coop is built in such a way, that it is actually wind tight. No drafts, no whistling wind shooting in at the corners. If your coop is built this well, then you have one fantastic coop! In your case, you might still want to put in insulation; simply because it will help keep the heat that your chickens produce, inside the coop, where you want it. It will keep your birds more comfortable, warmer in winter and cooler in summer. It will reduce condensation issues with metal roofs or walls. It will also make it more likely that eggs laid in the winter will not freeze and crack.
If you have a great deal of wind, insulation is even more important, since it will keep the unrelenting wind from pulling away the heat.
OK, now you are thinking, why ever would I NOT want to insulate?
Well, it costs money. The insulation costs money, and the second layer of something to keep the chickens from eating the insulation costs money. That second layer of something can be junk you found lying about.
Junk you can use to cover the insulation:
- Feed sacks, but they only last one to two years
- Road cloth, Typar, looks to last about two years
- Roofing paper, I was worried about the possible toxic stuff on the paper, so painted it after I installed it, I haven’t seen any wear on it, but I tried not to put it in “high traffic” spots.
Junk you can use for insulation:
- Almost anything; hay, crumpled up newspaper, worn out clothes, or layers of junk mail, all of those things and many more can be used as insulation. None of those are anywhere near as good as the stuff you can buy in the stores, but anything would increase the insulation value over nothing (unless it gets wet).
The other giant potential negative about insulation is rodents. Yep, rodents. Rodents will love walls filled with insulation, whether you paid good money for that insulation or used something free. They will turn those walls into seething condos filled with families of rodents that love running out and eating all of your poultry feed.
My first coop I spent quality money on. As part of the money that I spent, we took good quality, brand new hardware cloth and layered the entire bottom of the coop, and about 2 feet up the walls. That hardware cloth has worked. The door is actually tight enough that rodents can’t crawl in there (I can’t say that about my house door). It has worked beautifully, and I highly recommend it. However, it does cost money.
Hardware cloth was put between the framing and the exterior plywood sheets.
None of my other coops were lined with hardware cloth, so none of the other coops are insulated. I have considered, and wanted, to insulate the roof of my chicken shed. However, that costs money, so I haven’t.
Of course, maybe you have carpentry skills, and can make nice tight corners with your plywood, making sure that there are no entrances for rodents. In that case, you probably don’t need any hardware cloth. You might also simply put up small bits of hardware cloth over any areas that you think rodents might find access, that way you wouldn’t have to use as much hardware cloth. Do remember though that rodents can chew holes in wood.
Now the question is, how important is it to insulate, do I have to do it?
Well, I currently have 5 coops that I use for winter. Of the five, only one is insulated. All of the coops are drafty except for the one that is insulated. I also have a great deal of wind.
Remember that poultry come with their own little down coats, and are actually very hardy. How hardy they are, and how comfortable they are at low temperatures, does depend greatly on what kind of poultry we are talking about. Geese are extremely hardy even at very low temperatures. How hardy ducks are depends on which kinds. Fatter, rounder breeds are almost as good as geese, but skinny ducks like runner ducks are not as hardy. Muscovy are not quite as hardy as chickens, but do well. My quail need to be protected from all drafts, and live in a truly draft free cage. My chickens don’t look fazed by the cold until it is in single digits. They are clearly cold at -10F and lower, but still do well with good management. However, different breeds are better at handling the cold than others.
Insulation will keep your temperatures more moderate as well as more stable. This will make it easier for you to introduce young stock to the coops during cold weather. While adult birds handle cold weather well, young stock are more delicate. My insulated coop, even with good ventilation, is always clearly warmer than my other coops.
If you tend to stay in the -20F range and far below, for prolonged periods (instead of just a short dip), you and your chickens (and the less cold hardy poultry) will be much happier with some insulation.
The last consideration in regard to whether you want insulation is how highly you value egg production. Light is the biggest factor with regard to egg production during the winter months (or whenever your daylight hours are shortest). However, there are other factors that affect egg production. Some examples are access to food and water, stress due to predation, molting, and the cold. This article from Poultry Science says that “egg production is depressed by low winter temperatures. The drop is more pronounced when the onset of cold weather is sudden or when its duration is prolonged”. You can read the abstract for free, but the article will cost you money.
And, talking of eggs... First, eggs are less likely to freeze if the coop is insulated. Second, exterior nest boxes are extremely difficult to insulate well and keep warm. As a result they are more likely to result in frozen eggs.
I know that it sounds stupid, that you would want to have no drafts, and add expensive insulation, and then add great big open vents. But, it isn’t stupid, it is very smart, and will keep your chickens healthy, with LESS illnesses!
Chickens breathe. Every exhale is full of moisture and CO2. Chickens poop. Every poop is full of moisture and ammonia. All of that moisture has to get out of the coop. All of the stale air needs to be replaced with fresh clean air. You need ventilation.
A scientific article about ammonia levels is http://ps.oxfordjournals.org/content/48/1/347.abstract and the quote:
Ammonia is a colorless, highly irritant gas. It is one of the products resulting from bacterial action on nitrogenous substances. It takes place in animal manure and results in a loss of its nitrogen content while producing a gas toxic to animal and humans.
Confinement rearing, reuse of litter and cold weather rearing have led to conditions favoring continued release of ammonia from the manure and litter into the air of the animal environment.
I can hear the people worried about the heat escaping.
Think about it this way, if you are walking outside in the freezing cold, with regular clothes, and a hat, you feel much warmer and better than if you are walking outside with regular clothes and NO hat. That hat holds in a large amount of heat, even though all the rest of your body is being exposed to the open air, and lots of ventilation.
Trust me, lots of fresh air will help your poultry stay healthy.
The side of my chicken shed. Notice the 6.5 inch tall gap all along the top of the exterior wall. The solid wall at the front of the photo is my greenhouse.
OK, well now you are going to say that you will toss them under a tree and be done with it, since that would be cheaper. Uh, no. We want them under a roof to protect them from rain and snow falling directly on them, and we want them to be able to roost in a draft free place.
Now comes the question of what is a draft verses ventilation.
Sit in your coop, and imagine a line going from every opening to every other opening. If your coop isn’t insulated, and isn’t well built, you might be imagining a string going from every board edge to every other board edge, as well as every corner and every join. That can end up being a very large number of strings, a veritable tangled mass. None of those strings should cross over where the birds are sleeping.
How do I, with my poor construction skills, manage a draft free area where the birds perch? I have one set of ducks that get to sleep in a plastic dog kennel, and a second set that sleep in a hay filled wooden box (that someone else built, so is draft free). For one chicken perch I put a large dry erase board on the back wall, for another perch I have a plastic sheet behind it, for a third perch I have it up against the plywood roof, and have two store bought 1x4s on the back wall below the roof. All of the chicken perches have solid poop trays below them. The solid back wall, with the solid poop tray, are very good at keeping the perch area draft free.
The perch in my bantam coop. I screwed a large dry erase board onto the back wall. That dry erase board is solid and blocks drafts. The poop tray blocks drafts from below. The main perch is a 2×4, and the perch I screwed onto the front edge of the poop tray is a 1×4. The birds perch on the wide sides. That window is not open in winter, and is a functional double pane (not fogged).
My quail get a very nice area that is double walled and insulated on two sides, the top and bottom are very solid. The top is actually a poop tray, and so acts as some insulation. There is only a little leaking of air on one short side, and the large front wall is open for 2/3 of its length for the ventilation.
It is best, if at all possible, to keep the water outside. (Unless the temps are staying at -10F and below, then you will probably want to have food and water inside. Super windy, and you might want to bring the water into the coop at even warmer temperatures. Keep an eye on your chickens, they will tell you when they find it too cold to go out. A well sheltered run will make it easier to keep the water outside.)
Reasons to keep the water outside of the coop:
- It will keep the bedding drier. Moisture in the bedding will either help the bedding get moldy (which is clearly very bad), or turn the coop floor into an ice block (which is annoying, cold, and slippery).
- Water inside the coop, especially heated water, will increase the humidity in the coop, and higher humidity greatly increases the risk of frostbite.
- The chickens are forced to go outside to drink. This forces them to move more, and have at least some outside time, which will help them stay healthy, and happy.
- Any electric used to keep the water thawed will now be far away from the coop and coop bedding and so greatly reduce fire risk.
The water doesn’t have to be in a sheltered location. However, having the water up against a wind block is nice. Blocking the wind means that the water will not freeze as quickly, and the poultry will be more comfortable when they go out to drink. A wind block can be almost anything, a sheet of plywood, a sheet of plastic, or an old fogged window.
Notice the black water pan up on the shipping pallet and against the bit of ripple plastic that is attached to the fence. The birds in the front are my Muscovy.
I have tried, and broken many different waterers and heated waterers. The only waterer that stands up to my abuse, as well as the abuse of my boys, is a black rubber water pan. You can kick it free of the ground, then jump up and down on the upside down pan until the ice cube pops out. After it is empty, put it right side up and fill it up again. YEAH! They come in many different sizes. I also use the 3 gallon size, which is nice for my large flock of standard hens.
The stock tank de-icer that I use, (Farm Innovators Aluminum Utility DeIcer) and that has NOT broken when I have run it dry is this one. There are some stock tank de-icers that 1. will break if run dry, and that 2. will melt rubber or plastic if set directly on the rubber. This one is safe in both cases. It only runs when it needs to (so you don’t need a separate temperature cube), and when my power goes out, so that it ends up freezing in the middle of a solid block of ice, it CAN thaw itself out. It truly is only a deicer, so it keeps the water from freezing, but doesn’t use up your electricity by making the water warm. If you don’t want to use any water de-icer, I would suggest simply carrying out water two to three times a day.
Sixth, perches and sleeping:
If you have non perching birds, the trick is to make sure that they can sleep in a clean warm spot. So, for quail, ducks, geese, etc., you need a nice wind sheltered location with bedding. Don’t let the bedding get too dirty, since a frozen poop slick isn’t going to offer much warmth. Deep bedding is also helpful, since they can almost bury themselves in the bedding. The bedding, if it goes up the sides of the sleeping area, will also block any drafts.
A nice thick bed of wood chips. Some are piled on the outside of the angled plywood to increase insulation since she is brooding eggs during a very cold fall.
For those poultry that perch, the width of the perch is very important. Bent toes might restrict blood flow, and restricted blood flow will increase the risk of frostbite. It is the combination of flat feet, and full coverage of the feet by the fluffy warm belly feathers, that keeps the feet healthy.
A good wide perch is a perch that allows the bird to have their feet flat, or at least pretty close to flat. I find that 3.5 inches or wider works well for most standard sized chickens. I have used 4x4s, the wide side of a 2×4, and the wide side of a 1×4. 1x4s can be used if you take two 1x4s and put them together in a ‘T’ shape. When put together in the ‘T’ shape then it will not bend or warp. I do find that a 2×4 will sag over time if used in an 8 foot length.
If you have heavy breeds, or very clumsy breeds, you will want to carefully consider how high your perches are, and if the poultry will be tempted to jump down from a great height and land with a thump. The bedding is often harder in the winter because if there is even the slightest moisture in the bedding, it will freeze solid. This means that the landing area will be harder than in the summer. If toes are bruised or broken in the winter time, this will affect the circulation in the feet, and again increase the risk of frostbite.
Conclusion of part 1:
Have fun with your coop! Even if things don’t end up the way you wanted, or you already built a coop and are now looking at its flaws, don’t despair. Many problems are wonderful opportunities to be creative and make something even better, and maybe even bigger. We all love chicken math!
If you want to see coop examples, links to my coops are here:
Part 2: cold weather care
I don’t heat.
Heat, in fact any electric, greatly increases the risk of fire in your coop. A coop is a prime tinder box. It is full of dust as well as dry bedding, so it needs very little to start the entire thing blazing.
I do use heat lamps and brooder heat plates with baby poultry that have no mother to provide heat. So, there are sometimes that I use heat, but I do not use heat in the winter.
If you are worried about your poultry being cold, I would recommend adding insulation and wind blocks. Make sure you don’t block the ventilation.
I think that my poultry are much hardier without any heat, I also have frequent power outages so getting my poultry used to heat would be unwise.
HOWEVER, I live in a warm area of Alaska where it never gets below -20F.
If you routinely sit way below -20F (verses brief dips to the -20 range), then heat is a good idea. But please be very careful with how you provide heat.
As to how to do it.....
Depends on how much money you want to spend.
Achem, seriously though, your choices are to heat the entire coop, or to provide spot heating. You may however NOT close those vents. Sorry.
Entire coop warmth:
Some people attach the coop to the wall of the house, or the well house (if you have one, and if it is heated), or to the garage, or to a barn full of larger heat producing animals. Any shared wall will increase the coop warmth without costing you money. So I suppose technically this would count as "not heating the coop." However, the coop will be much warmer when sharing a wall with your house, or a barn full of cows, than if the coop is standing by itself.
If you are worried about smell, either clean the coop more often, or make the coop next to the house a winter only coop.
I have heard of people running a duct with a bathroom fan to move warm garage air to the coop if the 2 buildings don't connect but aren't too far apart. (But obviously then you can no longer run the car in the garage due to car exhaust fumes).
You can also use a flat panel heater or other space heater to provide actual coop warmth. All of those though need lots of safety checks and regular cleaning of poultry dust. People keep saying how safe the flat panel heaters are... but those need to be checked too. One person found the panel heater was scorching the wall it was hung on.. they are not supposed to do that.
Never use heat bulbs in the coop. One gust of cold air on the bulb and the hot bulb will break.
If you don't want the coop sharing a wall and don't want to heat the entire coop.......
You can put a heat tape on the perch, thin carpet or other easy to remove flooring over the tape, and tada, nice warm toes. Perches need to be the wide side of a 2x4, so about 3 and a half inches of flat. Those toes must stay flat and covered.
Some find the perch thing too much of a bother... and just go to a sleeping box. Think giant nestbox that they can all sit and snuggle together in. This also can have a heat tape floor, or you can use those heat mats for warming seedlings or warming dog houses. Put a linoleum tile or other easy clean surface on top, and then clean wood chips/ saw dust to snuggle in.
Some use an engine block heater.. and put it between 2 cinderblock tiles as a warming station.. and also as a way to keep water thawed.
All of that "chicken in floor heating " can also be used in the nest boxes to keep eggs from cracking.
Random heating advice:
Be careful what you listen to. It is easy to have chickens not just get frostbite, but have the entire leg pop open from the entire leg freezing. It can be BAD.
I am a livestock type of chicken owner, I don't coddle them, I don't think they are people too. But I want them well cared for, I don't want them to ever be in pain, and I don't want them dying unless I decide I want to eat them.
Some areas are just too cold to keep chickens without heat, if anyone tells you differently, I bet their chickens are missing legs.
You must make sure that they do not ever step in the water. Ever. (When you get much below zero) Use whatever waterer you and they like.. but no wet chickens. Chickens can manage water being brought out 3 times a day, if you are having trouble keeping it thawed. Just bring the water out in the morning, after work, and just before the chickens are ready to go to bed.
Up the feed to at least 18% protein. I prefer the 20%. Also give them fat when the temperatures dip. Corn and scratch and barley are just filler... those can be great boredom busters during the long winter... but look at scratch as only a boredom buster.
Freezing chickens need fat. Give them your leftover bacon fat and olive oil and whatnot. Mix the fat with the feed and or a little scratch and take it out to them. Freezer burnt salmon is also great. If you let the mixture harden up a little you have just made a suet feeder that will take them a bit to eat so also serve as a great boredom buster.
Chickens will not eat if it is dark. As a result they will starve to death with feed in front of them, if they don't have enough hours of light.
I like 10 hours of light. That is long enough for pleanty of time to eat, but short enough so that the light is not forcing them to lay when it is horrid cold.
Realize that the colder they are the more they must eat. They will eat a crazy amount more of feed as the temps drop. They must have feed out as long as they have light... never let them run out. And it will surprise you how much more they eat. So actually... the money you spend on heating the coop or the floor etc. will reduce the feed bill.
Fifth, Pop Door:
As to the pop door... close it every night. Open it every morning... until you get close to -30F or it is super windy (super windy even at 10 above can be miserable), then don't let them out. If you have a roofed run with a windbreak would make me more likely to leave the pop door open more often verses a fully open to everything run. Roofed sheltered runs really are fantastic.
Sixth, Power outages:
Power outages are only really a problem if you are using electric to heat the coop or keep water thawed. It is easy to work around frozen water, but for chickens used to heat, you need to plan ahead.
Some areas are more problematic than others, and tend to have more power outages than others. Plan accordingly.
It also depends on what you have available at your place, as to what the solutions should be.
You don't want to bring chickens used to -20F into your home.... but maybe you have a barely heated well house or outbuilding? For emergency chicken quarters? All you would need would be 1 big dog crate and a feeder and waterer to attach to the crate. (Depending of course on the number of poultry you have)
I can't imagine a hot water bottle lasting more than a few minutes.. but maybe you could set up the coop to run off of batteries in an emergency... but of course the batteries need to sit someplace warm. Maybe you have a spare generator that could be for the coop?
Think it through... and plan now, so whatever you need you have on hand when you need it.
I greatly prefer wood chips/saw dust for bedding. The animals can burrow into it, and it almost self cleans. I find it much easier to clean and keep clean. Also, where I live wood chips/sawdust are free at local sawmills/woodworkers if you bag it and only a nominal fee if they bag it. In my area the only trees used are spruce and birch, both are poultry safe woods.
PDZ can be great in poop trays, but I find that with my many chickens, too much moisture is pooped into the PDZ which then turns into concrete when it freezes. With fewer chickens or daily cleaning it might work well.
Under 10F all poo tries it's best to be concrete. Keep that in mind!
Use whatever you like to use and is easy to get in your area. However, keep in mind the fact that poo will freeze into a concrete like substance. It is difficult to remove a huge sheet of concrete.
Poultry will go stir crazy in the winter, especially chickens.
Keeping them occupied is important so that they do not discover the joys of egg eating, feather eating, and cannibalism.
There are many articles on boredom relief ideas, so I will not include much here. However, extra treats during the day, a flake of hay, a pile of dried leaves now and again, are all good choices.
The risk of boredom and the resulting bad behaviors is the reason why I am such a proponent of huge chicken coops in cold climates. My chickens get access to my greenhouse in the wintertime which is a great increase in wind free space. I highly recommend having a greenhouse that can connect to the coop.
Ninth, Comb and Wattle Care:
If you are keeping chickens in temperatures close to or under freezing, ignore those people that tell you to rub stuff on the combs. I think that must be helpful for those folks where winters are barely freezing.
It doesn't help where it is frigid cold.
If you have single comb birds, and you live in a very cold area, or have high humidity with moderately cold temperatures, your birds will probably loose some combs. Don't panic, and don't stress about it. Do try to make sure their wattles are not getting wet when they drink, because frozen wattles can be more bothersome than frozen combs. ( they tend to swell more)
If their combs stand straight up, they will probably loose all of the comb tips. Just keep an eye on it. Do NOT doctor it (no rubbing, no ointments). It will work itself out. Do keep a close eye on it though, especially when the dead part finally falls off, since at times that can cause a drop or two of blood. Chickens can turn cannibal quick. It will probably be fine, but watch. If the comb is big enough to flop over the comb actually stays warmer and is less likely to freeze.
Take home message.... don't stress about a bit of comb loss, or even wattle loss, just keep an eye on them. But do everything that you can to keep the bird healthy and those legs and feet healthy!
He is a d'uccle. Note that he has lost the points that he used to have on his small single comb. D'uccle also have heavily feathered feet. I no longer have d'uccles for those reasons.
Part 3: poultry and breed selection
I will only cover poultry types that I have personally overwintered.
TINY COMBS AND WATTLES! It makes a huge difference. There are some temperatures, some climates, where no matter how good your care, those big combs and wattles will freeze!
The best combs for cold climates are pea and walnut. Rose combs can be excellent if they are nice, smooth, and tidy. However, some rose combs are covered in tall bumps and have a long spike at the end which are prone to frostbite. Also note that some small combed breeds still have huge wattles. Smaller wattles are better.
Huge single combs actually did better at my place than smaller single combs, because the comb was folded over on the head and so stayed warmer. However, at colder temperatures (under -10F) they developed cold sores on the fold. The sores resolved on their own, but they surely were not pleasant.
CLEAN FEET. If you live in a dry climate, or your entire run is roofed, then this will not be a concern. However, if you tend to have freezing mud and clumping snow then feathers on the feet can be highly problematic.
Mud or humid snow will easily clump onto the feathered feet and then the toes will develop frostbite. If you live in a damp climate chose breeds with clean feet.
ODD FEATHERS. I would think that logically feathers that are non-standard simply cannot do the same job of insulating that standard feathers can. However, I know several people who own larger sized Silkies and Showgirls and have found them to be perfectly hardy. I have also heard excellent reports on the hardiness of Turkens and Naked Necks. I haven't had any of those. So,
Chicken Breeds in General:
Some of the tiny breeds do NOT do as well in the cold. Seramas, Nankins, and similar small bodied breeds with little down should not be kept in temperatures below 10F without great care and at least a little heat.
There are robust bantams out there that are covered in down and are capable of fluffing up quite nicely in the cold. Bantam Ameraucana, Bantam Wyandotte, and D'anvers do almost as well as the big girls. (Smaller bodies produce less heat, so they are not as robust as larger chickens) The bantams mentioned are good until -10F, at which point I would watch them closely.
Blue bantam Wyndotte standing on one leg on ice. She wanted to stand in the spot of sun. She does have 2 good legs. Note how nice and round and fluffy she is with a nice tight rose comb and small rounded wattles.
Most standard sized breeds do fine in the cold, down to -20F without heat. Thinner breeds like Leghorns are at a slight disadvantage, but do fluff up quite well when cold. But again, standard feathers and a nice amount of down are the best choices in super cold climates. One caveat however: multiple people have reported that some big fluffy full of down breeds are often little princess types that refuse to come out into the snow. Being a good forager in the snow is NOT always paired with a fluffy body.
Ducks in general are hardier than chickens. However, thinner ducks like runners are less hardy than fat and round ducks like Rouens. Muscovy are quite different from other ducks. I find them not quite as hardy as standard chickens.
In general geese are extremely winter hardy. I however have no experience with the fancy oddly feathered breeds. I do worry that odd feathers equals feathers that cannot properly insulate.
I have only raised Coturnix. They are clearly very sensitive to drafts, much more so than chickens. I am not sure just how much cold they can tolerate. However, I would watch them closely at temperatures lower than 10F.