By Mountain Peeps · Nov 12, 2014 · Updated Sep 28, 2016 · ·
  1. Mountain Peeps

    (Photo courtesy of MyPetNugget.)

    When the cold weather strikes it's up to us to keep our flock safe and warm. Chickens fare better in cold than in heat but this does not mean we don't need to help them through the hard, cold, winter months. There are some very important things to do in order to keep the flock happy and comfortable in the winter. However, there are things that we do wrong sometimes. Below you will read the Do's and Don'ts for winterizing your flock.

    DO Buy cold hardy chicken breeds

    If your area is known for getting harsh cold winters, then buying appropriate chicken breeds, is imperative.

    DO Provide proper ventilation

    You need good venting in your coop ceiling to rid the coop air of all this unwanted, moist air. If you don't put in good ventilation, during those really cold winter nights, all this moisture is going to rise up to the ceiling since warm air rises, and if it has no place to go, it will fall back down as water or frost making your birds very cold and uncomfortable.

    The ideal way to create good venting is put in 1 square foot per bird of venting in the roof. Split it half and half on either side of the ceiling, one vent higher than the other. If the coop ceiling is not very high then position the roosts lower to the ground. You don't want any venting near the floor. This will create drafts. So what really does this do? It makes it so the moist air from the chickens slowly rises into this positive air coming in the lower vent and out the upper vent. Birds themselves put out heat. So they literally are roosting in a nice warm bubble of air. The moist air rises and goes out these vents. You don't want to disturb this air space around the birds with drafts. So make sure to seal up all cracks above the birds a foot or two.

    Venting can be worked on those cold winter nights by closing off some of the lower vents to slow air movement in the coop. You never want to close off the higher vents. You will not retain much heat by closing off the vents, but you will keep the birds drier, especially if it is a bitterly cold night and you use heat lamps. Hot air meeting cold air creates condensation, so keep the air moving to prevent this.

    Read more about ventilation here: Chicken Coop Ventilation - Go Out There And Cut More Holes In Your Coop!

    DO Provide clean, dry and warm bedding

    Just like any other time of year, chickens necessitate proper bedding to live on. During winter, you especially want your coop bedding to be dry, warm and absorbent. If the bedding gets wet and then freezes, your flock will get frostbitten feet and be very uncomfortable. If the bedding is not warm then you chickens will, obviously, be cold! So what is the best bedding to use in winter? Many people argue about this but I, honestly think, that the answer is straw. It acts as a natural insulator, boredom buster and frostbite preventer.

    Read more about bedding here: Bedding Part 1: Comparing Materials and Bedding Part 2: Maintaining Your Bedding

    DO Feed and Water your flock well

    A while back, I used to think that all animals drank more in summer. Believe it or not, this is not true! In fact, animals drink either the same amount or even more water in winter than they do in summer. Why? Because cold temperatures greaten the chance of dehydration. Also, animals need water in order to stay functional in winter. I have noticed that I have to fill my hens' water as well as my dog's water more in the winter. So water is just as imperative in winter as it is any other time of year. You'll need to either buy a heated base or heated waterer for winter. A heated dog or horse bowl will work fine too. You also need to feed your chickens well in winter. Scratch is a wonderful treat to feed. It is fattening and provides warmth and energy. Feed it in the evenings so that it helps keep the chickens warm while sleeping.

    Read more about winter water here: Water in the Winter

    DO Allow free ranging/access to the outdoors

    Even though you may not want to be outside when it's cold, your chickens still want to. Chickens have heavy, duty feathers which allow them to survive and thrive in cold much better than we ourselves can. They are a lot more hardy than you may think. So unless the temps are lower than -5 try and open the coop door every day for at least a few hours. Chickens HATE being confined all the time. It can even make them sick.

    DO Rub vaseline on chickens' combs and wattles

    This helps prevent nerve damage from frostbite. Further ways to help prevent frostbite include: making SURE the bedding does not get wet, using 2X4" roosts with the 4" side facing up (chickens like to sleep flat footed which allows their chest feathers to cover their toes entirely) and keep humidity levels down in the coop. Here is a link on preventing and curing frostbite:

    DON'T Keep your chickens closed inside

    Only keep them inside with all doors shut if the temps are lower than -5. Otherwise, always leave one door open so they can get outside when needed.

    DON'T Tightly insulate your coop

    Why? Because the tighter the insulation, the more moisture build up is created. This leads back to the whole ventilation deal. Moisture from droppings, breath and humidity all will be increased if you tightly insulate your coop.

    DON'T Allow water or eggs to freeze

    Again, either use heated waterers or buy a heated base. Collect eggs more often so they don't freeze. Frozen eggs are hard and obviously cold for a hen to sit on and are not supposed to be eaten.

    Here's one way to prevent frozen eggs: Heated nesting boxes help stop frozen eggs!

    DON'T Stop cleaning the coop

    Do not put off your coop chores because of the cold. The cleaner the better. Droppings are messy, wet, smelly and can freeze. All these are bad for a chicken coop especially in winter. Refresh the bedding every week or so and spot clean every few days.

    DON'T Allow drafts to exist in the coop.

    (See ventilation info above.)

    DON'T Use straw as your only insulation

    If you use straw bales as your only heat source and insulation, then mold with grow, causing respiratory illnesses. Insulate your coop properly and add a few bales of straw for extra heat and fun.

    Read more on insulation here: To Insulate or Not to Insulate...

    (Photo courtesy of MyPetNugget.)

    Properly prepare them for the upcoming season.Remember, winterizing is a chore which should NOT be taken lightly. Chickens can and will die if you do not
    If you have questions, please feel free to PM me.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. triplepurpose
    "Good Starting Point"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Oct 29, 2018
    I was very pleased to see that proper breed selection was the first item on the list; it certainly belongs there! Choosing a good breed for your climate, weather, and available habitat should be the first thing any chicken keeper considers--but often isn't.

    I would have liked to see more mention, if not discussion, of using greenhouses for winter runs/free-ranging. The whole function of greenhouses is to create a warmer, sheltered microclimate, perfect for helping poultry get out and about during the the harshest frigid coldsnaps. Many agriculturally-inclined people with any amount of land in cold regions already have greenhouse space for winter crops and composting that could be adapted for parttime or shared use by chickens with minimal additional trouble or expense.

    I believe Harvey Ussery has written about this some in his book and on his website,
  2. ElysetheMom
    "Excellent Advice"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 29, 2018
    Thanks for the advice and reminders. I've had chickens for a few years, but this was a great reminder and the first full explanation on ventilation that I've read. We live in Maine, so we get some very severe cold.
    Unfortunately, my husband refuses to help me catch each of our 2 dozen chickens so we can rub petroleum jelly on their wattles! But I can put the rest of the advice into practice.
  3. Macchickenman
    "Great article and my first winter for my girls..."
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 28, 2018


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  1. Sandra Verbreyt
    excellent article I will take all the advice on board.
  2. Spiritsmeadow
    This is a very good article. I live on the eastern plains of Colorado, and I have a roof vent, the kind that spins around, in my coop. I also have a big door into the coop, and a 12"X14" small door into a closed run. I use a piece of plywood to cover the roof vent, it still allows ventilation to move air, without making a draft. And when I close the little door I use a piece of "Warm Window" fabric laid across it, to seal off the drafts. The nights I forgot to seal off the little door, I had frozen water in the coop. And I have a closed/sealed heater from Walmart, on very cold nights I turn it on so the coop is 50degrees F, and my hens lay consistently, and have never had a URI. I do shovel a path for them and I also provide a doghouse full of straw for them, so their winters are comfortable and they are safe. I wish everyone a happy, safe, and healthy wintertime season ahead, keep warm!
  3. GardenDmpls
    Surprised no one mentioned throwing hay on top of snow. The chickens will walk on it without a problem. Many do not realize that chickens are well insulated by their down feathers ( just as you are by a down coat), and do not need supplemental heat. The reason many birds (not chickens) move south in winter is not cold, but the lack of food cold brings.
  4. IdyllwildAcres
    Do not tightly insulate, then it says properly insulate.... I say do not insulate.

      MaryOos likes this.
  5. Aerliss
    Please could you note whether you are using Fahrenheit or Celsius for those temperatures?
      The Harlequin likes this.
    1. The Harlequin
      I thought this exactly. It's an American site though so probably writing for its home market, so probably Fahrenheit. -5C would be mild for many parts of the US in winter!
      Aerliss likes this.
  6. Henrik Petersson
    Wait, how do you insulate too tightly?
    1. Spiritsmeadow
      I think what is mean is to not seal up the coop so tightly the air is stagnant. In cold weather in a coop where there is not airflow, it can cause all kinds of health problems. I think a little air leak, not a big draft, is just fine.
  7. Blooie
    Good job, MP! If I might add something run is covered in greenhouse type plastic so the run is always a bit warmer than the coop or outside. I leave my pop door open 24/7/365. Because the run is covered, I get additional air circulation from the bottom of the coop with no direct wind able to get in and create strong drafts. It also provides the birds with a place to get out of coop confinement. I also have windows on every side except the North, where most of our really bad weather comes in, although there is an upper vent there which I can easily open or close. I do the same with the the windows - I can open the ones downwind, so air circulates through the coop but there isn't any wind or snow blowing in. Here in Northern Wyoming long periods of sub zero temps with winds sometimes 60mph and more makes winter protection a top priority here. Your advice on ventilation is spot on - in fact, I think it's the single most important thing to plan for in a coop. Very nice article!
  8. Mountain Peeps
    @Chicks4fun2 , the doors should be closed at night. And there is a difference between a door and a crack. With a door you can close it. A crack is harder to find and will chill your birds easily on winter nights.
  9. Tenneesse
    chicks4fun2 I dont think you can but when they roost Im thinking any door would be closed but depending how well the coop is constructed would determine if its going to be drafty.
  10. Chicks4fun2
    I'm confused... How can you keep a door open and eliminate drafts?
  11. NHgirl
    Thank you for this article! As a new chicken mom, it's hard to know exactly what to do. I have a leghorn (Road Runner) who got frostbite on her beautiful comb. It almost looks like a rainbow of red near the head, a white stripe above that, and purple at the end of the comb. So obviously she has had frostbite (got to -1 here). So what do I do now? It seems as though it's too late for the vaseline trick...or should I still do it?

    Thank you.
  12. Tenneesse
    I make paths for them to their favorites hangout and where they like to peck around we dont get so much snow that I can just broom it for them and they stay right in the trails. they will go straight to the sunniest locations and I make sure there is no wind blowing it will frost bite them really fast. If its cold and blowing they stay in.
  13. Mountain Peeps
    Thanks all for the wonderful comments!!:-D
  14. Mountain Peeps
    You can still use straw just don't rely on it as your only insulation and heat source.
  15. Mountain Peeps
    You do not need to rub their combs with vaseline unless it is dropping below 0. Also, it is TOTALLY normal for them to avoid snow. Shovel a path for them so they can still walk around.
  16. jafo
    Our girls and the "ol man" don't care for snow either, but if I shovel, they're outside. If it's snowing and blowing, t5hey just sit by the pop door and peek out every now n then. We put sawdust down on the coop floor, mixed with hay. Hay in the laying boxes, and 1/2 a bale for them to kick around. Heat lamp, water heater, when it's 10 below outside it's like 25 in the coop. Yup, they got it made !
  17. dgh
    karagenknight my chickens dont like snow either. we shovel a little for the chickens which is ridiculous. my poor husband.
  18. DDRanch
    Thank you for your excellent article. Great information and nice pictures. Very useful.
  19. grumpma1
    Thanks for the great information. We have been really cold here. Illinois. My girls have been cooped up for days. Suppose to be sunny today so I will open the top half of their door. So far they are doing really good. I have 9 girls and have been getting 8 eggs per day. I put straw down on the cement floor and they seem to like it. I have 1 chick up at the house. I am going to get some scratch today. Thanks
  20. gsford
    Excellent article. Good information. Temps up here in N.E. Washington States have dipped down to"0" a few nights but my young hens have not missed a beat laying every day. I don't heat my coups but my wife insisted I hang infrared bulbs in each coup. The chickens ignored them.
  21. karagenknight
    Hi i have 2 questions hoping someone can clarify. my chickens are about 14 weeks old and they are doing pretty good at the moment despite pretty low temps (single digits before windchill) but they don't have much in the way of combs and wattles yet (they are just starting to get wattles) should i still hit them with the vaseline? and the second question we have a bit of snow here on the ground and they wont walk in the snow. So when there is snow on the ground they will avoid any areas that have snow. Its that normal? Will it fade? They wont leave their coop to range atm. (Or even range much in the bottom of their coop thats open)
  22. papachips
    Hi...Have not been on this site for some time. So a brief update is in order. I have 2 bard rocks and two smaller reds... And one Randy Rooster "Henry" He is very protective of his girls, so much so that my Partner Barb is scared to death of him. I have him under control but I am concerned for Barb's well being and my two grandkids also..Any ideas other then the soup pot? I am very happy getting three to four nice eggs even this time of year and am wondering if no rooster will make a difference in production....
      Seifert Poultry likes this.
  23. Debipets
    This is all great info. I have been doing hit and miss since I got my chickens almost 6 years ago. They are still laying even thought they are older (just not as much and irregularly). I live up in the mountains so we do get pretty cold sometimes. Some of the things that I do in winter is I top dress their mixed feed (16% layer pellets mixed with scratch, oyster shell) with rolled barley. I also throw in their run some alfalfa now and then that they love to scratch around in. Occasionally I feed my horses a warm mash of rehydrated shredded beet roots and the chickens also get some. They appear to love it. If any of this sounds like a bad idea let me know. As I said I try what I think should be good and so far it seems to be working out good.
  24. MooCluck
    Thanks for the great article. We live on Long Island and have been having an awful cold spell. This is my first winter with chicken and i was worried but quickly realized that my girls seem so much healthier in the winter.
  25. Kluk-Kluk
    You wrote: DON'T Use straw as your only insulation. What do you suggest to use besides straw? That's currently all I have down on the floor. The floor is earthen.
  26. Tenneesse
    I also use some of my wifes old throw away throw rugs on my shop porch and in a couple of other covered outdoors areas so when they decide to take a rest from peckin and scratchin they have something that keeps them from hunkerin down on the cold ground. I take them up if its going to be wet so they are always dry for them . They like it. I keep a water bottle near them and a pie pan of scratch and crumbles there also. I will use the Vaseline the next time on the combs and wattles, middle Tn gets cold but only a few days when we're like 10 to near zero still 15-20 can hurt a bird just the same. wind is the biggest causes of frostbite when the thermometer drops. On cold cold windy days I keep them in and they do fine they can still peck and scratch and get in the hay and seem to be happy (though I know they would go for a romp if I let them) They like hay better than straw for the seed clusters and its a finer fiber, smells good and they like it in the coop ut it must be kept clean and replace it
      Aerliss likes this.
  27. jerrey
  28. ron8072
    Great information. Normally, we don't get that cold in the winter but last week we got down to 8 or so with 15 mph wind! Chickens didn't miss a beat. Even though it stayed brutally cold for several days and nights, the 8 hens continually laid from 5 to 8 eggs a day! Everyone around here said they couldn't believe it. Since this is my first winter with chickens, I was a bit leery of the whole thing. However I just hatched a new batch of babies from a new Light Brahma rooster. I have 3 white leghorns, 3 RIR (production, I suppose), and 2 domineckers. Their babies are impressive kids, all that hatched were good except for 3 who had turned feet. All the babies except the lone RIR have the feathered legs. Strange looking but we will see. Anyway, thanks for the information!
  29. Mountain Peeps
    Thank you all! Glad this has helped!
  30. Steve Townsend
    You have taught me a lot I needed to know. Thanks
  31. ChickyChickens
    Nice article!!! If I ever get snow...
      MargoMcD likes this.
  32. TwoCrows
    This is an EXCELLENT article Mountain Peeps!! One of your best yet!!! :)
  33. MyPetNugget
    Really good article!!! I didn't know alot of these things, so thank you for sharing!! :) This is very useful information!!
  34. sunflour
    Nice article.

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