It's Cold: Keeping Flocks Warm And Healthy In Winter

Record lows in the area have brought our chickens to an indignant resolution to stay in their coops.
By BYC Support · Jan 10, 2012 · Updated Apr 9, 2012 · ·
  1. BYC Support

    It's cold! Record lows in the area have brought our chickens to an indignant resolution to stay in their coops.
    In order to manage chickens in colder temperatures one needs to consider several things:
    Ventilation- there must be adequate ventilation to allow dissipation of the moisture from the chickens' breath. If not, the moisture will settle on combs and wattles- freeze- and cause frostbite. 'Ventilated' does not mean drafty. Drafts are very dangerous if in direct line of the chickens' roosts, but an air-tight coop is not good unless fully heated to above 40F degrees (I think fully heating a coop is bad- keep reading to see why). Better than a bunch of holes in the coop for ventilation, I prefer a tiny personal fan to keep air from being still and stratifying as they sleep. Many coops are built with windows- keeping those cracked can help. Also, soffit vents and small ankle-high vents (away from roosting or nesting areas) are other options.
    Heat- So, what about heat? Is it okay to have a heater in your coop? Is it necessary? An owner will find many opinions about heat, so it's important to consider some factors that are relevant to your situation:

      • Does your climate get wickedly, extremely bitter cold?
      • Is it possible you will lose power for extended periods?
      • Is prolonged cold an unusual problem, or is it the common condition?
    If you live somewhere that hangs in the upper 30's all Winter and has occasional spells of negative teens for a couple of weeks in an unpredictable fashion, such as our Kansas City area, having an auxiliary source of heat can keep your birds from suffering for that unusual stretch. If you live somewhere with 20F degree highs most of the Winter, you'll likely want your birds to be acclimated to bearing those temps consistently.
    Power loss is a good reason to acclimate rather than just run heat to the coop all season. What if your birds are accustomed to 40F degrees in the coop and then you lose power for a couple of days (I can't help but think of our frequent ice storms)? Your birds will have only feathered out in down for the balmy 40F degree temperatures they've enjoyed all Winter, and now they can't endure the frigid outside on their own. Should you allow them to experience the cold, their systems will become adjusted right down to their built-in outerwear.
    I do supply heat during cold stretches. I also do my best to better protect the birds with large combs so they don't have frostbite issues. My preference is a small, personal oil-filled radiant heater. There are flat-panels available with a 15x18" size, or something thereabouts. These won't use more wattage than a heat-bulb, but don't subject the birds to 24-hour illumination, which can damage their egg-production system. Who wants to sleep in bright light, anyway? I place the panel near the sleeping position of the birds with the most risk at night. These panels won't change the ambient temperature of the coop much, but can manage the comb damage for a couple of birds nearby.
    I will also use an oil-filled radiator in my large coop to keep the temps around 25F degrees during those stretches of single digits or negative lows. It's enough to mitigate discomfort and not enough to cause them to molt those extra downy layers of feathers.
    Heat of ANY kind can be terribly dangerous- follow all of the safety precautions recommended by the manufacturer and then some. There are coop fires every Winter, and safety is crucial! If using a clamp lamp, always put a screw in on each side to prevent the lamp from falling...even in your brooder.
    Water, not ice- Heated platforms for the waterers or heated dog bowls work wonders for keeping their water drinkable. They must continue to have clean water available, fresh daily. An owner might find plans for various low-cost solutions to keeping a waterer thawed, such as heat-tape. In a coop which has no power, even this option isn't possible, so keeping extra waterers is a good solution. When letting the birds out (should they choose to go out in the weather) take along a new, fresh waterer with warm water and bring in the frozen one to thaw for the following morning.
    Shelter from the wind and a place to scratch- Heavy plastic sheeting is your friend! Used to create a tunnel on the South side of a coop, or along the run, it can offer a great break from North winds. If it is used over the run, the protected area gives the chickens an area to scratch that isn't snow-covered and abrasive. If snow-packed earth is all they have, one can also put a thick layer of prairie hay on the snow to give them an area to mill about and sun themselves without freezing their feet. Picking through hay for seeds is a favorite pastime for chickens, to boot.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. ronott1
    "good article"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Sep 17, 2018
    The article could use more pictures which might have been lost over time due to server switches.
  2. N F C
    "Dealing with Cold Winters"
    3/5, 3 out of 5, reviewed Aug 7, 2018
    Some good points overall.
  3. mrs_organized_chaos
    "Good General Article"
    3/5, 3 out of 5, reviewed Jul 26, 2018
    This is a good article for some general info about keeping flocks warm in winter.


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  1. Chullicken
    Finally a wintering of chickens article that makes sense and dispels a few 'myths' that are floating around the hemisphere.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  2. Sunshine Flock
    I love seeing that photo of the decorated coop. It's so cute and cheery!!
      Dawnclucks22 and black_dove2 like this.
  3. Jen2848
    I use an infra red heat lamp and heated pet dish in my coop. I worry that the red lamp keeps the girls laying in the Winter. I want them to have a break. We also use thick clear plastic for their outdoor courtyard with straw so they can get outside and scratch around.
      terrjade04 and black_dove2 like this.
  4. donnovan
    Good article thank you. I would like to make note that whenever a power cord of any kind is run out of doors a GFCI is a must. I run an outdoor rated cable from inside my garage and to my coop the outlet is not a GFCI outlet as is common on the outside of most homes. Mine just plugs into a power strip and then I plug my cable into that. For keeping water liquid in the winter I just use an old cookie tin with a 40 watt bulb in it, the cord for the bulb is then plugged into a thermocube which turns on at 35 and off at 45 deg F. It works great. As for heating the coop, I used to, but do not anymore. My chickens (2 Australorps, 1 Plymoth Rock, and a Sussex) are doing great. It can get down to about 5 deg F where I live.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  5. ChickenGirl555
    Wisconsin is pretty cold every year, but luckily is also very hot in summer, so we get a break. I use a heated dog bowl and since my coop is moveable, we just moved it closer to the house and grabbed an extension cord to plug it in. It's working wonderfully and I'd highly recommend getting THIS BOWL if you have troubles with freezing temps from November to February!
      black_dove2 likes this.
  6. achnaha burdz
    Our temperature rarely goes below 0'c, which is nice, however we do suffer pretty horrendous SW winds. Though the chicken coop is ventilated the temp is very warm in the morning, probably around 24c in the morning and my concern is that they be too warm, spending best part of 16 hrs indoors at this time of year, the rooster sounds like he has a dry throat 1st thing. Considering putting a water feeder in for overnights. Any thoughts please?
      black_dove2 likes this.
  7. CWDancer
    We have had an unusually warm winter thus far, so I only have my water heater base in my chicken coop. I use the DLM in my coop, I also have an insulated coop with straw bales around the inside perimeter that the chickens roost on and scratch at. We keep a 2x4 in the 2 windows and turn it to either the 2 or 4 depending on how cold it is outside. When I first started out, I didn't ventilate my coop like this and would lose 3 or 4 birds during the winter. Now I don't lose any. I have used a red heat lamp when its been bitter cold to provide some extra heat. But this year our December has been an "October" Type month. Warm enough that I have had to stir my litter about once a week to keep it from smelling and helping it to stay dry, as its been wetter than usual as well. Tomorrow I go get some more litter so I can refresh it and give the "girls" something to do, lol! They just love digging in the fresh litter. I need to spread a bale of straw in the run as well, its gotten slippery for two reasons. Rain and the grounds not freezing because its been to warm. So more mud and moisture is getting into the coop than usual for this time of year. Hence the smell. I am also putting some sand in a corner for them to dust in. I have a few pumpkins I grew for the "girls' as a winter treat I put in a low feed tub for them.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  8. SmColorInDaPan
    Yes, K, I think MANY animals, including the 2 legged one, would learn MUCH from instinct. Started to snow about an hr ago. Gave my 2 some extra. One winter, I had a Rock of some wort, sit in a tree for D-A-Y-S. thought she was frozen there.. Nope, when it started to warm, about freezing, above, she came down for vittles! Animals are good left alone sometimes
      black_dove2 likes this.
  9. ChatKath47
    I had read that heating the coop, pro and con, and lights on constantly causing problems of it's own regarding egg production, so I have opted not to try to heat the coop. It is small, only holds three chickens, and I think they keep each other warm at night. One, a Leghorn, is nearly naked right now with being in molt, that worries me, but I am told chickens, like wild birds, can acclimate to cold weather...just wish her new feathers would hurry and fill out! I do worry about her getting too cold, but when I looked in the coop a couple nights ago, the two Americanas were sitting on either side of her. I got the feeling they - somehow - knew to cuddle up for her protection. They may be "bird brains" but I think they have instinct in this case.
      Chullicken and black_dove2 like this.
  10. SmColorInDaPan
    I live in a solar powered Cabin, S. Central Montana. No need to worry about power outages but keeping waterers electrically thawed is OUT. I have a Hutch, that is on it's last legs. My chickens are Free Range All The Way! On 20 or less, temp or windchill, nights, I heat rocks on my wood stove, set them in a pie tin for *cold* overnights. Also, as stated in article, I exchange waterers warmed, in house, for ones frozen. It's been a Bad year for chickens, good for predators. Only hen was from a life in a cage; No feather growth on her neck? Will extend extra care this winter, may 'employ' the hutch for her. THANK You for the article! * On REAL cold days, using a 1 lb butter container, mix bread, oatmeal, scratch, Whatever, ADD hot water, for their breakfast. They LOVE it on cold days!
      black_dove2 likes this.
  11. CatCohen
    We are so new to chickens (ours are about 5 weeks old and the rooster is ready to go back for a replacement. No roosters in city limits). Anyway, here we are in Phoenix and yes, we do go below freezing a few times a winter. Last night was their first night outside all night. I checked on them several times, have their brooder heat lamp in there, wanted to put out blankets (my husband stopped me) and barely got any sleep. Your article was very timely.

    Usualy winter temps at night are in the low 40's. Heat lamp for another day or two just to get them used to outside. We put shades on the two most open sides of the coop, so we will continue to put those down at night. But you saved me sleepless nights and a bigger electric bill.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  12. Fanny's Mom
    I live on the Coast of NC. . .we get cold, but not consistently. I don't worry about ventilation because the coop has slotted soffits that let the air escape up top and windows I can crack open. I use a heat lamp at the peak of the coop (so the hens can't peck at it!) that is connected to a "thermostat"--the kind used under homes to prevent the pipes from freezing? It turns the lamp on at 40 degrees. It worked well last year so I plan to go the same route this year, so let me know if I'm making a mistake here!
      black_dove2 likes this.
  13. CindyR
    Here in Alberta, Canada the temperatures can get as low as -40 celcius which is -40 F. My chickens acclimatize to the weather and have never received any source of heat other than their own fluffy feathers. My mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandmother were farm women who raised chickens and never used any form of heat. The tiny song birds do fine without it and so do the chickens. The love to go outside on a crisp winter day and scratch in their straw although they stay in when it gets windy. They're healthy birds.
    1. Chullicken
      I fully agree. Finding in the modern trend of chicken keeping, people have an instinct to apply 'human' emotions to animals in these situations which is great, but can really complicate things that are not that complicated as you stated. -40 ouch! Makes me get brain freeze just thinking about it.
    2. MTchicknman
      My sentiments exactly! God created these animals and provided for their personal comfort with down - if the sparrows and crows can survive the -40's we get every so often, who am I to apply the human emotional response. Ours go out in the snow, scratch away the snow, and search for goodies beneath. As someone said, let them acclimate to the temps in your area - IF your power goes out, you'll have to supplement, like black_dove2 says, not us, we let them be themselves! Another quote from black_dove2 that I like ...." just allow them to grow their down "underwear" by not offering any artificial heat," but we stilll don't provide artificial heat below -20. Still working on a heated water device, but that will have to be in the coop, not outside!
      Chullicken likes this.
    3. MTchicknman
      Sorry, I attributed the quotes from Haunted55 and Hooligans7 to black_dove2 - I was reading too fast ;>)!
      Jharris3 and Chullicken like this.
  14. Westwind
    I read about having deep litter in your coop and did this last winter. I'm starting this winter with almost a foot of wood shavings and there are already little spots all over the coop where they've made their cozy nests. No auxiliary heat, but I do have a heated waterer (strictly for MY comfort!). I'm in CO.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  15. 1TurkenLover
    Living in the NW rainy winters and we have a mixed bag of chickens : 2 RSL hens 1 BR hen 1 Cochin bantam mix Cockerel 1 Red mix NN mix Cockerel in main Coop with flat-panel ceramic heater mounted on wall near roost, thermostatic control to come on @ 35
    Other Smaller Run: 3 mix NN Bantams ( hen and 2 chicks ) and 1 Cochin/white Sultan buff Cockerel. in partially insulated unheated coop.
    First winter for all chickens, time will tell.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  16. Hooligans7
    @Lady Ressler, you did fine. Your chicken breeds are all very cold-tolerant and hardy. No worries — just allow them to grow their down "underwear" by not offering any artificial heat unless it gets down to -20F in the coop.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  17. LoveChickens123
    so cute i love it
      black_dove2 likes this.
  18. Lady Ressler
    As a North Dakota resident, I too appreciate the information for the winter set up. I had fully planed on giving my birds a heated coop but after reading this, I think I will do otherwise. I will add a 2x4 flat roost and use the heat lamp for the days colder than -10. I am worried though that I may have chosen my breeds spontaneously in a TSC store. I bought 2 Black Australorps, 2 Barred Rock, & 2 Buff Orpingtons. Did I bring the wrong breeds to my area concidering our winters?
      black_dove2 likes this.
  19. Haunted55
    Thank-you for an awesome explaination about the heating of a coop. In Maine, the winter temps can and do get down there. Sometimes our highs for the day are in the minus range. Because of this I insulated all of my animal buildings and not knowing any better did provide a heat source my chickens. The few times we did lose power I had to trudge out and run a LP heater to keep them above freezing. Lost a lot of sleep that way. After reading this article I won't make the same mistakes again.
      black_dove2 likes this.

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