Chicken's in the Cold

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by WYANCHIC, Dec 9, 2012.


    WYANCHIC New Egg

    Dec 9, 2012
    Our flock of 5 is here in the Twin Cities, what a trend "backyard farming" has become, we even have cities passing ordinances allowing chickens!! We are one of those families that has decided to get into it. We established our flock in October and enjoyed it so much we passed the endevor onto our neighbors. We both have a few questions on "Our Girls!" I'm hoping this thread will start some great ideas in getting these "Girls" through a cold winter!!! How do you keep up the number of egglaying? Do they need a heat lamp? How many hours should you leave the heat lamp on? Do they range in the snow?
  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    Now that we know your climate, all the answers will depend on your breeds.
    To keep laying up you don't need a heat lamp but you need a lamp. The light should be bright enough at roost height to barely read a newspaper by. (for me that would be brighter than for some)[​IMG]\
    Most people shoot for 14 hours of light so start about 3 AM where you are. I just went to 12 hours.
    They don't like the snow but after they get bored staying under cover they start running around in it.
    Your biggest concern keeping them healthy is keeping their water clean and in liquid form.

    Some people add heat but I don't recommend it except for some breeds. If you add heat you would need it 24/7 because temp fluctuations are much more stressful and unhealthy than straight cold and what would they do if you had a power outage? Don't do it.
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    Color of light is important as well. Blue end of spectrum is what says sun is up so red heat lamps will not be effective.

    Keep wind of them but also allow for ventilation. Make so they can stand on dry wooden or other plant surface to aid with control of heat loss.

    Feeding regimen also changes with cold for me so do not go cheap with feed. Scratch is OK only as small part of intake. Feeding is a big deal.
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    :frow Welcome to the forum! :frow Glad you joined us! :frow

    You don’t ask easy questions. And I’ll warn you. You’ll get a lot of different opinions on this forum. Part of that is that we keep them in so many different conditions and circumstances that different things work for different ones of us. We have members all over the world covering mountains and beaches, tropics to colder than you. Another thing is that there is seldom one right answer that covers all of us. Instead of there only being one way to do something, there are many different ways that work.

    How do you keep up the number of egglaying?

    This question sparks a lot of debate. Some people believe you should give the hens some time off. Others want the eggs and want them now. Just different opinions.

    Often if a pullet starts laying in the late summer or fall, she will continue laying through the winter without molting. Not always, but often. An older hen will practically always molt and quit laying when the days get shorter and use the nutrients that were going into eggs to grow new feathers. I’ve had pullets do both and I do not add supplemental light.

    What triggers the molt is that the days get shorter. You’ll see a lot of people mention 14 hours when talking about supplemental light, but as far from the equator as you are, that could be risky. As long as your days get, your hens could see the days getting shorter and go into molt before your days get as short as 14 hours. But basically if you add light so the days don’t get shorter, they should keep laying.

    One of the things to consider. When hens go a really long time without a molt, egg quality drops and egg production drops. That’s why commercial operations can’t just keep the lights constant and keep the same hens producing eggs for several years. They have to either feed them through a molt when they are not laying eggs or replace them. It is a bit complicated.

    Do they need a heat lamp? How many hours should you leave the heat lamp on?

    Another fun question, and one with some controversy. Heat is more of a danger to chickens than cold. They wear a down coat all year long, though they lose some of that in the heat and it thickens up in the cold. A whole lot more chickens die from heat issues than cold. There is a thread on this forum about people keeping flocks in Alaska without supplemental heat.

    Your biggest danger in cold weather is frostbite, not them freezing to death. I’ve seen chickens sleep in trees in 0 degrees Fahrenheit weather. Someone on the forum told a story of a flock that went feral and spent the winter outside in Northern Michigan. The danger of cold weather to chickens is often greatly exaggerated on this forum.

    Of course how successful they are depends on a couple of things. First is ventilation. You don’t need to close up your coop to try to keep them snug. That is dangerous. They need for the moisture and ammonia (that forms from their poop) to be able to escape from the coop, so you need good ventilation.

    The other thing they need is to not be in a direct breeze. In the Twin Cities area, you may have felt the effects of wind chill. How did those flocks that slept outside handle that? The one I saw were not sleeping out on a lonely branch in a dead tree on top of a ridge squawking defiantly in the teeth of a blizzard. That’s something you’d see on Disney. They were sleeping in a thicket in a protected valley and could move to get out of the direct wind. I suspect that Northern Michigan flock was much the same.

    So how do you provide good ventilation without a breeze hitting them? Have your ventilation openings higher than their heads when they are sleeping. Any breeze goes over the top of them and carries out the bad stuff, especially since it is lighter than air and rises to the top.

    Here are some articles that might help you from a woman that was in Ontario. I’ll throw in the muddy run article just because I think it is so good.

    Pat’s Big Ol' Ventilation Page

    Pat’s Cold Coop (winter design) page:

    Pat’s Big Ol' Mud Page (fixing muddy runs):

    Do they range in the snow?

    Not at first. Chickens generally don’t like anything that is new. I don’t get a lot of snow down here. If I get one and it lasts a day or two, mine avoid it like it is dangerous. But if it lasts a few days, some of them at least will go out and forage in it. Mine like to find the weeds and grasses that stick out above it when it is only a couple of inches deep. I’ve had some wade through 9” of snow to go check out the compost heap. But at first, they don’t get near it.

    Something else I’ll mention along these lines. They do not like a cold wind hitting them. If there is a cold breeze they stay in shelter. But here is a photo of what mine chose to do on a calm day when the temperature was 4 degrees above zero. I left the pop door open and let them decide if they wanted to go out.


    Hope you get something from this that helps. Good luck!
    1 person likes this.

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