How Cold is Too Cold? Force Cooping Hens?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Sunnysidedown, Dec 31, 2014.

  1. Sunnysidedown

    Sunnysidedown In the Brooder

    Apr 13, 2014
    This is more of a behavior question.
    My 5 hens (10 months old now) prefer to roost outside of their coop at night and now that it's getting colder here (mid 20's at night) I'm wondering if I should force them inside their coop? My coop is 4'x5', has 2 roosts and 2 nests for the 5 young hens. The coop entrance is the typical 12" square opening without a door. Inside there is a themoswitch that turns on a heat lamp at 35F and turns it off at 45F so it is cozy enough in there to keep their water from freezing. The hens have slept inside on a few cold nights that are windy but not on cold nights that are calm. Are they smart enough to go inside when it dips into the teens on calm nights? Or should I herd them inside and attach a door? Be glad to offer more info if needed.
    Thanks for any advice!
  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Free Ranging

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    Let them choose. Maybe they don't have enough ventilation inside.

    -30F may be too cold but +20 isn't cold.

    Having them cozy at night and out into the cold wind in the morning is stressful. They need to acclimate. If they've been used to heat and you have a power outage, that can be a problem. An electric source of heat is expensive and negates any benefit of having chickens.
  3. azygous

    azygous Free Ranging

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    Chickens aren't fools. They know when to warm themselves. Chances are, your hens are young and healthy and have acclimated to colder temperatures.

    On the other hand, I've had to bring in two of my flock with temps down below zero because they are vulnerable. One is an older hen, and she doesn't want to budge from her sleeping spot on cold mornings, and the other one is crippled when it gets this cold. They aren't typical of the rest of the flock who all do just fine in sub-zero temps because they're mostly healthy chickens.

    I have a heat lamp hung in the runs that they can get under to warm up. A few can always be seen standing under it, then moving away after they've taken the chill off.

    I see no need to force your chickens inside. What's cold to you is probably well within a range they find to be no big deal.
  4. Sunnysidedown

    Sunnysidedown In the Brooder

    Apr 13, 2014
    Thanks for your quick thoughtful replies.
    My coop design is based upon the Purina design where the ventilation is passive via front and back 1.5" gaps each 4' wide just below the N/S facing roof ends. The heat lamp does not point directly at the hen roosts but rather is aimed at the floor of the coop, this way the heat rises to fill the coop to a max of 45F and keeps their water source from freezing.

    It's good to know that hens are very cold hardy and all 5 of ours are quiet healthy. I don't mind a bit of an ele bill jump as the heat lamp is not turned on that often. I have read that at 15F they might get a bit of frost bite on their combs so I'll monitor that as the winter goes on. At least they know when to get out of the wind and avoid wind chill. Thanks again!
  5. mortie

    mortie Songster

    Feb 16, 2014
    The Frozen Tundra
    My chickens are laughing at your 20 degrees. With wind chill right now it's -10 where I live and they're out and about like normal, having a great time. My coop is also based on the purina design. They have plenty of ventilation and I've never had a problem with frostbite. I don't heat it at all, and it's not insulated. It got down to -25 or so last night. They're fine, and at 20 degrees yours are definitely fine and have no need whatsoever for a heat lamp.

    Having the water in the coop does raise the chances that they will get frostbite since it does add moisture to the air. Your birds may not but you should be aware that it's a possibility.

    I agree with what others have said, there is no need to force your birds to stay in the coop. When it's cold and windy they know just what to do :)
  6. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler!

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    It may be too warm and crowded in there and that's why they're roosting outside.

    I had a hen get left out in the run last night at 16F...she was fine this morning, came into coop got a drink, laid an egg and went back heat in my coop.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
  7. Sunnysidedown

    Sunnysidedown In the Brooder

    Apr 13, 2014
    Thanks a bunch for all the replies and experiences. Nite time temps here rarely drop into the single digits so I'll stop worrying and relax. Just wanted to be sure. Perhaps I'll disconnect the heat lamp unless it really freezes up here.
  8. m80fierro

    m80fierro Chirping

    Dec 26, 2014
    New Mexico
    Do you have to take location into account? I mean some animals are acclimated to a certain type of weather whereas other animals aren't? Here in New Mexico, it can be in the 60's in December and occasionally we get cold temps in the teens. Then in the summers here we can easily hit a week straight of 110 degree heat. Should I worry about temps when it drops into the teens with my flock?
  9. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Free Ranging

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    I wouldn't. I would worry about sustained temperatures above 100F. That's when they suffer.

    It's interesting but in my lifetime we've never lost a chicken to cold which can get down to -20F.
    But when we have constant highs from 100-115, lows only getting down to the 80s at night with high humidity - that's when we lose birds.
    So what does that say about chickens' ability to handle cold?

    I might add that my coops have huge openings on both east and west walls year round.
    1 person likes this.
  10. Going Quackers

    Going Quackers Crowing

    May 24, 2011
    On, Canada
    Personally only the very young or old do i worry about. I give chickens options and i do find they are clever enough to sort themselves, most birds raised in the climate they live in to acclimatize to it. Unless, you swap complete climate areas only then would i be concerned. Since i am more cold than warm, my birds actually have more issues in the summer months when we can rise to 100F.

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