Moving chickens to warm barn for winter

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Piglet835, Sep 27, 2016.

  1. Piglet835

    Piglet835 In the Brooder

    May 15, 2016
    Ontario, Canada
    Hi all,
    I live in Ontario and it's starting to get colder out. My chickens will need to move from their coop to the barn with the cattle where it's warmer. I was wondering when I should do that as the nights are really starting to cool down. How much cold can they stand?

  2. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    It's not so much about how much cold they can stand as it is about managing the change of housing.
    Probably sooner is better than later...they won't like the change and better to give them time to adjust before the real cold settles in.
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    How cold can the wild birds that overwinter where you are stand?

    There are a few things that affect how chickens react to cold. If they are unhealthy, sick, injured, or damaged internally, they are more vulnerable to cold, heat, and about any other stress. They need a decent balanced diet too. Some people like to feed different things to “keep them warm” in winter, but a normal balanced diet will suffice. As long as you don’t feed so much of those things to unbalance their diet, they won’t do any harm. So are your chickens healthy and eating a balanced diet?

    Just like the wild birds chickens keep themselves warm by trapping tiny air pockets in their feathers and down. You don’t have to keep the area where the chickens are warm, you need to allow the chickens to keep themselves warm. If they are hit with a wind strong enough to ruffle their feathers and release those tiny air pockets they lose the insulating effect of those tiny air pockets. You don’t see wild birds out much if a strong cold wind is blowing, they are sheltering in thickets or other protected places. But if the wind is calm you see them out in extremely cold weather. Are your chickens protected from a cold wind or is the coop or barn a wind tunnel that allows a strong wind to blow through?

    Frostbite is the biggest danger to healthy chickens in the cold. In certain conditions frostbite is possible any time the temperature drops below freezing. Wind chill can be a factor but the biggest contributor to frostbite once the temperature drops below freezing is moisture. The more humid it is the more the risk of frostbite. Moisture can come from the chickens’ breathing, from wet poop if it is not frozen, from thawed drinking water, or maybe from some other source. Ventilation is the key to removing this moisture. People in the southern part of the US have caused frostbite in their chickens in weather barely below freezing by enclosing their chickens in coops so tight that moisture could not escape. People in Nova Scotia and upper Michigan have posted about their chickens sleeping in trees in the winter without getting frostbite or having other cold-related issues. I haven’t seen those trees but I’m sure ventilation is great and I suspect the chickens were able to get out of direct winds.

    The coldest I’ve seen chickens sleeping in trees is about -10 F (-23 C) but that’s the coldest it’s been when I had chickens. Those chickens were not in the open, the trees were in a sheltered valley and were really thick. The chickens were very much protected from winds. So how air-tight is the area they are staying? Is it going to hold moisture or will the air dry out?

    Any chicken can handle fairly cold weather but some are more cold-hardy than others. It’s not the thickness of the feathers. Turkens (Naked Necks) have about half the feathers as most chickens plus their neck is bare, yet they are considered a cold-hardy breed. Chickens with large combs and wattles, like single combs, are more vulnerable to frostbite than chickens with smaller combs like pea or rose combs. Plenty of people north of you have chickens with single combs that get through the winter in unheated coops without problems, but some do have problems.

    People like to think we deal with magic numbers with chickens, whether that is space, age, hen to rooster ratios, temperatures, or about anything else. With one number everything is utopia but just a slight change guarantees disaster. Real life doesn’t work that way. There are so many variables involved that what works for me might not work for you. I can’t tell you how much cold your chickens can stand but it is probably more than you think.

    There is nothing wrong with moving them to the barn as long as you are happy with predator protection and can feed and water them. Just because they can stand really cold weather doesn’t mean they won’t be as well off or better off in that big barn. I agree with Aart. If you are going to put them in the barn, now is as good a time as any and probably better than some. I like to do these things before conditions become extreme so I can fix a problems that shows up before it is critical.

    Good luck!
    1 person likes this.
  4. Piglet835

    Piglet835 In the Brooder

    May 15, 2016
    Ontario, Canada
    Thanks Ridgerunner for all that insight. It can get pretty cold here but now that you mention it I do see the wild birds, or evidence of them all winter. I will have no problem getting to them to feed and water them, my biggest obstacle will be my father in law saying that he's already helped me out and looked after them for me. Him and I have a huge soft spot for them. Sounds like my coop could keep them fro a while yet. We haven't even had our first frost yet.Both the barn and the coop aren't wind tunnels however the coop could see a lot of wind blowing against it. I was thinking the heat the cattle provided in the barn would give the chickens an added warmth boost for the cold snowy times we are apparently in for this year.

    My main concern with putting them in the barn now is their access to the great outdoors is limited during the day and it is still nice out during the day.
  5. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Crowing

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    I have had a broody hen raise 4 chicks in -20oF. We don't stay as cold as long as you do up north, but we generally will have a couple of weeks of darn cold weather. If you have a good set up, I would not move them for the warmth the cattle will add. Because what the cattle will really add is moisture! Moisture as Ridgerunner says, is the enemy, not cold.

    A dry bird is a warm bird, and a damp one is cold. Dry bedding + good ventilation above their heads really keeps birds in good shape. Do make sure that your birds are about 25 inches from the top roost to the ceiling or better, and set the roosts up so that the birds are away from the walls. The walls and ceilings can collect moisture if they are too close to the birds.

    Mrs K

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