Tips From Nutrena: The Heat is On, But is heating the coop really necessary in winter?

Discussion in 'Sponsored Content, Contests, and Giveaways' started by JenniO11, Dec 3, 2013.

  1. JenniO11

    JenniO11 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 11, 2012
    This "Tips From Nutrena" post is brought to us by Nutrena

    There are many aspects of poultry care that are frequently debated. Using an artificial heat source in your coop during winter is one those potentially “hot” topics. While there is no perfect answer, the majority of poultry owners may not need heat lamps, electric heaters and other such devices. Here’s why.

    The average chicken has 8,500 feathers (assuming the bird is through molt), which is a pretty warm winter coat. But here’s the hitch: poultry owners must allow that downy insulation to fully develop, so on cold nights, the chickens can fluff their feathers and tuck in their toes to keep warm. This can only happen if we let the brood naturally acclimate to falling temperatures. Tiffany Towne, a poultry expert with Nutrena®, explains a common downfall.


    “People often want to humanize their animals. That’s understandable, especially with backyard chickens, which often become beloved family pets. But just because a poultry owner is cold, it doesn’t mean his or her chickens are,” explains Towne, who lives on a small farm in Eastern Washington. “In fact, we may be doing our chickens a disservice by not letting them acclimate to the changing season and then expecting them to go between weather extremes as they travel in and out of the coop.”

    According to Towne, who has a background in raising ducks, laying hens and meat birds, acclimated chickens can often survive cold temperatures (even subzero temps) to -20 degrees F. She believes that heating lamps should be used only as a last resort in drastically cold temperatures. If you’re convinced your girls are chilly – and they’ll show it by huddling, moving slow, or sporting frostbitten combs -- try these options before adding any external sources of heat.

    Choose Winter-Hardy Breeds
    If you’re just starting your flock and live in a cold weather part of the country, you can manage your flock easier through the bitterly cold months by choosing the right chicken breeds. Below is a good representation of birds that are hardy through the winter, usually continue to lay (at a limited rate with artificial light), and fare well in cold temps: Delaware, Dominique, Jersey Giant, Orpington, Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Wynadotte.

    Things are a little different if you already own breeds with large combs and/or without standard feathers, like
    Silkies and Frizzles who can’t puff out their feathers and hold b
    ody heat in the air spaces. Fancy-feathered breeds (for example, Polish) can also have problems with their ornamental feathers in ice and snow. For birds without standard feathers, be especially diligent in watching for signs of cold stress. The heat lamps may need to come out just to help them maintain warmth. For fancy-feathered breeds, special care must be taken to keep them out of ice, snow and mud that may adhere to feathers.

    Prevent Damp Conditions
    Precipitation and wind chill can dramatically decrease a chicken’s threshold for withstanding cold. Make sure the coop is draft free and doesn’t let in precipitation – aim for still, dry air. Also keep the humidity down with proper ventilation and don’t automatically rush to shut vents in a cold snap. While you’ll prevent some heat loss, you risk raising the humidity, which can cause just as much frostbite as the cold.

    Keep a Cozy (but not too cozy) Coop
    Use temporary barriers to sheet off areas and make the coop smaller. This will allow for the brood’s natural body heat to warm the smaller interior space. But don’t make it so small that your girls get crabby and start misbehaving. Also insulate the walls and ceiling and consider deep litter bedding to add some additional warmth. Start with four to five inches of dry organic matter (leaves, pine needs, wood shavings, straw, etc.) and gradually add more bedding throughout the winter. Reduce mucking to one or two thorough cleanings annually.

    Good Nutrition
    Winter is not the time to skimp on quality feed, especially since free-range sources are depleted. You’ll want to continue feeding a high-quality, high-energy layer feed like Nutrena® NatureWise® to keep the brood strong and healthy. Keep water fresh and take steps to prevent it from freezing.

    If you insist on an artificial heat source, know your winter weather conditions well. If a winter power outage is a possibility, be sure to have a Plan B in place for heating the coop. If it’s damp or if your chickens have not been acclimated to the cold weather, they may start suffering earlier than their well-acclimated counterparts.

    Finally, know your chickens and their “benchmark” behavior. Watch for any signs of temperature trouble in the coop. If you’ve done your homework and are using the best chicken and coop management techniques, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll need the expense and potential hassles/hazards of a heat lamp.

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    3 people like this.
  2. DelBlueHen

    DelBlueHen Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 25, 2013
    Thanks for this info: very interesting. [​IMG]
  3. popsicle

    popsicle Chillin' With My Peeps

    Thank you! I frequently find myself frustrated that some people imply that I'm mistreating or not compassionate enough to my birds for not adding heat. They just don't need it and I do think it's a disservice and potentially dangerous to not let them cope with the weather. We frequently have very strong winds in this part of Montana, power can and will go out.
  4. CountryGeorge

    CountryGeorge Chillin' With My Peeps

    The temptation is certainly there to provide heat in the coop during the winter but all I do it put a heater under a water source so they always have water to drink. I try to provide good ventilation without drafts and the birds seem fine with it. I cringe when I see them walking through the snow with their bare feet but it really has to be very cold before it affects them. I throw dry hay down in part of their run to give them a dry spot to stand for they will insist on going out no matter how horrid the weather is outside the coop.
  5. trudyg

    trudyg Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 3, 2013
    My coop (tractor, really) is about 5' by 8', with about 1/3 sheltered for the roost. My most difficult thing is to keep out drafts--there are gaps around the top and bottom and the pop hole to the roost looks like it would be drafty. I have used a 'heat lamp' but with a 40 watt bulb over the water to keep it melted (I'm in Alabama, so mid-teens is about as cold as we get, but wind and rain-ugh). How drafty is too drafty? They stay outside in the rain even when it's in the mid 30's, so I guess they're okay. They could go in the carport and stay dry, but they don't. We have plenty of areas they can go and stay dry (under the trailer, etc) but it's the draft that I'm concerned about.
  6. WalkingOnSunshine

    WalkingOnSunshine Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 8, 2008
    Put a tarp over the outside of the coop to keep out drafts. They're cheap, easy to put up, and waterproof.
  7. karinshuler

    karinshuler New Egg

    Nov 19, 2013
    I live in Montana also and my 6 chickens are doing fine in our weather.
  8. Watty

    Watty New Egg

    Oct 26, 2013
    "My 1st post on BYC [​IMG] woohoo"

    I had gaps around the bottom of my small coop and nesting boxes where draughts came in, I also have an ill fitting roof with a slight gap around it. My girls seemed to avoid one nesting box in particular so when I investigated, it had a bigger gap than the other and it let in cold winter air.

    When cleaning the coop I got silicon sealer and closed all the airy gaps in the bottom of the coop, once dry I put in a deep layer of wood shavings and topped them with a good helping of straw and they are now happy. I left the air gaps in the top to let out smells and gasses.

    I've no heating or lighting in my coop and my girls are full of energy every morning when I go to let them out and temps here have dropped to below zero about a month ago.

    PS, I'm new to keeping chickens and have only had my 4 girls about 5 weeks now (they are just over a year old)
  9. acman

    acman Out Of The Brooder

    Dec 3, 2013
    martinsburg, WV
    Im new to raising chickens.only have a free hen and rooster. Hope to have about a dozen by spring maybe. I dont plan on adding heat to the coop but if needed i will put heattape on the water jug. So far they dont seem to be roosting high they are nested on the straw floor. I made the roof of sheetmetal to absorb heat from the sun, it will be well shaded in summer months. I have reading of about 25 degrees warmer inside vs outside i think these birds will be happy.
  10. shmccarthy

    shmccarthy Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 27, 2013
    Thank you so much for posting this! I love in Michigan and don't supplement any artificial heat to my birds and I'm always telling people that they don't need it. I wrap the run in tarps to keep the wind and snow out and put a lot of straw to keep their feet warmer. They do just fine. :)

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