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 body 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. To find a Nutrena dealer near you, visit www.NutrenaPoultryFeed.com.