What to look for when checking on chickens in the cold?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by kensey, Nov 8, 2019.

  1. kensey

    kensey In the Brooder

    May 30, 2019
    I've obsessively read all there is in these forums about the cold, coop ventilation, water freezing, frostbite, everything about precautions to take with the cold. I know I'm being neurotic but it's going to be 12F where I am next week and thus far my two buff orps (both about six months old) have only been through cold down to 25F.

    Even though most of the things I've read are reassuring about their hardiness, I know myself and I know i'll be getting up during the night to check on them. My question is what to look for when I check on them to see if they're okay/reassure myself. If they were too cold, would they be shivering or something? Would they be awake or can they freeze to death in their sleep? I'm new to this so sorry if theses are stupid questions.

    Can anyone help with symptoms to look for? And if I see any of these, I think my plan would be to bring them inside. Would the warmth of the house too shocking for their system and they wouldn't' be able to re-acclimate to temps in the twenties? Thanks for any help!
    Sequel, DobieLover and HennyPenny2019 like this.
  2. FortCluck

    FortCluck Free Ranging

    Sep 9, 2019
    Central Virginia
    Frostbite you'll see black forming usually on their combs. Lethargic chickens that aren't doing much like just laying around. Sneezing or making gurgling noises can be from a respiratory illness.

    If you see any chickens that seem sick or not doing good in the cold, bring them inside. I think that bringing them in wouldn't be a problem, but getting them back out in the cold might be quite a shock to their system.

    Chickens can handle temps in the negatives as long as your coop is set up right. We just put up insulation so that ours can stay warmer in the winter. We have really good ventilation too.
    Sequel and kensey like this.
  3. kensey

    kensey In the Brooder

    May 30, 2019
    Thank you! If I'm checking in the middle of the night, do you think they're fine as long as they're asleep?
    Sequel and FortCluck like this.
  4. FortCluck

    FortCluck Free Ranging

    Sep 9, 2019
    Central Virginia
    Yeah if they're roosting it's probably easier to check them than stressing them out when they're awake.
    Sequel likes this.
  5. PirateGirl

    PirateGirl Chicken Lover, Duck Therapist

    Mar 11, 2017
    South Park, Colorado, USA
    Chickens can and will shiver when cold.

    I have seen chickens with ice forming on their feathers where they tuck their heads in and their breath freezes before it gets anywhere.

    During the day a chicken that is acting lethargic, standing huddled and puffed up, not eating/drinking, standing on one leg (alternating legs) are all signs that a chicken is cold.

    A chicken that feels well in the cold looks and acts the same as a chicken would if it was warm out.
  6. kensey

    kensey In the Brooder

    May 30, 2019
    Thank you! I'm guessing if I see these icy feathers, I should take them inside? It sounds bad, but not sure what's life threatening to them.
    Sequel and HennyPenny2019 like this.
  7. Acre4Me

    Acre4Me Crowing

    Nov 12, 2017
    Western Ohio
    12F isn’t cold to a chicken, generally. It is cold if they had been in warm weather, then plunged into cold weather due to a sudden temp drop. Since yours have experienced some cold and are outside, they should be fine.

    when we had the polar vortex last year, it was -18F, not counting wind chill. Most of our chickens were fine. A few seemed lethargic. We added feed to their coop since it appeared a few weren’t venturing out into really cold weather to eat. They already had water in their coop. The additional food station in the coop helped during really cold weather.

    make sure their coop is draft free where they roost, yet has good ventilation. You will know you have good ventilation when the humidity inside the coop is the same as outside, and their breathing and pooping isn’t increasing the humidity.

    some people add heat in some manner, but unless you get horribly cold, this isn’t needed. We have a doubly secured heat lamp in the coop. It is positioned over the middle roost and connected to a programmable thermostat to turn on when the temps in the coop get below 15F. Even with the polar vortex, this lamp hardly turned on, and the birds never huddled under it when it was on. I don’t think we need to use it this year, as it didn’t add any benefit.

    good luck with your first winter!
    kensey, Sequel and kerbotx like this.
  8. HennyPenny2019

    HennyPenny2019 Songster

    Nov 23, 2018
    West Virginia
    Thank you for posting this. I too am new at this and really worried about my girls.
    kensey and Sequel like this.
  9. chickens really

    chickens really Crazy Call Duck Momma

    Totally depends on the type of Coop you have. Drafts blowing in on them etc. No need to check on them in the dark though. In the morning see how they are doing in the current set up. A cold bird puffs up and doesn't want to move around much. Cold stress can bring out symptoms of diseases they carry. I run heat here for my Birds.
    sorce and Sequel like this.
  10. DobieLover

    DobieLover Easily distracted by chickens

    Jul 23, 2018
    Apalachin, NY
    My Coop
    First of all, none of us are born with chicken experience so if you do not know and are asking questions, those questions are impossible to be dumb. Good for you for asking!
    I can assure you that chickens DO NOT sleep through the night. Yes, they nap off and on but it has been my observation that they more or less preen, nap and just wait out the night. I have coop cameras with infrared light on them and I have insomnia. A chicken junkie gets her fix by "spying" on the flock in the wee hours of the night. I've never once seen all the chickens sleeping. So them being awake is normal. I personally wouldn't bother checking on them at night as long as your coop has great ventilation and is nice and dry.

    Absolutely NOT. It is very normal. Eventually the ice will sublime (go from solid straight to gas) in the cold dry air. It does not hurt them at all.

    Your primary goal is to keep the coop free of drafts at the roost level and as dry as possible. They will do the rest.
    Chickens in the winter will still partially puff up their feathers but it's hard to describe. It doesn't look like a chicken with coccidiosis. They just look a little bigger but the feathers still give the bird sleek appearance.
    Chickens will still do all the same things in the winter that they normally do in warm weather, but they will sometimes take a break to perch and sit on their feet.
    You can and should offer one waterer with electrolytes in it for a day or two a week during the coldest days. This will help with cold stress. Always offer fresh water as well.
    Make certain they go to roost with a full crop of food. They will digest that during the night and that is what will keep their metabolism up and keep their bodies warm at night. The feathers keep the warmth in.
    I have a chicken in the midst of a very hard molt. She is nearly half naked. She came out of the run onto the snow this morning in 18F weather and was not shivering.
    kensey and Sequel like this.

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