Winter Chicken Keeping, Tips and Common Concerns

Lets get one common question answered first… whether or not to add heat. Chickens have over 8,000 feathers offering them a nice cozy coat. They fluff up those feathers trapping air under their down and stay toasty warm even in temperatures below freezing. So, the answer is no, chickens don’t need added heat in the coop. However, it’s important they have a dry, draft free shelter.

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Windy conditions will ruffle their feathers and compromise their ability to stay warm. Even a spot heater in the coop defeats it’s purpose in the long run, not to mention it’s a major fire risk. Chickens would indeed huddle under a heat lamp, but when they move away from it their feathers are not fluffed up and they’ll be cold. They do better in a consistent climate, not fluctuating temps. So you have a choice, either confine them to a totally heated shelter all winter, or don’t provide them any heat at all.
Your chickens will roost together at night to keep each other warm, make sure they have enough space to do this. Check on them at night, you shouldn’t see any birds on the ground, or roosting alone. This is an indication they couldn’t find a spot with the others. If you only have one or two chickens, rather than providing a heat source, do them a favor and get another chicken.

Good Housekeeping
Keep the coop clean, change litter weekly. Damp conditions from droppings not only compromise chickens ability to stay warm, but contribute to the risk of respiratory illness. If your chickens are free roam during the day, it’s a wise decision to keep their water outside the coop. It isn’t necessary to provide water at night, it only increases unwanted moisture in the coop. Ventilation is good, drafts are bad. If there’s gaps in the coop walls, patch them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, be creative! Save those empty feed bags, they’re a great way to insulate a coop!

Broody Silkies 10-23-14

Bedding
My personal choice is deep pine shavings. Many people use straw, but it has a tendency to mold, be brittle, and pokey, which can cause irritated vents on your birds.
Grass hay is nice, it stays soft, but it’s a bit pricey. All hay or straw is bulky and takes up a lot of space in the trash can. This is something to consider if you are an urban chicken keeper.

Diet for Winter Health and Warmth
Greens are just as important in winter as in summer. A good way to introduce greens and break the boredom in the coop is to hang a cabbage. This will keep them busy and healthy at the same time. Offering your birds a little scratch feed before bed will help them stay warm, but remember, scratch feed should be considered a treat, not a complete food for chickens.

More Resources for Cold Weather Chicken Keeping:

Raising Chickens in Cold Country
Cold Weather Care
Chickens in the Cold

Got Chicks?

Managing Heat in the Brooder

Understanding Behavior, Traditional Heat Lamps, and the Radiant Heat Alternative

One of the biggest concerns most people have is keeping the brooder at the proper temperature. You’ve probably read the norm… 95 degrees the first week, then lower the temperature by 5 degrees each week until the chicks are fully feathered…. Continue Reading

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Chickens in the Cold

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Most new chicken keepers worry about their flock when the temperatures drop. The biggest concern is whether or not a heat source should be added.
If you have provided your flock with adequate shelter from the wind and rain or snow, and there’s plenty of hay or straw in their house, I don’t recommend adding a heat source.

The extra things you can do to help your chickens fair the bitter cold is to give them scratch feed before bed and first thing in the morning. This is a hot feed and will help them stay warm, not to mention they love it. If you are worried about frost bite, the best solution is to apply Vaseline to their combs and wattles.

Your chickens will huddle together to stay warm. For peace of mind, stick your hand down between them at night and you’ll be pleased to find they are toasty warm. Chickens are hardy creatures, so my best advice is to not over think the questions involved in caring for them.

Remember, chickens in numbers are warm, and they acclimate rather quickly to temperature changes. If you have young birds that are just out of the brooder, a heat source is necessary until they are fully feathered, usually at about eight weeks of age. Just make sure they have been introduced to the cold and have been given time to acclimate.

Further Reading…

Raising Chickens in Cold Country
Cold Weather Care